DROP THE MIKE

Hungry Avs ready to reclaim Cup after last season’s disappointment

Oct 11, 2023, 6:56 AM | Updated: 7:56 am

Another Avalanche season is upon us! This one comes after a much longer than anticipated offseason. That’s not bad.

Sure, the first-round playoff loss to the Seattle Kraken stung. But with it came some benefits.

The Avs enjoyed plenty of time to rest, recover and recharge. Remember, when they won the Cup it meant a very quick turnaround before the start of another 82-game grind. In my opinion, if you can’t win it all, then get bounced early. It means more time off and the added motivation and hunger to come back eager to go for the next season.

Nothing has changed when it comes to expectations. It’s Stanley Cup or bust for the Avs and I absolutely love having the bar set that high. This team is up to the challenge.

Let’s start with the fact the Avs have the best core in hockey. Between Nathan Mackinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, Val Nichushkin and Devon Toews, they have a foundation I’d put up against any team in the NHL. Add in complementary, proven pieces like Artturi Lehkonen, Andrew Cogliano, Logan O’Connor, Bo Byram, Josh Manson and Samuel Girard, and that is formidable group.

The question comes down to the supporting players. Last year, the Avs failed to replace Nazem Kadri and Gabe Landeskog. That’s a tall order for sure, but considering they were two crucial parts of a Cup-winning team, finding suitable replacements is important.

Last year, the Avs tried to give some of their younger players bigger roles and more responsibility. It didn’t work out. The puzzle pieces never fit. MacKinnon himself said prior to training camp he never felt they had the team to win it all.

So J.T. Compher, Alex Newhook, Evan Rodrigues and Lars Eller are out and Ryan Johansen, Jonathan Drouin, Ross Colton, Tomas Tatar and Miles Wood are in. The Avs are counting on these players to either make “the leap” in their careers or rediscover their game from past seasons.

I harped all last season on the need to find an impact second-line center. While I agreed with the decision to not pay Kadri, it didn’t change how crucial he was to winning a Cup. I was fine with giving their young players a chance, but once they showed they weren’t up to the task, I begged the Avs to trade for a veteran, proven 2C for the playoffs. They didn’t and it came back to bite them.

With that said, Johansen is the guy being given the chance to show he can be the 2C answer. It’s a gamble. Johansen had a terrific season two years ago going 26-37-63. But that was sandwiched with two so-so years before and one after. Plus, it sends up a bit of a red flag to me that a Nashville team that had him for seven years and knew him best decided it was wise to trade him to a division rival and pay part of his salary.

The Avs believe being in their culture with the surrounding talent will bring out the best in Johansen and the rest of these newcomers. Its happened before. Will it happen this season? Winning another Cup probably depends upon it.

But for now, celebrate the fact hockey is back and that the Avalanche begin the season as heavy favorites to hoist the Cup.

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