Copper and Blue: Right now, the Avalanche are right in the thick of things in the Central Division with 33 points. Where do you realistically see the team ending the year?
Mile High Hockey: It's really tough to know. We saw this team play very poorly at the beginning of the year and much better recently. My guess is the true talent level of the team is closer to what we've seen in the past month or so. The Avalanche had seven new players on their opening night roster and it took a while to put the puzzle together. Youngsters Mikko Rantanen and Nikita Zadorov weren't ready for prime time, goalie Semyon Varlamov struggled with injuries, and free agents Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau weren't yet the effective contributors they've been lately. My guess is the team falls just short of the playoffs, say 90-94 points. The Central Division is just so loaded with quality teams and the Avs' roster flaws are just too significant. How could that change? Jarome Iginla has to go on a 2nd-half goal-scoring tear like he did last season, Varlamov has to continue playing at a high level, and the top-line probably needs to be even more dominating.
C&B: Matt Duchene was subject of many trade rumours early in the year after a slow start but has certainly turned his game around. What makes Duchene so important to the Avs?
Get ready for this
Get ready for this
MHH: The rumors were so disappointing at the time and even more so in retrospect. They conveniently sprung up during a trip through Toronto and diminished afterward into nothing but, "Well...I just heard that other teams called to ask." One only had to look at Duchene's comically low shooting percentage to know his scoring drought would bounce back in a big way -- the team was never trading him. Shifting out to right-wing on a line with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog helped too. That's a group that's now as dangerous cycling the puck as they are in transition and a ton of fun to watch from the stands. What we've discovered is that Duchene isn't going to carry a line of slugs by himself. He needs to skate alongside other fast and skilled players to play his best hockey -- and that's fine too. Maybe he moves back to center at some point when the Avs get better on the wings, but this line is a monster right now and there's no sense in changing it.
C&B: After facing a sophomore slump, how has Nathan Mackinnon played thus far in his first contract year?
MHH: After playing right-wing for much of his first two seasons, MacKinnon is getting his first real crack at center this year. Still only 20, he's got a lot of room to improve both defensively and with his puck decisions, but he appears on track. Right now, nothing is going in for him (seriously, about 1.5 posts per game), but he's found a way to remain an effective facilitator and remain near a point-per-game pace. MacKinnon is going to get handed a hefty contract this summer. He's the franchise's cornerstone player and will likely be the highest paid. Look for Mac and Tyson Barrie (also RFA) to cost the team a combined $12 million a year going forward.