The NHL is a copycat league, so teams watching the Stanley Cup Final from home will take notes on the Colorado Avalanche in hopes of replicating their success.
What exactly should teams be trying to learn from this year’s champions on their way to the playoffs? Let’s dive into some of the takeaways from Colorado’s Stanley Cup victory.
Rely on a qualified core
Seems pretty obvious, right? But the teams box become impatient and begin to break down the foundations they have built when things don’t work out. Obviously, adjustments to the roster may be needed along the way: think Nazem Kadri’s trade to bring in a cross for defender Tyson Barrie, or Matt Duchene’s further deal. But the cornerstones of this team – Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar and even Erik Johnson – were all fundamental in this victory.
And it wasn’t about getting lucky rebounds along the way, it was one of the best teams in the regular season and carry that into the playoffs. Watch their five-on-five game; Colorado finished in the top two in expected goal generation thanks to their offensive creation and they had the results to match. And it was the best team to limit quality chances. Team strategies are key here (and we’ll get to that in a second), but so is the strength of the roster this team has built over the years.
Accentuate the list with key acquisitions, use context to understand potential adjustments
Stick to roster building, with a skilled core, a team needs strong supporting elements. How Colorado added those pieces is pretty significant.
First, there’s how they capitalized on other teams’ misfortunes. Valeri Nichushkin and Devon Toews are the two centerpieces surrounding it. The Islanders faced a cap crunch and made the puck-moving defenseman a victim of it. It was a mistake at the time that only gets worse over time given how important he was in this race. Teams need to prioritize which pieces to invest in, and an elite defender should be that.
In Nichushkin, the Stars gave up a player who, while not the offensive gem they were probably hoping for when they drafted him early, was strong defensively. With the Avalanche, where he signed after the buyout, his two-way play increased even without the corresponding score – and in 2021-22 he finally showed the finishing touches to go along with his facilitating plays, like his puck recoveries .
Acquisitions due this year can also serve as key lessons. There’s the fact that Colorado knew when invest in their playoff chances. And the organization using data in its analysis likely found ways to isolate players’ strengths to determine how they would meet their needs, putting aside the quality of play around them.
It may have helped them recognize the versatility of Artturi Lehkonen for their midfield, the defensive efforts of Josh Manson as the blue line protection that would pair well with Sam Girard, and the impact of Andrew Cogliano in his own ending and ability to kill penalties.
Breaking down skills, adding versatility to the lineup
In years past, it was the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen combination that led the way. This year, they were able to spread the wealth further. Players like Nichushkin helped make this possible, as they added a two-way player who could track top attacking talent and support their plays. The addition of Lehkonen did the same, thanks to his forecheck and ability to win puck battles under pressure.
The versatility of this range was even greater. Colorado had options to make adjustments and create new combinations if needed. When Rantanen failed to meet expectations, he was moved to the second line. That brought together a Landeskog-MacKinnon-Nichushkin combination at the top that had an expected goal rate of 62.8%. When Kadri was out of the lineup, or Andre Burakovsky, they found other options to lean on like JT Compher, and were able to mix and match. It was something this team prepared for in the regular season.
A team box win without elite goalkeeper
It’s true that a team can be as good as its goalkeeper in some cases. A look around the league shows just how much the goalkeeper can make or break a team. The Rangers are a great example of how the elite net can help a team reach heights not expected. A lackluster game in net can send a team to the bottom of the standings.
But if a formation is well constructed, with forces on both sides of the formation, they can do without the best goalkeeper in the world (even when facing one of the best in Andrei Vasilevskiy).
Darcy Kuemper had a strong regular season, but slipped in the playoffs. Against an expected 32.8 goal workload, which was mitigated by the Colorado defense, he still allowed more than five more goals than expected. He didn’t give his team the best chance of winning on several occasions, and yet the Avalanche succeeded. It’s a testament to the team built in front of the blue paint and shows where there should be more emphasis in roster building above all else.
Play to your strengths in the post-season
And finally, team strategies. Colorado deserves a lot of credit here. Teams can fall into the trap of turning to a heavier style in the playoffs and move away from the strengths in their game that got them to this point. The Panthers, although well defended by the Capitals and Lightning, have not look like the regular season team that won the Presidents Trophy.
The Avalanche have only escaped their game a few times this postseason. There were a few instances against the Blues and Lightning, thanks to their opponents’ defensive efforts and perhaps an instinct to play it safe. Game 5 against St. Louis stands out for this, as does Game 5 against Tampa Bay.
In general, however, Colorado has stuck to the style of play that has made them successful all year – a fast-paced game that relies on possession and wave-generating attacks. At 5-5, the Avalanche finished the postseason with the highest scoring chances generated (26.6 of 60), finishing first in run attempts and second in cycle chances (behind Pittsburgh). . And, they finished with the lowest rate of slot attempts (15.9 to 60).
And when it was the most important — the third period of Game 6, when they were leading by one goal — the Avalanche also did not retreat into a defensive shell. Instead, Colorado most proactively protected its lead by pushing forward with the offense, which forced the Lightning to push through that to even attempt to muster their own quality chances.
Even with a few slip-ups, the Avalanche were overall one of the best even-strength teams while leading in games on both sides of the ice because they didn’t sit and play. cautiously most nights.
Data via Sportlogiq