It’s been quite the season for the Avalanche. They enter the All-Star break in the midst of a franchise-best 17-game point streak (15-0-2) and they’re doing it without superstar Nathan MacKinnon playing every night.

MacKinnon has dressed in just 31-of-44 games, missing time due to COVID and is now in his second stint on the shelf with an injury.

In his absence, guys like Nazem Kadri, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Cale Makar have stepped up for the 32-8-4 Avs. There have also been surprises in terms of production from depth pieces like Valeri Nichushkin, Logan O’Connor and an early-season outburst from J.T. Compher. And who could forget the growth of Devon Toews on defense?

It’s hard to look back at the past four years and label anyone on this team as the MVP outside of MacKinnon. But with all the time he’s missed, this is an appropriate year to give those honors to one of his beloved teammates.

Mile High Sports’ very own J.J. Jerez, co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast, has joined in on this piece to debate me on who has been Colorado’s MVP through 44 games.

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Aarif Deen

Oftentimes the obvious choice for an accolade like the most valuable player is so overwhelmingly easy to pick that we try to overthink it. Let’s not do that.

Kadri is the MVP of this team through 44 games. It’s that simple. He’s got 19 goals and 60 points in 41 games. He’s averaged an assist per game as a player that’s never had more than 61 points in a single season, let alone helpers. Kadri’s performance cannot be understated. Sure, the Avs have one of the better trios in the NHL in Landeskog, Rantanen and MacKinnon. And yes, Makar is a generational talent. But centers are the leading force of a good offensive team and Kadri has played all but three games this year as the consistent top center of the Avalanche. And that’s mostly because of injuries and COVID holding MacKinnon to just 31 games.

J.J. Jerez

Kadri is an easy choice. But the more obvious choice is Makar.

He has 18 goals, just one fewer than Kadri as a defenseman. He’s scoring at the type of legendary pace we haven’t seen in either of our lifetimes. And he’s also tied with Kadri in game-winning goals (five). The Avalanche are second in goals for and seventh in goals-against while Makar is on the ice for more than 25 minutes a game, second to his partner Devon Toews.

Both players contribute to the power play, which has been pivotal for their offense. But we all know that the catalyst on the power play is Makar. While Rantanen leads the team in power-play goals and Kadri is right behind him, Makar leads the team in power-play assists. It’s his playmaking that makes it all come together.

He’s been the guy this year.


I get it. Makar is a generational talent. Heck, if there’s a defenseman in the NHL that could win the Hart Trophy for the first time since Chris Pronger in 2000, then it’s definitely him.
But let’s not understate what Kadri has provided in terms of playmaking as well. The power-play efficiency is great, and Makar is the quarterback. But what if Kadri was scoring at a 50-point pace like years past? What would that do to linemates Andre Burakovsky and Nichushkin’s numbers? And that doesn’t even take into account Kadri carrying the top line in MacKinnon’s absence in November.

So yes, Makar has been strong offensively. But fellow defenseman Roman Josi always leads the Predators in scoring and that doesn’t get Nashville anywhere. You need centermen to drive a high-powered offense. MacKinnon has missed a ton of games. Kadri stepped up.

He’s also taken on more defensive responsibility by playing on the penalty kill. Kadri has elevated the Avs’ faceoff win percentage while down a man. He’s their only true faceoff guy that can win a draw in the clutch which makes him more valuable than just his offensive output.


Faceoffs are great. But haven’t we always been taught that defense wins championships? Outside of the 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins without an injured Kris Letang, how many teams have won the Stanley Cup without a true No. 1 defenseman?

You need a Duncan Keith, Victor Hedman or Drew Daughty to win it all. The Avs haven’t had a guy like that since the days of Ray Bourque, Rob Blake and of course, Adam Foote. Makar is that guy. And he’s not just an offensive stalwart. Along with Toews, he is also one-half of the Avalanche’s best shutdown unit.

But during this regular season, Makar has gone to new heights. He is strong defensively while also scoring goals at a crazy pace. His offensive upside was already high but I think we’re all blown away by the step he’s taken this year.

I don’t want to take away from Kadri’s production and what he’s doing by any means, but without a strong defenseman in Makar that has also been pitching in on offense the way he has, this team isn’t where they are today.

Kadri has been excellent. So has Makar. But No. 8 is a generational talent and has carried this team in the absence of MacKinnon more than Kadri has.

Aarif Deen
 is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.

Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif

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