The 2015-16 NHL season will be an interesting one for the Colorado Avalanche, to say the least. After a surprising playoff appearance in Patrick Roy’s first season as coach, followed by a disappointing sophomore season that saw Roy and 2013 No. 1 overall draft pick Nathan MacKinnon miss the playoffs, there’s really no telling what’s in store this year. With training camp less than a month away, the Avalanche will certainly come into camp with the mindset they need to be focused and determined to right the wrongs from last season.

Roy is entering his third season in charge and will be looking to emulate the success the Avalanche had in his first season as head coach. After last season’s 22-point regression, another year with no playoff hockey will be a tough pill to swallow for Roy and Avs fans.

The difference in the past two seasons for the Avalanche came down to Semyon Varlamov’s injury struggles, a bad start, defensive frailties and just some plain old bad luck. Furthermore, teams finally figured out Roy’s magic bullet – pulling the goalie early when down – and after ranking first in one-goal games in the 2013-14 season, the Avs slumped to 16th during the 2014-15 season.

Altogether, last season was very humbling for the burgundy and blue. With how challenging the Western Conference is these days, any extra motivation is a plus.

As Roy explained to last week, “I’m here to win the Stanley Cup. I’m not in Denver to see us missing the playoffs, I’m here to see us winning. I really want to make sure that’s the last time we’re missing the playoffs. It makes you very humble. First time I missed the playoffs as a coach in junior and the NHL.”

That’s the type of sentiment fans want to hear from a coach, but what happens if Colorado struggles early on?

If the Avs do struggle early in the season, Roy will certainly come under pressure from all angles. After being selected as Coach of the Year for the 2013-14 season, Roy was praised for his coaching decisions and sometimes outside the box way of thinking. His second season season was a major disappointment, with seemingly nothing going right. Now coming into his third season the question remains, was Roy a one-year wonder as a NHL head coach?

These situations are always more delicate when dealing with a legendary player from the same organization. Roy will always be a huge figure in Avalanche history and that will not change. With everyone wanting him to succeed, the stakes are higher for Roy as he does not want to tarnish his legacy.

The same can be said for general manger Joe Sakic, who shares all hockey decisions with Roy. Sakic, who would join Roy on a Mount Rushmore of Avs greats, started this journey with Roy three years ago. Anything less than Stanley Cups will be looked upon as failures, a standard they set as players now nearly two decades ago.

The dilemma is clear, as the two former legends try to get the team back to the promised land they haven’t seen since 2001. It’s understandable that fans will allow them some more leeway, but at the end of the day sports is a results business and if the Avs start slow again this season, expect pressure to be raised to uncomfortable levels for Sakic and Roy.


With Colorado trading Ryan O’Reilly this offseason after losing Paul Stastny to free agency the year before, gone are two Avs players that were at one time looked upon as cornerstones of the team.

Instead, newcomers Carl Soderberg, Nikita Zadrov, Mikhail GrigornekoJ.T. CompherFrancois Beauchemin and Blake Comeau have been brought in to shore up the team.

These players will give Colorado a mixture of defensive depth, young talent, and veteran leadership. On paper, the Avs look more solid as a whole but the players will need to prove it on the ice.

The question remains, what makes this incoming group of players any different from last season’s pickups?

Last season the Avalanche acquired Jarome Iginla, Daniel Briere, Jesse Winchester, Zach Redmond and Brad Stuart. This group of players was expected to help fill the holes left by P.A. Parenteau and Stastny.

That didn’t happen as expected. Puck possession problems, poor defensive play and underwhelming performances by the new pick-ups doomed the burgundy and blue throughout the season.

The Avs are certainly trying to get the formula right, as they attacked the market again this offseason. However, at the end of the day the players have to come in and perform. That didn’t happen last season and this season the new additions have to make a bigger impact if the Avs want to be serious contenders in the Western Conference.


Through all the trades and free agent singings, the Avalanche will look noticeably different this upcoming season. One thing that remains the same is that the Avs still boast an outstanding young core of talented in players in Varlamov (27), MacKinnon (19), Matt Duchene (24), Gabriel Landeskog (22) and Tyson Barrie (24).

Anything the Avs accomplish this season, these young stars will have their fingerprints all over it.

Therein lines the most important question for the short- and long-term. Do these young stars have what it takes to lead the Avalanche not just to the playoffs but to a Stanley Cup?

MacKinnon is the youngest of the bunch and after a sophomore slump, expect him to be back to his explosive self. MacKinnon has the highest ceiling by far, so get used to seeing his rare talent at the Pepsi Center for years to come. Additionally, Barrie who has really matured into a great player with good speed, vision and a great shot also should continue to improve this season.

Varlamov is still a top-10 goalie, and he will need to stay at this level if the Avs are going to make any noise next year. The talent in the Western Conference makes it imperative to have a goalie of high caliber. Varlamov, if healthy, will continue to play at a high level this season.

Landeskog, the captain, also continues to show great promise. His last two seasons have been very similar, posting 20-plus goals and 35-plus assist seasons each year. As a the captain of the team and still only 22 years old, Landeskog provides physicality, grit and leadership. He needs to continue leading this team by example as well as keep continuing to improve his offensive game to really become a Jonathan Toews-like figure.

The biggest question mark lies with Duchene. Selected third overall at the 2009 NHL draft, Duchene at 24 years old has a ton of natural hockey ability. Still though, he is in need of a monster season. Since debuting with the Avs in the 2009-10 season, Duchene has only amassed 70-points once (2013-14). For Duchene to become a star in this league, and more importantly lead the Avs on a Cup run, he needs to raise his game to another level, especially his goal-scoring abilities. He is already a gifted passer but if Duchene can find a way to get at least 27 goals (his best tally in 2010-11), this will help the Avs immensely.

For now, Colorado’s young core has age on their side, but in sports that doesn’t last forever and winning now is the only thing that matters. The Avalanche play in a division where five of the seven teams made the playoffs, including the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The Dallas Stars joined the Avalanche as the only two central division teams to miss the playoffs.

Colorado is a team used to success, having made the playoffs in each of their first ten seasons in Denver. More success is now required and Colorado fans are anxious for another Stanley Cup run.

With a team filled with young talent, new veteran acquisitions and a coach and general manager who set the standard for winning, the 2015-16 Avalanche will be a team looking to get back to winning ways in a state that loves its hockey.

Sammy Mugharbil, a Mile High Sports intern and student at MSU-Denver, contributed to this report