Kyle Keefe recently joined Eric Goodman and Les Shapiro on the Afternoon Drive to discuss Colorado’s success this season and break down what makes the duo of Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon so special.
The Avs’ top line has been able to generate quite a following this season, as the two Avalanche superstars currently sit atop the NHL point leaders. Rantanen sits on top of the table with 47 points, with MacKinnon right behind him at 43 points.
Naturally, with any type of success people will be able to gain attention from fellow and former NHL players — this is no different as Dallas Stars Hall of Famer Mike Modano has become quite fond of the two superstars.
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” Keefe said, “I follow the Avalanche Twitter pretty hard and one day I just saw Mike Modano was like “Wow, this may be the best line in the NHL”, and then a week later it was “this is the best line in the NHL”, and then three days later it was “There is no doubt about it [that this is the best line in the NHL].”
— Mike Modano (@9modano) October 27, 2018
Behind a line that is built up from blistering speed and brute strength, the Avs top line has been able to take over games seemingly at will — something that hockey fans in Colorado remember back from the “Golden Years” where the Avalanche brought home the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001 with hall of fame forwards Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg.
“There is no argument, this is the best line in the NHL,” Keefe said, “they dismantled the Boston Bruins when they came to town, regardless of the score they were the better line. That was the big show that everyone wanted to see.”
Although there are some doubters of the Avs top line success, there is one thing to keep in mind — this success is not just based off of this season, it goes all the way back to last season as well.
“It is not a fluke,” Keefe said, “you go back 70 games last year and the 23-24 games this year. It’s on. This is not just this year, it is three games since Matt Duchene was traded on Nov 6. This line has lit fire and this is no fluke.”
Financial maneuvering for the future
Coming to the end of his entry-level contract season after this season, it will be interesting to see the paycheck that Rantanen will receive following this season when Avalanche GM Joe Sakic signs him to a brand new contract.
“He structures deals and they plan for the future, and it has paid off for the team twice. Not only financially, but also structurally,” Keefe said, “That is the real key. What Joe has done is plan for the future, and he has it worked out where they have enough cap space where they can sign Mikko to a big deal, and he will get it.”
With the success the Avalanche have had with the play from MacKinnon, Sakic has received an absolute bargain as MacKinnon’s contract runs until 2023 and tops off at 6.5 million dollars.
“With Nathan [MacKinnon] he is signed through 2023, that will all get worked out. It is one of those things where guys like Jack Eichel, Jonathon Toews, and Patrick Kane are making north of 10 million [with Toews and Kane each making 12 million]. If you think about that, they front-loaded these guys and they are not paying them anything near the end of their contracts.”
Taking a look at some of the other top players in the league, Keefe is on to something. Taking a look at the point leaders this season will speak volumes, as some of the best players in the world trail the Avs top superstars in the points race this season.
“The best player on planet earth, Connor McDavid, is chasing Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon. You cannot deny the numbers, and when I go back to last year the reason why the Avalanche made the playoffs was because of that top line.”
“I think they are in a situation now that is beneficial not only to the salary cap, but to the future of the club.”
Going beyond the top line
Although the top line has certainly been leading the charge, one area of the Avs game that everyone seems to be overlooking is the overall depth that runs throughout this team — and it all begins with the goaltenders.
Coming off a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers last night, Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer improves to an impressive 7-0-2 record in his past nine games. Along with the success from Grubauer, Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov holds a strong 10-6-0 record on the season.
“You cannot ignore the fact that the goaltender has been stellar,” Keefe said on the Afternoon Drive, “they [the Avalanche] are getting it from Varly and Grubauer and that has continued to flow throughout the rest of the team.”
One major concern surrounding the Avalanche heading into this season was where the secondary scoring would come from behind the powerhouse top line. Over the past few games this season, especially the game against the Panthers last night with a two-goal night performance from Avalanche veteran forward Carl Soderberg, secondary scoring is evident for the Avs.
“In my opinion, as good as Carl Soderberg and Alex Kerfoot has been, Soderberg has reinvented himself,” Keefe said, ” There were a lot of skeptics out there following the deal after the 40-point season, but last year he was really good, and this year he has been outstanding.”
“He kills penalties, he goes up against other teams top lines in situations where it is late in the game and taking the faceoff. He has been tremendous, and when the top line isn’t going you are getting the secondary scoring and you are getting the goaltending.”
Wrapping it up
With a top line that continues to be dominant this season, a GM that has not only planned for the present but has also planned for the future, and has secondary scoring that continues to improve as the season continues, the Avalanche seem to be all set to be at the top of the NHL standings for years to come — with a high possibility of the Stanley Cup returning to Denver sooner rather than later.