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31 in 31

Three questions facing Colorado Avalanche

Defense, health of Varlamov among main concerns after last-place finish

by Rick Sadowski / NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three questions facing the Colorado Avalanche.

 

[AVALANCHE 31 in 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]

 

The Colorado Avalanche have plenty of work to do simply to be competitive again.

They are coming off a last-place finish in the NHL and have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the past three seasons and six of the past seven. They were 46 points behind the Nashville Predators, who were the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.

Here are the three most pressing questions the Avalanche are facing:

 

1. Can Semyon Varlamov stay healthy?

The goaltender hasn't been the same since he was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy in 2013-14, when he won 41 games and helped Colorado finish first in the Central Division. The Avalanche need him to return to that level and are hopeful two midseason hip surgeries have put an end to his frequent groin injuries. Varlamov played 24 games last season before being shut down in mid-January and having the first surgery Jan. 26.

General manager Joe Sakic said he doesn't want Varlamov to play more than 50 games. That's why the Avalanche signed Jonathan Bernier as an experienced backup after losing Calvin Pickard to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft.

Video: 31 in 31: Colorado Avalanche 2017-18 season preview

 

2. Has the defense improved?

This has been a perennial question. The Avalanche allowed an NHL-worst 3.37 goals per game last season and gave up 40 or more shots in 11 games and at least four goals in 38. Yet other than buying out the final season of Francois Beauchemin's three-year contract, they didn't make a significant move with their defensemen.

"I'd love to upgrade the [defense], sure, if we could, but every team wants to upgrade their [defense], and it's not as easy as you think," Sakic said.

The Avalanche will have defensemen Erik Johnson, who missed 36 games last season because of a broken fibula; offense-minded Tyson Barrie, whose 38 points were his fewest in three seasons; and Mark Barberio, who was claimed off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens on Feb 2.

Nikita Zadorov, who showed promise (10 assists in 56 games) before a broken ankle caused him to miss the final 25 games, is a restricted free agent. Prospects Chris Bigras, 22, Anton Lindholm, 22, Andrei Mironov, 23, and Duncan Siemens, 23, could play in the NHL this season.

 

3. Will the offense bounce back?

Barrie and forwards Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon each is coming off a down season. It is difficult to see that happening again. Colorado was shut out 12 times, the most in its history, averaged a League-low 2.01 goals per game, and was 30th on the power play (12.6 percent).

Right wing Mikko Rantanen should be better after leading the Avalanche with 20 goals as a rookie. Center Tyson Jost, a first-round pick (No. 10) in the 2016 NHL Draft, impressed in his six-game NHL debut, and right wing Sven Andrighetto was a surprise with 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 19 games after being acquired in a trade from the Canadiens on March 1.

Right wing Nail Yakupov, selected No. 1 by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2012 NHL Draft, signed a one-year contract as a free agent July 4. Center Colin Wilson was acquired in a trade from the Predators on July 1.deo: NJD@COL: MacKinnon nets one-timer through traffic

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