Updated: Sep 18, 2019
Right off the bat, the Avalanche are going to be no joke this year. They beefed up their roster significantly this offseason and are going to prove to be a real test for the Predators, as well as heavy competition for the Central Division title.
One of the summer's blockbuster trades, however, was a head-scratcher for the Avs.
Tyson Barrie was their most prolific D-man last year, but was traded along with center Alex Kerfoot to Toronto for controversial center Nazem Kadri. Barrie (59) and Kerfoot (42) were fourth and sixth in points for the team, respectively. Kadri tallied 44 points last season, but trading away two top guys on your team for him doesn't really add up. Kadri has a career-total eight points and a +1 rating facing the Preds.
The Avs' defense was its main weak point last year, averaging three goals against per game.
With Barrie traded away, their current first-line pairing is Erik Johnson and Nikita Zadorov. Johnson has not recorded a single point against the Preds since 2010-2011, and has a career -18 rating against the team. Johnson is also still nursing a shoulder injury and might not be available upon season's start. Zadorov has only three career points against Nashville.
Colorado's second defensive tandem is going to be trouble for opposing teams this season. Sam Girard is a familiar face in Nashville, but was shipped off in the 2017 three-team trade in which the Preds acquired Kyle Turris. At 20 years old last season, Girard blew up for 27 points- tying Colin Wilson (speaking of familiar faces) for eighth-most on the team. In addition, he recorded five assists against his former team. Cale Makar joined the Avs for his debut in Round One of the 2019 playoffs. He scored the game-winning goal, his first in the NHL, during his very first game. Colorado was eventually knocked out by St. Louis in the second round, but not before Makar racked up a goal and five assists in the 10 playoff games he appeared in. This kid is going to be dangerous, especially if he gets bumped up to the first line and starts feeding pucks to Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen (if he re-signs)....
...Which brings us to the aforementioned "Big Three".
MacKinnon is a future Hall of Famer if he continues at this rate. He had a record year in goals and points last season, amassing a whopping 99 points in the regular season alone and blistering defenses with a league-leading 365 shots on net. MacKinnon had the Preds' number last year, putting six points up in the four games he played against us. However, MacKinnon has a career -11 ranking when playing the Preds. If the Preds know how to take advantage of MacKinnon's lacking back-check, then they should continue that strategy when playing the Avs.
As I write this, Mikko Rantanen is home in Finland without an approximation of a deal with the Avalanche. If they manage to re-sign him, the MacKinnon-Landeskog-Rantanen line will be another force to reckon with this year. Rantanen put up 87 points last season skating with the 99-point MacKinnon. Rantanen has only notched 9 career points against the Preds, which isn't a lot considering the Predators and the Avalanche meet five times per season.
Gabriel Landeskog was the least prolific of the three last season- and by that, I mean he put up 75 points. Landeskog hasn't exactly been overwhelming to the Preds; since 2016-2017 he has only recorded four points and a -4 rating against the team. Either way, shutting down these three is an absolute necessity.
Colorado does have a problem with penalties. Granted, that didn't exactly do the Preds and the dumpster fire of a power play last season, but hopefully that ship will be rightened come October. The Avs' overpaid, fourth-line defenseman Ian Cole tied with Vancouver's Antoine Roussel and Washington's Tom Wilson for second-most penalties drawn in a single season last year, logging 115 total minutes in the sin bin. Cole will be out recovering from hip surgery until December, however. In the same category, Nikita Zadorov tied for sixth-most penalties drawn with three other players. No other team in the league can boast two players in the top ten of penalties drawn.
The Avs lucked out in the draft lottery and wound up taking the speedy, versatile defenseman Bowen Byram at #4 overall. Though he is still of smaller frame, Byram can grow into the missing spot left by Tyson Barrie this year or next.
Their goalie situation may present some weakness for them. Longtime Av Semyon Varlamov signed with the Islanders this offseason, which gave 2018 Stanley Cup Champion Philipp Grubauer the starting job. He had a solid first year with the Avs this past season and is a very consistent presence in the net. Additionally, he made 38 saves to shut out the Preds on Feb. 23. His backups? Pavel Francouz and Adam Werner. Yeah, I don't know either. Francouz is 29 years old and has played in a career total of two NHL games- both losses. Werner was drafted this year and could be a promising player, but needs more reps in the AHL before finding success professionally. That being said, if anything happens to Grubauer, the Avalanche might be up the creek without a paddle.
Outside of the Blues and Jets, the Avalanche may very well be the toughest divisional competition the Preds face this year.
Oh, I forgot to mention that Colorado has the most cap space in the league at around $15.5 million. And as we know, more cap space = more leverage in free agency.