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Lyle Richardson: Colorado Avalanche
Since bottoming out in 2016-17, the Colorado Avalanche have rebuilt themselves into one of the NHL’s top teams. This season will see them march on to championship glory.
The Avalanche possess one of the league’s top lines in superstar center Nathan MacKinnon and wingers Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky and offseason acquisition Brandon Saad provide a robust secondary scoring punch.
Colorado’s defense corps features 2020 Calder Memorial Trophy winner Cale Makar, big all-around defenders Erik Johnson and Ryan Graves and underrated puck-mover Samuel Girard. They’re also bolstered by last fall’s acquisition of Devon Toews from the New York Islanders while promising Bowen Byram and Conor Timmins wait in the wings.
Injuries to goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz derailed the Avalanche in their second-round series against the Dallas Stars last summer. When healthy, however, the duo helped Colorado finish the regular season with the sixth-best goals-against per game (2.71).
Thanks to general manager Joe Sakic’s handiwork building up the roster, the Avalanche have made tremendous strides in recent years. With a potent first line, reliable second-line scorers, impressive blue-line depth and solid goaltending, this is a powerhouse that cannot be denied.
This is the year it all comes together. Expect the season to end with the Avalanche celebrating their first Stanley Cup championship since Sakic captained them in 2001.
Abbey Mastracco: Colorado Avalanche
According to DraftKings, the Avalanche are a league-best +650 to win the Stanley Cup. After three straight playoff appearances, they are poised to be one of the top teams in the NHL.
They have high-end talent, a strong supporting cast and the right coach to get them deep into the postseason. General manager Joe Sakic has been patient throughout the building process, supplementing his stars with talented young players. Through some shrewd maneuvering, the Avalanche are doing fine when it comes to the salary cap, which means their window for success will be open past this season.
But this season is the one in which it all comes together.
There isn’t one glaring weakness in Colorado’s game. They can score goals in bunches with Nathan MacKinnon, one of the world’s best players and a perennial Hart Trophy candidate, leading the charge. Calder winner Cale Makar had 50 points in 57 games last season, and goalie Pavel Francouz had a breakout campaign. The Avalanche are great at limiting high-danger chances in front of him and Philipp Grubauer.
Injuries hit the Avs hard in the postseason bubble last year. Otherwise, they may have gone further than the Western Conference semifinals. They lost to the eventual Western Conference champions, the Dallas Stars, in Game 7.
If healthy, the Avs should be the team to beat out of the West.
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Vegas Golden Knights
It may be a source of locker room friction, and it may be a salary-cap nightmare.
But in terms of the problems you could offer an NHL coach, having two legitimate No. 1 goaltenders isn’t exactly the worst, particularly with a compressed schedule loaded with back-to-back games.
That’s precisely where Peter DeBoer finds himself with the Vegas Golden Knights this season.
The team has been one of the best in the Western Conference since arriving as an expansion unit in 2017-18 and going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. It was expected to follow suit last season as the conference’s top playoff seed before an upset loss to the third-seeded Dallas Stars.
All the Knights have done since is sign No. 1 goalie Robin Lehner to a long-term deal, keep multi-Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury in the fold alongside him and add a hulking three-time All-Star on the blue line in front of them in the form of ex-St. Louis Blues stalwart Alex Pietrangelo.
If you think that sounds like a championship recipe, you’re right.
The Golden Knights will take that final step this season not only because of the aforementioned trio in the back, but also thanks to the consistent and continued production up front from the likes of wingers Max Pacioretty (32 goals in 2019-20), Reilly Smith (27 goals) and Mark Stone (21 goals), center Jonathan Marchessault (22 goals) and others
Bottom line: They’re deep. They’re good. They’re hungry.
And that spells trouble for the rest of the NHL.
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