The Colorado Avalanche are early season favorites to win the 2022 Stanley Cup, and after rolling to a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks to begin the season, the Avs have their sights set on repeating as President’s Trophy champions as well.
As of this writing, the Avs passed both the Vegas Golden Knights and the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning (both listed at or around +700) to boast odds of +450 as the Cup winner.
Why are the Avs Favorites?
Colorado has an incredibly well-constructed roster, with elite scoring talent at the top end (Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog), reliable scoring depth (Nazem Kadri, Tyson Jost, Andre Burakovsky), and talented forwards working their way through the pipeline (Alex Newhook, Sampo Ranta, Oskar Olausson, Jean-Luc Foudy).
However, the Avalanche also have an incredible pipeline of defensemen. The savvy trade to acquire Devon Toews from the New York Islanders makes him a perfect complement to Norris Trophy favorite Cale Makar.
Samuel Girard and Ryan Murray are one of the better second pairings in the league, and with another top prospect in Bowen Byram on the third line to begin the season, this Avalanche team has an absolutely stacked skater group.
But it doesn’t stop there – Colorado signed an underrated goaltender in Darcy Kuemper this offseason to take over in the net following the departure of Philipp Grubauer. Over the past three seasons, Kuemper’s 41.63 goals saved above average (GSAA) was the fourth-highest among all NHL netminders.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Ben Bishop, and Robin Lehner are the three goalies with a higher GSAA in that time span, and during those three years, all three finished in the top three in Vezina Trophy voting (Vasilevskiy won the award in 2019).
If Kuemper can continue to play at that level with a much better team in front of him than in Arizona, the Avalanche have a great chance of advancing to the Cup Final.
Internally, What Could Stop Them?
Looking at the current roster, there is one big question mark about the makeup: can backup goaltender Devan Dubnyk return to the days of his Masterton Trophy win and third-place Vezina finish when he was with the Minnesota Wild? Dubnyk went 27-9-2 with a 1.78 GAA, a .936 save percentage, and five shutouts in his first season in Minnesota and was a three-time All-Star.
However, his recent performances in Minnesota and with the San Jose Sharks were downright dreadful. Dubnyk was 3-9-2 with a 3.18 GAA and a .898 save percentage when Colorado acquired him at the trade deadline last season. To his credit, he recovered a bit with the Avalanche, but his GAA remained above 3.00, and his save percentage was below .900.
If anything happens to Kuemper, Dubnyk is the starter, with Pavel Francouz still sidelined. At the same time, even if Kuemper is healthy, Colorado can’t be giving away games if Dubnyk’s play is not up to snuff. With sky-high expectations, expect a short leash for Dubnyk this year.
Far and away, the Avalanche’s biggest threat in the Western Conference is the Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas nearly let a 3-0 lead slip away on Opening Night against the league’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken (who are also a threat for a deep run).
However, the Golden Knights held on for a win, albeit controversially, as the game-winning goal appeared to have been kicked into the net.
Like Colorado, Vegas’ roster is about as close to perfection as it gets in a salary cap league. The Golden Knights play a more physical and defensive style than the Avalanche, which, as we saw last season, became problematic during the playoffs.
Still, though it’s still early in the season, we’d be surprised to see anyone other than the Avalanche and Golden Knights in the Western Conference Finals.