The 2021-2022 Colorado Avalanche- A Team of Destiny

The Colorado Avalanche have defeated the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning in six games to capture the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in just over two decades. In one of the most dominant playoff runs in recent memory, 2021-2022 was finally the Avs year, after suffering multiple disappointing series losses in previous seasons. Their overall team AB score in 2021-2022 of +122.52 was also the highest team score recorded by a Stanley Cup Champion in over a decade, as the 2010-2011 Boston Bruins still hold the record at +124.51. In this article, we will refer to prior hockeyfreeforall.com work in highlighting just how great the 2021-2022 Avalanche were compared to previous champions, and why they are clearly the class of the league for the foreseeable future.

First, we looked at the final team AB scores for the fifteen Stanley Cup Champions dating back to 2007-08 and determined whether or not they were the highest AB team heading into the playoffs, the results of this are in the table below.

YearChampionScoreHighest (Y/N)
2007-2008Detroit Red Wings+85.79Yes
2008-2009Pittsburgh Penguins+27.38No
2009-2010Chicago Blackhawks+119.55No
2010-2011Boston Bruins+124.51Yes
2011-2012Los Angeles Kings-11.17No
2012-2013Chicago Blackhawks+94.52Yes
2013-2014Los Angeles Kings+59.83No
2014-2015Chicago Blackhawks+53.02No
2015-2016Pittsburgh Penguins+74.84No
2016-2017Pittsburgh Penguins+77.96No
2017-2018Washington Capitals+27.91No
2018-2019St. Louis Blues+26.26No
2019-2020Tampa Bay Lightning+76.27No
2020-2021Tampa Bay Lightning+28.50No
2021-2022Colorado Avalanche+122.52No

The takeaways we interpreted from this table was that 14/15 (93%) of Stanley Cup Champions from 2007-Present were positive AB teams, the only exception being the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings, who are a consistent anomaly throughout this article. The average team AB score of these champions was +65.846, a threshold that only six teams eclipsed this season. These six teams were Carolina (+126.34), Calgary (+153.52), Colorado (+122.52), Florida (+155.13), Minnesota (+130.25), and St. Louis (+90.73).

Second, we addressed the actual roster construction of these champions looking at whether or not the team had more positive or negative players on the roster, and what the actual percentage and ratio of that result were. The table below shows the ratios and percentages of the team’s positive/negative players.

YearChampionRatio (Positive/Negative)Percentage Positive
2007-2008Detroit Red Wings13:960%
2008-2009Pittsburgh Penguins17:1160%
2009-2010Chicago Blackhawks21:291%
2010-2011Boston Bruins17:770%
2011-2012Los Angeles Kings7:1729%
2012-2013Chicago Blackhawks19:483%
2013-2014Los Angeles Kings14:767%
2014-2015Chicago Blackhawks15:865%
2015-2016Pittsburgh Penguins21:578%
2016-2017Pittsburgh Penguins17:674%
2017-2018Washington Capitals12:667%
2018-2019St. Louis Blues13:1350%
2019-2020Tampa Bay Lightning13:1252%
2020-2021Tampa Bay Lightning15:671%
2021-2022Colorado Avalanche18:869%

In total, the positive to negative ratio for all players on these championship teams was 232 positive to 121 negative, for an average of 65.73% per team. Again, the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings are the exception to the 14/15 (93%) trend, as they are the only champion to win with more negative than positive players on their roster. This year, Colorado’s positive to negative AB player ratio was 18:8 for 69%, the second-highest ratio behind last year’s Tampa Bay Lightning team since 2017-18.

The next aspect of roster construction we examined was a bit deeper than the surface level. We wanted to examine trends on all thirteen teams to see if any appeared more than once and noticed several. We discovered that on eleven of these fifteen teams (73%), a center with a +10 or higher AB score was on the roster, the exceptions being the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings, the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins (although Sidney Crosby had a +9.09 score that season), the 2017-18 Washington Capitals (although Chandler Stephenson had a +8.13 score that season), and the 2020-21 Tampa Bay Lightning. Also, the same eleven champions with a +10 AB center had two or more +10 or higher AB players, for the same 73%. For your own reference, the table below shows the players on these championship teams meeting this criterion (centers highlighted).

YearChampionPlayer NamesRespective Scores
2007-2008Detroit Red WingsDatsyuk, Zetterberg, Lidstrom, Samuelsson, Cleary, Filppula, Rafalski+29.5,+18.07,+16.08,+13.47,+12.14,+10.84,+10.67
2008-2009Pittsburgh PenguinsMalkin, Kennedy+12.27, +10.17
2009-2010Chicago BlackhawksToews, Hossa, Kane, Sharp+14.73, +13.79, +12.60, +11.72
2010-2011Boston BruinsChara, McQuaid, Horton, Krejci, Marchand, Lucic, Ference, Bergeron+15.37, +14.77, +14.34, +12.49, +12.43, +11.05, +10.44, +10.32
2011-2012Los Angeles KingsBrown+12.66
2012-2013Chicago BlackhawksToews, Hossa+16.17, +10.78
2013-2014Los Angeles KingsKopitar, Toffoli+18.36, +11.26
2014-2015Chicago BlackhawksToews+16.65
2015-2016Pittsburgh PenguinsKunitz, Maatta, Crosby, Hornqvist+14.60, +12.06, +10.79, +10.30
2016-2017Pittsburgh PenguinsSheary, Schultz+12.99, +10.11
2017-2018Washington CapitalsNONENONE
2018-2019St. Louis BluesO’Reilly, Parayko+14.75, +10.27
2019-2020Tampa Bay LightningCirelli, Point, Palat, Hedman, Kucherov+17.97, +16.32, +13.33, +13.21, +11.96
2020-2021Tampa Bay LightningNONENONE
2021-2022Colorado AvalancheToews, Makar, Rantanen, MacKinnon, Nichushkin+25.36, +24.48, +18.31, +13.90,+12.00

This year, the Colorado Avalanche had four players exceeding the +10 AB mark, Toews (+25.36), Makar (+24.48), Rantanen (+18.31), MacKinnon (+13.90), Nichushkin (+12.00). MacKinnon satisfied the center trend for the Avalanche, as they met the criteria of champions again.

This brings us to the last element of roster construction we examined, the specific scores of each champion’s top defensive pairing. We wanted to determine the average AB of a first-pair championship defenseman, as well as the average score of the combination. Below is a table consisting of these pairings and their scores similar to the rest of this article. Pairing combinations were found in older articles online dating back to the respective years.

YearChampionPairingPairing Total AB/Average
2007-2008Detroit Red WingsLindstrom (+16.08)/Rafalski (+10.84)+26.92 (+13.46 AVG)
2008-2009Pittsburgh PenguinsOrpik (+1.48)/Gonchar (-3.75)-2.27 (-1.135 AVG)
2009-2010Chicago BlackhawksSeabrook (+8.82)/Keith (+9.20)+18.02 (+9.01 AVG)
2010-2011Boston BruinsChara (+15.37)/Seidenberg (-0.14)+15.23 (+7.615 AVG)
2011-2012Los Angeles KingsScuderi (-5.02)/Doughty (-2.9)-7.92 (-3.96 AVG)
2012-2013Chicago BlackhawksSeabrook (+4)/Keith (+6.22)+10.22 (+5.11 AVG)
2013-2014Los Angeles KingsMuzzin (-0.41)/Doughty (+4.05)+3.64 (+1.82 AVG)
2014-2015Chicago BlackhawksKeith (+3.34)/Hjalmarsson (+9.08)+12.42 (+6.21 AVG)
2015-2016Pittsburgh PenguinsLetang (+2.06)/Maatta (+12.06)+14.12 (+7.06 AVG)
2016-2017Pittsburgh PenguinsDumoulin (-0.12)/Letang (+0.26)+0.14 (+0.07 AVG)
2017-2018Washington CapitalsOrlov (+6.34)/Niskanen (+7.61)+13.95 (+6.975 AVG)
2018-2019St. Louis BluesEdmundson (-2.26)/Pietrangelo (+1.77)-0.49 (-0.245 AVG)
2019-2020Tampa Bay LightningHedman (+13.21)/Sergachev (+4.10)+17.31 (+8.655)
2020-2021Tampa Bay LightningHedman (+1.45)/Sergachev (-0.28)+1.17 (+0.585)
2021-2022Colorado AvalancheMakar (+24.48)/Toews (+25.36)+49.84 (+24.92)

In this part, we found that the average AB score of a top-pairing defenseman on a championship team was +5.74, while the average score of the pairing combined was +11.48. There were only seven negative defensemen in these pairings out of thirty, meaning 76% of all top-pairing defensemen on these championship teams were positive AB players. In Colorado’s case, their top pair was Devon Toews (+24.48) and Cale Makar (+25.36). Combined, the pairing is a +49.84 with an average individual score of +24.92. This is the second-highest average in our metric’s history behind the pairing of Niklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski in 2007-08, which puts them in very elite company. Even still, their averages were much higher than the total averages of these other championship teams, further illustrating how well the Avalanche were constructed.

The next portion of the discussion will focus on the specific moves and strategies behind the Avalanche’s construction by GM Joe Sakic, who has held the position since 2013. This section will focus on decisions made by the Colorado front office in the draft, free agency, and through trades during the Sakic era, and will be related to AB/Tentative AB as always. The NHL, as we all know, is a copycat league, and perhaps the Avalanche model outlined below will be replicated by other clubs in the future.

Drafting and Development

This Colorado Avalanche team was obviously not built overnight, as several of the team’s biggest core pieces were drafted by the club over an eleven-year period. These players include captain Gabriel Landeskog (2nd overall 2011), franchise cornerstone Nathan MacKinnon (1st overall 2013), sniper Mikko Rantanen (10th overall 2015), and now Norris/Conn Smythe Trophy-winning defenseman Cale Makar (4th overall 2017), and promising young d-man Bowen Byram (4th overall 2019). Other draft picks that played key games for the team this season were Alex Newhook (16th overall 2019) and Sampo Ranta (78th overall 2018). Of the twenty-six Avalanche players we have AB data for, those seven draft picks makeup 26.5% of the overall roster. Although only seven of the Avs current players were drafted by the team, all but two of their seventeen drafted within the TAB study (2007-Present) were positive TAB players (88%). Below is a table that depicts the Pre-NHL TAB scores of the 2021-2022 Colorado Avalanche team.

Player NamePre-NHL TAB Score
Devon Toews0.00
Cale Makar0.00
Mikko Rantanen-2.17
Nathan MacKinnon+12.75
Valeri Nichushkin-1.00
Gabriel Landeskog+5.50
Erik JohnsonBEFORE TAB WINDOW
Kiefer SherwoodUNDRAFTED
Nazem Kadri+5.50
Logan O’ConnorUNDRAFTED
Alex Newhook0.00
Andre Burakovsky-2.00
J.T. Compher+5.75
Sampo Ranta-4.00
Jack JohnsonBEFORE TAB WINDOW
Bowen Byram+4.17
Nicolas Aube-Kubel-1.25
Artturi Lehkonen+1.25
Ryan Murray+6.38
Jayson MegnaUNDRAFTED
Samuel Girard+9.75
Nico SturmUNDRAFTED
Darren HelmBEFORE TAB WINDOW
Andrew CoglianoBEFORE TAB WINDOW
Josh Manson0.00
Kurtis MacDermidUNDRAFTED

Key Trades At Appropriate Times

In the roughly nine full seasons since Joe Sakic took over the Colorado Avalanche, the team took part in some rather significant trades, including one of the biggest in recent memory. November 5th, 2017 is a day that will live in infamy for fans of the Ottawa Senators and Nashville Predators. However, without this day occurring, the Avalanche may not be in its current position. We are referring to none other than the Matt Duchene blockbuster three-way trade (credit to CapFriendly.com for the details below).

This trade is the crown jewel of Joe Sakic’s tenure as GM, as the Avalanche acquired essentially their second defense pairing in Samuel Girard (+2.29 career AB in five seasons, +9.75 Pre-NHL TAB), and Bowen Byram (-1.86 career AB in two seasons, +4.17 Pre-NHL TAB), who was selected with Ottawa’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft. In addition to these two stud defensemen, Colorado also received a second-round pick (which was later flipped for a third and a fifth-round pick in the same year), former Senators first-round pick Shane Bowers (+5.00 Pre-NHL TAB), Vladislav Kamenev (-4.76 career AB in two seasons, -0.50 Pre-NHL TAB), and goaltender Andrew Hammond. All this for a disgruntled star in Matt Duchene, who had expressed his desire to leave Colorado publicly, leaving Sakic with little leverage. This made the return even more impressive, as Duchene would leave the Senators in a trade-deadline deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets before inking a seven-year, fifty-six million dollar contract with the Nashville Predators in unrestricted free agency. On June 28th, 2019, Joe Sakic made another trade with the Washington Capitals, acquiring Andre Burakovsky (+4.55 career AB) for Scott Kosmachuk (-1.25 Pre-NHL TAB), a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2020 third-round pick. Burakovsky’s performance in this playoff run for the Avalanche was essential to their success, as he was arguably one of their best overall players over the period.

In addition to the trades previously discussed, Joe Sakic and the Avalanche made another significant trade shortly after the Burakovsky deal, as on July 1st, 2019, the Avs acquired Nazem Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs as the graphic (courtesy of CapFriendly.com) details below.

Nazem Kadri has been one of the most significant players on this Avalanche roster since the moment he arrived. As a career +2.48 AB player, he registered his highest individual AB score since 2012-13 this season with a +7.98 score, which was the second-best number of his career. In addition to his AB success, Kadri also scored twenty-eight goals with fifty-nine assists for eighty-seven points, shattering his previous career-high of sixty-one points in a season set back in 2016-17. Similar to Burakovsky, Kadri’s performance this playoff has been extraordinary, as he even scored the game-winning goal in overtime in Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals, to cap off a Colorado comeback.

The last significant trades prior to the 2022 trade deadline made by Sakic and his team were the acquisitions of top-pair defenseman Devon Toews for two-second round picks on October 12th, 2020, as well as the trade on July 28th, 2021, that sent Darcy Kuemper to the club in exchange for prospect Connor Timmins, a 2022 first-round pick, and a 2024 third-round pick. Entering the league with a 0.00 Pre-NHL TAB score, Devon Toews was a positive career AB player with the New York Islanders with a +2.16 over two seasons. However, Toews ascended to stardom with the Avalanche, jumping to a +10.76 career AB player with two seasons registering above a +15 score. This is all while playing around 24-25 minutes per game as one of the team’s best defensemen. Darcy Kuemper has been streaky this postseason for the Avalanche but has done what was needed to give the team a chance to compete, and now win the Stanley Cup. In the regular season, he was dominant, posting a .921 save percentage and a 37-12-4 record in 57 games played, with five shutouts as well.

At the 2022 NHL trade deadline, pieces such as Artturi Lehkonen, Josh Manson, Nico Sturm, and Andrew Cogliano were acquired to aid the team in making their finals run. All of these players were significant contributors to the team’s Stanley Cup victory, as we’ve referenced the skills, they all brought to the Avalanche in previous articles dated back to the trade deadline. Despite the fact neither of the following players were on their actual championship roster, we wanted to mention that Sakic traded Chris Bigras, a former second-round pick who only played forty-six NHL games to the New York Rangers for Ryan Graves straight up, and also acquired future franchise goaltender Philipp Grubauer along with Brooks Orpik’s contract from the Washington Capitals in exchange for a second-round pick. Both deals were instrumental to Colorado’s success over the last couple of seasons, and we thought they would be worthwhile to mention in this portion of the article. However, 47% of their constructed championship roster consisted of players acquired via trade, which is why it was of importance to reference the astute work done by GM Sakic and his team.

Low-Risk, High-Reward Free Agency Approach

The remaining 26.5% of the Avalanche’s 2021-2022 Stanley Cup roster was acquired via free agency, all of which were very low-risk, high-reward situations in our opinion. Valeri Nichushkin, a former 10th overall pick by the Dallas Stars in the 2013 NHL Draft, was signed to a two-year five-million-dollar contract on October 10th, 2020, and has been worth every penny. A +5.23 career AB player before arriving in Colorado, Nichushkin exploded with two +12 or higher seasons in two of the last three years, boosting his career AB to +8.22 in the span. He has yet to record a negative individual AB season in his career. Nichushkin, in addition to fifty-two points in sixty-two games for the Avs in the regular season (all career-highs), has had an excellent playoff as well. Another one of Colorado’s better free agency signings was former AB poster-boy Darren Helm. During his tenure with the Detroit Red Wings, Darren Helm registered multiple +10 or higher individual AB seasons and is a +3.31 career AB player over the course of his thirteen seasons in the NHL. Other free-agent acquisitions include defensemen Jack Johnson and Ryan Murray who have also been solid for the club this postseason.

Consistency and Patience

The Avalanche are in a unique position that is becoming uncommon in today’s NHL. They’ve had the same head coach in Jared Bednar since 2016, and the same General Manager in Joe Sakic since 2014. With all of the turnover that typically occurs within NHL front offices and behind NHL benches, the fact that these two men have led the organization through all of its recent playoff failures to reach the top of the mountain this season has been incredible to watch. This also shows the quality of the Avalanche’s ownership group, led by Stan Kroenke (who’s Los Angeles Rams just won the Super Bowl in early February). The patience from all parties involved has been crucial to this team’s success as the development of their young superstars got clearer every single year. We think it is essential for teams trying to copy the Avalanche team-building strategy to not exclude this portion of the formula, because, without it, we believe they wouldn’t be champions today.

The 2021-2022 Colorado Avalanche were a gift to the game of hockey. We at hockeyfreeforall even had the pleasure of watching them in person against the New Jersey Devils earlier in the regular season. We see no reason why the Avalanche can’t be contenders for the foreseeable future, as the only member of their core group not locked up long-term is Nathan MacKinnon, who is set to become the highest-paid player in NHL history during the 2023-24 offseason. That will surely be something to monitor, however, we have full confidence in Sakic and his team to deliver. With that being said, the Colorado Avalanche are now officially Stanley Cup Champions for the first time since 2001, capping off a special 2021-22 season for the National Hockey League as a whole. Much more to come.

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