The Colorado Avalanche Have Been As Dominant As Advertised

In a sport as chaotic as hockey, it can be difficult for favorites to deliver in the playoffs. There’s a reason we often see great regular-season teams flaring up early in the postseason, while the entire tournament often feels like little more than a struggle for so-so goalies. This year was to be even scarier than usual for the top teams, given the plethora of dangerous competitors throughout the season and the historically competitive way the playoffs began.

Despite all of that, the Colorado Avalanche in the 2022 playoffs was as good as advertised — if not a lot better. Colorado put a dramatic finishing touch on their win over the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Finals by coming back from a 4-2 deficit in the third period (and surviving a late, game-winning rally from Edmonton) on Monday night to beat Artturi Lehkonen’s goal early in overtime. As it has done all season, Colorado shrugged off the potential for chaos, went about its business and kept climbing. Now there’s only one pinnacle left for a team that looks as impressive as any we’ve seen in recent times.

The Avalanche have spent most of the 2021-22 season on an upward trajectory. Earlier in the year we ranked them as fellow Stanley Cup favorites and after a very brief ebb and flow (they were 4-6 in 10 games) they started winning and basically never stopped. Here’s a chart of Colorado’s ever-increasing Elo rating throughout the season:

In the playoffs, the team picked up speed particularly quickly. After defeating Edmonton, Colorado is now 12-2 (good for a .857 win ratio) in the postseason with a +1.8 goals-per-game difference. Among Stanley Cup finalists since the 1979 NHL-WHA merger, the Avalanche ranks 10th in scoring difference per game before the championship round and has the second-best winning percentage, only behind the 1983 Oilers (the 11-1 went in the first three rounds of the playoffs). And it wasn’t because the competition was weak: Among the teams with a playoff win percentage of .857 or more heading into the Finals, only two (the 2003 Mighty Ducks and the 2012 Kings) had a tougher journey ahead of them. Series Elo rating of each opponent eliminated by the team. When you add it up, the 2022 Avalanche was one of the most dominant Stanley Cup finalists in the modern NHL in the first three rounds of the playoffs:

For fans of 1990s hockey like you really are, the Avalanche’s return to dominance conjures up memories of their quasi-dynasty more than two decades ago. I say “quasi” because… were they a real dynasty? On the one hand, Colorado’s record — both in the regular season and in the playoffs — served everyone well during its 1996-2001 peak. But they’ve never won back-to-back trophies or even two in a three-year period, a standard we used to use to define a dynasty. The best thing the Avs did was win twice in six seasons.

Anyway, back then Colorado won both of those cups with a team anchored by future Hall of Famers Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg along with a group of Hall of Pretty Damn Good guys like Sandis Ozolinsh, Adam Deadmarsh and Valeri Kamensky, Milan Hejduk, Claude Lemieux and Adam Foote. This roster was also built with comparatively large payrolls in the days before the NHL instituted its salary cap, so it was hard to imagine that the next dominant Avalanche team could possibly be like this – or even be more – talented. And that’s without considering the team’s sometimes dismal state following the dissolution of the original quasi-dynasty, which required a radical evolution from one of the worst teams in hockey to one of the very best.

But after that transformation, this year’s roster might actually surpass its predecessor as the best version of the franchise. In terms of high-profile talent, it’s not ridiculous to suggest that Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen could stand alongside the greats of Avalanche history. (Especially considering how much production Colorado’s stars have put in in the playoffs so far.) It’s also fair to say that their supporting cast is as strong as any that have brought Colorado to the brink of a title before. And in terms of Elo, Avs’ current Elo rating of 1628 is the highest in franchise history, a far cry from the highest ratings ever achieved by either of the previous two Colorado Cup winners.

Is this the best Avalanche team ever?

Colorado Avalanche teams by highest pre-Stanley Cup Final Elo rating, 1996-2022


won the Stanley Cup
made final

Year Preseason midreg season end of reg season prefinals end of the playoffs
2022 1565 1602 1601 1628 ???
2001 1553 1572 1594 1610 1618
1996 1522 1548 1567 1591 1602
2021 1543 1556 1584 1591 1591
1997 1573 1589 1583 1586 1586
2000 1543 1541 1559 1573 1573
2003 1549 1543 1577 1570 1570
2002 1584 1576 1573 1568 1568
1999 1526 1510 1552 1559 1559
2020 1512 1548 1548 1559 1559

“Pre-Finale” ratings are given regardless of whether Colorado was actually in the Finals. Does not include franchise seasons as Quebec Nordiques (1980-95).

Source: Hockey-Reference.com

Of course, none of this will count for much unless Colorado takes the final step in its ascent and reaches the NHL pinnacle again after a 21-year absence. We don’t yet know who the Avalanche will face in the Stanley Cup Finals, although our prediction model already has them as pretty strong 65% favorites against the New York Rangers or Tampa Bay Lightning. But whichever opponent prevails in the Eastern Conference will have the unenviable task of preventing a troubled Colorado team from reaching the goal they’ve been single-mindedly climbing to all season.

Check out our latest NHL Predictions.

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