AP Photo via Jack Dempsey
On March 11, the Colorado Avalanche were about to win a big-time regulation win against an up-and-coming New York Rangers team.
However, with 13 seconds left in the third period, Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich tipped in a mid-air puck into the goal to tie the game 2-2 at the Pepsi Center.
Then came Colorado. With 2:10 left in overtime, Colorado forward J.T. Compher skated across the high slot and wristed a shot across his body through goaltender Alexander Georgiev to give the Avalanche another win. The win vaulted the team to 92 points on the year. Those 92 points would be the most through March 11 in a season since 2000-2001, where Colorado possessed 101 points and would eventually tally up to 118 points by the end of the regular season. That point total would be the most for the franchise (even dating back to when the team was located in Quebec City) and would eventually culminate with a victory over the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals.
On that Stanley Cup squad, the likes of offensive veterans in Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, rising stars in Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay, defensive-minded skaters in Ray Bourque and elite goaltending from Patrick Roy gave Colorado a vast array of depth on all sides of the ice. Together, the collection of homegrown stars, acquisitions and eventual Hall of Famers paved the way to give Colorado Lord Stanley’s crown jewel in all of ice hockey for the second time in five years.
The 2019-20 Avalanche, compared to that squad 19 years ago, bears much resemblance in roster construction and philosophy on the ice, but even still, it would be a stretch to say that Colorado is 100% destined to go to the Stanley Cup this season should the season resume. The roster back at the turn of the millennium definitely isn’t the roster now.
Potentially, though, it could come pretty close, or at least, closer than people think.
When looking at the numbers at face value, there are definitely similarities. The 2000-01 Avalanche were 4th out of 30 teams in goals scored (230) and 3rd in goals allowed (192). The 2019-20 squad, before COVID-19 halted the season, were 4th out of 31 teams in goals scored (237) and 5th out of 31 in goals against (191). The power-play percentage (PP%) for the 2000-01 team was 22.04%, whereas the current team sits at 19.0%. The penalty-kill percentage (PK%) for the Stanley Cup-winning squad sat at 82.75%, whereas the current team sits at 81.43%. The numbers, collectively, aren’t that far off from each other.
While it is obvious the teams are not complete carbon copies, they also aren’t miles apart from each other, either.
A relatively significant difference between the two, though, doesn’t come in the tradition box score statistics.
It comes in age.
The 2000-01 squad was among the bottom-half in average age, with the squad average being 28.4 years old. The 2019-20 squad is the other way around, as the average age of 26.8 is lower than the league average of 27.9. To best exemplify the difference, among the 2000-01 team’s top-seven player in terms of points, four were 27 years old or older (Sakic, Forsberg, Bourque and Shjon Podein). Three of the four, in fact, were over 30 years old, with Bourque being 40. Together, the top-7 combined for 519 points.
Meanwhile, among the top seven skaters in terms of points on the current squad, none are over the age of 30. Forward Nazem Kadri, the oldest of the seven, is only 29. The current group, before COVID-19 halted the season, combined for only 343 points.
Before discounting the current squad when compared to the past one, it would make sense that the 2000-01 squad would be more experienced and productive. They are older and had more ice-time, after all, including ice-time in the Stanley Cup itself.
However, while the current squad doesn’t have the raw point total, it does have more youth and upside to eventually get close to that level, if not surpass it. The elements of that Stanley Cup-winning squad and the current one looks familiar to make that possible. You see those elements of Sakic in Nathan MacKinnon. Hejduk in Mikko Rantanen. Tanguay in Gabriel Landeskog. The list goes on.
Whether from the homegrown pieces to the supplemental players picked up in free agent deals or trades, the team is built similarly to that Stanley Cup squad in that both have depth up and down the lines and duos. Both bring upside in goal-scoring and goal-defending.
The difference, perhaps?
One team was in its prime.
The other is still not at that prime. Yet it is closely producing like a team in it.
It is true that the 2019-20 Colorado team is not completely identical to the 2000-01 Stanley Cup-winning team. A regular season win against the Rangers is nowhere near the same as a Stanley Cup-clinching victory over the Devils.
The potential of the team, though, could eventually reach that pinnacle.