NW Division Preview – Colorado

Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny stretches before game six of the NHL quarterfinal playoffs against the San Jose Sharks at the Pepsi Center on April 24, 2010 in Denver. San Jose leads Colorado 3-2 in the series.  UPI/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom


Flames Nation continues its preview of the other teams in the Northwest Division with a look at Colorado.

 Regular season – 95 points, 2nd in the division, 8th in the conference

Playoffs – lost 4-2 to San Jose in first round

Significant additions – None. Seriously, none.

Key players – Stastny, Duchene, Anderson

Injuries – Mueller

Cap Situation At the floor

Predicted finish – out of the playoffs

If there was ever a team whose results didn’t reflect the quality of their play, it was last season’s iteration of the Avalanche. Outshot and outchanced by a significant margin, Colorado rode excellent goaltending and a crapload of good fortune to finish 8th in the conference, laughing at reality all the while.

 It’s hard to pull that trick for consecutive years, though. Boston rode the percentages to a President’s Trophy finish in 08/09. Last season, despite almost certainly playing at a higher level, they were lucky to make the playoffs and didn’t break the 90 point barrier. The Avalanche aren’t as good as that Bruin team, and a very questionable trade at last year’s deadline might have begun the process that pulls Colorado right back down into the depths.



It isn’t as if the ‘Lanche don’t have some nice players. Paul Stastny is a very good center, and Milan Hedjuk is still a passable top-sixer. Stastny is the best forward on the team by a fairly wide margin, and he’ll almost certainly have to carry a bevy of younger players against the tougher match-ups. It’s pretty clear from the absence of summer moves that the club expects Matt Duchene and Chris Stewart to step into heavy lifting roles on a full time basis this year, and Ryan O’Reilly, Brandon Yip and T.J. Gagliardi will also be counted to perform at a level most competitive teams wouldn’t expect from kids. Stewart had a very lucrative summer, signing a contract that was more a reflection of good fortune than actually being a serious difference maker. As I noted in my comments about Manny Malhotra, players with abnornally high PDO numbers always leave me a bit suspicious, and Stewart is no exception

The Avs decided to jettison Wojtek Wolski at last March’s deadlines, with all sorts of amorphous stuff about attitude and effort being offered as justification. I wasn’t in the room, but I know what I can see and count, and he was a good player that could handle decent competition without needing a lot of luck along the way. He made the Flames look pathetic on more than a few occasions last season, and I’m happy to see him out of the division. What makes the trade even more of a loss is that Peter Mueller, the return from the Coyotes in the deal, is out with his second concussion in less than six months. Mueller wasn’t the type of player that could handle the icetime Wolski managed, but he was an effective PP presence in his short time in Denver, and now his future looks very uncertain.



The Avalanche also chose to let Brett Clark move on via free agency, and although his absence won’t be felt as acutely as Wolski’s, he was a useful defenceman. They’ll rely on Hannan and Kyle Qunicey to carry the load at EV, and they might have a player that can beat the softer competition in Kyle Cumiskey. Like several of the other Colorado kids, he can motor, and he had decent results in context against the lesser lights of the opposition last season.



Craig Anderson deserved every bit of praise he received last year, proving that his quality work as Tomas Vokoun’s caddy in Florida was no fluke. He was excellent throughout the regular season, and was superb in the playoff loss to the Sharks. I have a feeling that his next contract might be for a smidge more than 1.85M a year barring a major slide, and I’m not counting on that occurring.

What I didn’t realize until I had a closer look at the numbers, though, was what a completely unlikely, and unsustainable, benefit the Avalanche gained when Peter Budaj was in net. Budaj’s best EVSV% before last year was .919, and he was mostly a goalie that posted numbers in the .905-.914 range. Mediocre, in other words. Last year, he posted a .935 EVSV%, which was better than Anderson, or Kiprusoff, or Ryan Miller, just to name three guys who were excellent last season.

Even more unlikely was the fact that the Avalanche shot the lights out with him in net. They posted a 10.6 EVSH% in front of the Slovak, so Budaj’s PDO was north of 104. Colorado’s goals for/against total at EV was +158/-151. With Budaj in net, they were +27/-21, so all but one goal of their differential happened with him in net, and the Avs were out-shot at an even higher pace when Budaj was in net than they were when Anderson played. Maybe I’ll just look like a sucker again for doubting what’s happening in Denver, but I wouldn’t bet very much on Budaj repeating that sort of performance, or the Avs getting that sort of efficiency out of his games.



I was a skeptic of the manner in which Colorado attained their results last season, and after the Wolski trade they looked about as they should, finishing the year on fumes and getting torched by San Jose in as one-sided a six game playoff series as any I’ve seen since Nik Khabibulin stole a couple of games for the Jets in ’96 versus the Wings.

The funny thing is that I suspect that Greg Sherman doesn’t think the Avs are very good either. Colorado struggled just to make the cap floor this week, signed no FAs beyond their own restricted players this summer, and generally have decided that it’s the kids or bust. I know that attendance has fallen off in Denver, but unless Wal-Mart is doing a hell of a lot worse than their financials would indicate, Stan Kroenke’s not so broke that he couldn’t sign a few guys to shore up the roster, which leads one to presume that any success will happen by chance rather than by design this season. I don’t have any issue with that approach, since spending near the cap only to be lousy is more the M.O. of teams that reside a bit further north along the Rocky Mountains, and Colorado’s time to seriously contend is a few years away. I do think that they take a step back this season, though, even if Anderson is Vezina-worthy again. 

  • BobB

    Not to take anything away from Anderson, but…

    one of the best ways to evaluate a goalie, since they’re in a bit of a isolated system, against his peers, who are in totally different systems, is to look at the back-up.

    Anderson – 2.64, .917, .926%ev
    Budaj – 2.64, .917, .935%sv

    Anderson and Budaj had exactly, exactly the same stats in GAA and raw sv%. Budaj, as noted, a better ev sv%. Unless Budaj became a much much better goalie overnight (not likely), then, Colorado’s speedy, youth driven, puck possession game and collapsing defense were helping out Anderson a ton. Saying Anderson was Vezina-worthy is a bit insulting to Miller. Anderson was good (or lucky), but so was the team.

    Miller was just good

    Miller – 2.22, .929, .928%ev
    Lalime – 2.81, .907, .908%ev

    or Kipper (for the hometown plug)

    Kipper – 2.31, .920, .928%ev
    McL – 3.23, .885, .907%ev

    or Rask (for the usurp the former ‘god’ plug)

    Rask – 1.97 .931, .937%ev
    Thomas – 2.56 .915, .913%ev

    Don’t get me started on Phoenix, where they can make Labarbara look like a world beater.

  • I doubt that’s the case, Lawrence, unless the COL coach has found a totally new way to play hockey. Goalies SV% bounce around like ping pong balls and often it has not much to do with coaching or anything else. From the information we gathered about COL last year, they gave a ton of scoring chances against to go along with the shots.

    I think looking at goalies and their back-ups is a decent method, but it’s another one that can be fooled by randomness. If I were to bet, both Anderson and Budaj will regress to the mean this year.

    • Robert Cleave

      What’s Anderson’s mean, though, Kent? Is there evidence that a .926 EVSV% is outside his demonstrated talent? That .935 of Budaj’s is so far above anything he ever posted in the past, including time where he was the #1 guy, that it screams “outlier”. Anderson’s EVSV% is actually lower than what he managed his two years in Florida.

      • It’s hard to say with Anderson. He has all of two true seasons under his belt in the NHL: one for the Panthers and their wonky shot counter and his notable performance for COL last year. In 56 games prior to arriving in FLA, Anderson was fairly average. Now, small sample, developing goalie, granted…but I’m not sure we have a great eye to what Anderson really is yet.

        If I were to bet, I’d say Anderson is probably quality and won’t regress aggressively. I don’t believe in Budaj, though, and I also don’t believe the Avs were were actively negating shot quality against to any great degree.

    • BobB

      I agree entirely Kent. I think Colorado’s numbers will come back to Earth this year, but I think Anderson’s numbers will follow that trend (perhaps not as greatly as Budaj). I’ve heard a lot of talk about Anderson being robbed of the Vezina last year, (TBC, that’s not what I’m hearing here) or Bryzgalov… because their respective teams were so crappy, and that their goaltending was the difference. However, I see little evidence of that fact, since Budaj was just as good (in a smaller sample) and Labarbera was better (in a smaller sample).

      There is little doubt that, last year, by the numbers, Kipper, Rask and Miller were far superior to their counterparts, with as similar circumstances as possible to the comparison. Although, comparing Kipper to McL is a bit weak, but Rask to Thomas is compelling. Will Thomas even get 30 starts this year, one season removed from a Vezina winning season himself? And a fat contract.

      I dunno how much ‘ping-pong’ effect you get with the established goalies of the league. Look at Luongo’s evsv% over 10 years. It’s remarkably consistent. Same with Kipper, save one year.

  • @ Lawrence

    Form year to year, there’s a bunch of bouncing around when it comes to individual SV%. Tim Thomas is one you mention (.930 to .913 or something). Nik Backstrom recently fell off the horse. Marty Turco has swung widely between mediocre and quality the last two seasons and so has Kipper.

    There’s probably some measure of team effects there and whatever else you want to apply in terms of idiosyncratic effects (better work out regime in the summer, a bad relationship with the coach, etc.) but a chunk of it is probably just variance. And that’s what I’m going to assign to Budaj until he or the Avs can convince me last year wasn’t some aberration.

    • BobB

      Those guys are hardly at the same level of ‘established elites’

      Thomas is treading pretty close to flash-in-the-pan coupled with a good team.

      Turco is a good goalie, but not a great one.

      I’m talking Vokoun, Kiprusoff, Luongo, Brodeur, Lundkvist with a few others up and coming, that’s your elite.

      Ev Sv% Since 03-04 (6 seasons)

      Vokoun has a high of .941 and low of .923

      Luongo – high .937, low .925

      Lundkvist – high .931, low .920 (5 seasons)

      Brodeur (amazingly stable) – .924, .922, .927, .928, .933, .924

      Kipper – high .941 x 2 and low of .907

      I’ve already put forth my theory of the bad Kipper year(s) the other being .919 which is right with the others. Kipper still has the best season vs the others 3 out of 6 times. It’s remarkably consistent that in 30 seasons only one of these guys (Miikka) has only one significant dip.

      If that is a ping-pong, we’re measuring the sv% difference equivalent of thousandths of a second in racing.

      Anyway, my beef isn’t with Anderson, it’s with the idea that he (and Bryzgalov) get all the credit for their teams success, but I think those teams (inexplicably perhaps) were better teams than we think. Anderson was good, but I don’t see any evidence that there was a drop off to Budaj. The only distinction that Anderson and Bryzgalov have over the #2 is games played, but I’ve heard so many times that games played/season or ‘fatigue’ effects is meaningless when evaluating goalies.

    • BobB

      I think that’s open to debate.

      One side argues backups play softer minutes, lower Qual comp, and are subject to ‘playing to the score’ effects in event a number one is pulled, and therefore should have better stats.

      The other side argues that the backup gets a ton of poor circumstances such as the second game in a back-to-back, games which are ‘harder to get ‘up’ for such as the basement dwellers and have to play with no preparation in the event that a number one is pulled and therefore should have worse stats.

      I think probably both are true and there isn’t a vast distinction between circumstances. Generally speaking, I think the comparison of a number one and number two statistically is one more piece of evidence (and a strong on at that) of how the team is playing in front of their goalies, especially is the games played support it. ie. 50/32 vs 73/9. as well, if people believe in such things as hot streaks and cold streaks, the backup would temper that, because they often play so intermittently, that there should in theory be no ‘streak’.

      To bring this back to Colorado, Anderson is listed as a key player for them. I think goalies are always key players, and Anderson no more, or little more than others. Especially when thinking of his ‘good team’ vs ‘bad team’ effects as Dryden would say. Anderson is a very good goalie, but I don’t think his range of excellent vs poor will be the decisive factor determining whether Colorado makes the playoffs or not.

      Some goalies are amazing and they still miss, right Kipper?

  • Kent, you win the bet with Conroy making the opening roster. Stajan Moss and Kotalik falling off kinda helped your case. Thanks for getting us through the summer with all the flames talk FN. Gonna be a battle for the NW division title I suspect!