Can The All-Offense Avalanche Win The Stanley Cup?

While Colorado is betting on superior offensive firepower to compete, they aren't the first team to try and win a championship with that mindset.

The Colorado Avalanche have shown their hand to the rest of the NHL this season. Their stated goal? Build a blindingly fast team capable of scoring at will, and hope for the best on defense. It's a unique strategy, and one that goes against popular opinion within the hockey world. Recent trades for Matt Hunwick and Tomas Fleischmann make that mission all the more obvious, as stay-at-home defensemen such as Scott Hannan had become outcasts within the system.

It makes for exciting hockey (Colorado is lapping the league in total goals per game) and GM Greg Sherman and coach Joe Sacco deserve credit for building a quick, deep offensive team. But how successful have one-dimensional teams such as this year's Avalanche squad been when playoff time rolls around? Is there historical precedent for a team to simply score their way to a championship? It's time to examine the NHL teams that compare most favorably to this year's Avalanche since the 2004 lockout.

Teams were selected based on Goals Scored, Goal Differential, Total Goals Per Game, and Total Goals Per Game versus League Average.

*Projected totals based on current statistics to date.

2008-2009 Washington Capitals

Team Goals Scored
Goals Against
Goal Differential
Total Goals/Game
Total Goals/Gm Vs NHL Avg.
Players Avg 0.5pts/game+
Top 5 Scorers Games Missed
Final Season Result
2010-2011 Colorado Avalanche
284* 266* +18* 6.72 1.20 9 47* ???
2008-2009 Washington Capitals
272 245 27 6.30 1.08 6
33 Lost Eastern Conference Semifinals

 

Though this Capitals team gets a reputation as an offensive powerhouse, they were really a very solid defensive team. Even with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin leading the charge, they scored 14% more goals than the league average that season, and their total goals per game were only 8% above league average. With scoring down throughout the league, the star power on their top lines was enough to carry them through the regular season. The playoffs were another matter.

Average goaltending from Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov, and a close-fought series with Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins doomed the Capitals to a seven game series defeat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

2006-2007 Buffalo Sabres

Team Goals Scored
Goals Against
Goal Differential
Total Goals/Game
Total Goals/Gm Vs NHL Avg.
Players Avg 0.5pts/game+
Top 5 Scorers Games Missed
Final Season Result
2010-2011 Colorado Avalanche
284* 266* +18* 6.72 1.20 9 47* ???
2006-2007 Buffalo Sabres
308 242 62 6.71 1.14 8 13 Lost Eastern Conference Finals

 

From a style standpoint, this Buffalo Sabres team is the most similar to the 2010-2011 Avalanche. Loaded with forward talent and depth. The Sabres were easily the top team in the Eastern Conference in 2006-2007, with a +62 goal differential. Their games were played at a frenetic pace, with emphasis on turnovers and odd-man rushes. Buffalo thrived on fast, high scoring affairs and their defense was fortified by goalie Ryan Miller's breakout season.

Led by Danny Briere, Chris Drury and Brian Campbell, this Buffalo team went eight players deep offensively. Six Sabres averaged 0.75 points per game, a remarkable number of players competing at a heightened level of performance. The key? Staying healthy. The top five scorers on this squad missed a total of 13 games all season due to injury. Chris Stewart of the Colorado Avalanche has already missed 13 games by himself in 2010.

Buffalo advanced past the first two rounds of the playoffs and fell in the Conference Finals to the Ottawa Senators.

2005-2006 Carolina Hurricanes

Team Goals Scored
Goals Against
Goal Differential
Total Goals/Game
Total Goals/Gm Vs NHL Avg.
Players Avg 0.5pts/game+
Top 5 Scorers Games Missed
Final Season Result
2010-2011 Colorado Avalanche
284* 266* +18* 6.72 1.20 9 47* ???
2005-2006
294 260 34 6.76 1.10 8 36 Won Stanley Cup

 

The best statistical comparison for this year's Colorado Avalanche also happens to be the first Stanley Cup champion of the post-lockout era, the 2005-2006 Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina boasted a deep team, with eight players all averaging over 0.5 points per game. Aside from Eric Staal, none of their players had tremendous offensive years, just very good seasons. Staal is the only member of that Hurricanes squad to average a point per game. Contrast to this year's Avalanche, who boast six players that could finish in that neighborhood.

Carolina wasn't particularly healthy all year, nor were they concerned with a great defensive effort.They were fast, they drew plenty of penalties, and they feasted on the bottom feeders within their division. Carolina ended up with an 11-4-1 record against the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers that season. Once the playoffs rolled around, backup goalie Cam Ward came into his own, winning the Conn Smythe trophy with a 15-8 playoff record ( .920 SV%, 2.14 GAA).

Where Does Colorado Currently Stand?

There is precedent for the Colorado Avalanche to compete this season. Their uptempo style and extremely fast and deep forward rotation gives them an edge that teams may find difficult to take away. Four healthy lines boasting above average offensive talent is a logistical nightmare in a long playoff series for opposing teams. Yet in spite of this precedent, there are warning signs. The penalty kill has been nothing short of awful this season, as illustrated by the Detroit Red Wings four power play goals in their 4-3 overtime victory on December 27. Craig Anderson needs to rediscover his late 2009-2010 season form, as the Avalanche need someone in net they can trust. They need to get healthy. Milan Hejduk's nagging groin injury is a concern, as is Peter Mueller's concussion. Chris Stewart is still a couple of weeks away from returning to the lineup from his broken pinkie finger.

But if there was ever a year to bank on offense for postseason success, it may be 2010-2011. Scoring is up all over the league, as six teams this year already average more goals per game than the second place team from last season. Of the 13 teams who are above league average in total goals per game, 10 are currently in playoff position. It's a good time to be an offensive club, and Colorado is currently well ahead of the pack in that category.

Will it translate to success? To be determined.

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