The Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings are looking for redemption after quick playoff exits last spring. Both teams were eliminated in the first round despite being considered Stanley Cup contenders, and both feel they have something to prove.
They begin their drive for another Cup on Wednesday night when the Avalanche visit the Kings in the opener for both teams.
The Avalanche had high expectations for last year after winning the Stanley Cup in 2021-22, but cap space and injuries derailed any chance of a repeat. Playoff heroes Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky were victims of the salary cap, and the loss of Gabriel Landeskog to a knee injury was one of many injuries to impact their depth.
Colorado won’t have Landeskog, the team’s captain, again this year as he recovers from major knee surgery, but the team tried to address its depth-scoring issues with offseason moves.
The Avalanche added veteran Ryan Johansen in a trade with Nashville and signed free agent Jonathan Drouin to shore up their top-six forward liabilities. J.T. Compher, who moved up to center the second line last season, signed with Detroit.
Colorado won it all two years ago because of depth and top-level talent, and the latter is still there. Nathan MacKinnon is one of the best centers in the league and shifts his game into another gear in the playoffs, and Cale Makar is considered by many to be the best defenseman in the NHL.
The Avalanche have had significant departures, most notably defenseman Erik Johnson, but the blue-line corps remains strong. The third and fourth lines are important for depth scoring, so Colorado hopes that Andrew Cogliano has recovered from two neck fractures suffered in the first-round loss to Seattle.
“I’ve pushed through a lot of injuries in the past and been in situations where I’ve played through a lot of different things in my career, but I think this is a different scenario, different ballgame in terms of the injury,” Cogliano said. “The recovery has been very good.”
The Kings haven’t made it past the first round since winning it all in 2013-14, and general manager Rob Blake made moves to fix that issue. The biggest move was trading for left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois and signing him to a long-term contract.
Their success will rely on the impact Dubois has and possibly the play of younger guys. One in particular is right wing Alex Laferriere, a third-round pick in the 2020 draft. Laferriere was sent down to the minors on Thursday, but Los Angeles recalled him on Monday, so he may be in the lineup for the opener.
Laferriere has impressed with his maturity.
“There are 18-, 19-year-olds that come to training camp and they’re trying to make the team. And then there’s some college players. Alex is a little bit older and you can tell. He’s got that going for him,” coach Todd McLellan said. “The games that he’s played and the practices he’s been involved in, he’s got a pretty good speed element.”