If the Vegas Golden Knights didn’t enter the NHL this season, the story the Colorado Avalanche are writing might be getting a heck of a lot more attention.

But behind Vegas’ historic grand entrance, the Avalanche’s return to relevancy after their own historically awful 2016-17 isn’t followed by the same feel-good celebration. Last weekend, with a 4-1 win over Dallas on Jan. 13, Colorado surpassed its win and point totals from the entirety of last season.

It’s not often that a team will trade away one of its top players, a third overall pick and top-line contributor, in-season and then improve. But after a long, drawn-out process of miserable play and training camp mug shots, Colorado finally traded Matt Duchene for the exact type of return for young players, picks and prospects it needed to move forward. And now, quicker than anyone could have expected, it’s come together.

Though the Avs hold a playoff spot today, the bumpiest part of the schedule is ahead. Just how good this Colorado team is will be determined over a stretch where they play 13 of 16 games on the road, beginning Monday night in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.

But why and how has Colorado returned to the playoff picture so fast? Here are a few factors behind their success:


When the Avs were circling the drain a year ago, they did it with the ninth-oldest roster in the NHL. But as Joe Sakic was taking heat for not trading Duchene fast enough, or for the disaster of a season he presided over, he was quietly making the roster younger over the summer and that was accentuated when he finally made the least surprising trade of the season.

Out went Jarome Iginla, Rene Bourque, Fedor Tyutin and Francois Beauchemin, only one of whom is still playing in the NHL. This gave more (or brand new) ice time to the likes of Sam Girard, Alexander Kerfoot and J.T. Compher. The Avs went from eight 30-plus players to just two, with the oldest being 32-year-old Carl Soderberg (more on him later).

The NHL is a young man’s league today more than it ever has been and in skewing towards youth, the Avs are faster and in better position to compete.

The big line has been grabbing all the headlines for Colorado, and rightly so, but beneath the surface has been the unheralded contributions from the Soderberg-Matt Nieto-Blake Comeau line.

“They’ve been together from Day 1 (of) training camp, didn’t have great years for us last year as veteran guys and they’ve really stepped up,” head coach Jared Bednar said in a recent Hockey Central at Noon appearance. “Huge part of our penalty killing, lots of D-zone starts, they usually have a tough matchup every night against other teams’ top players. Sometimes that gives the MacKinnon line breathing room.