Despite their game seven loss to the Dallas Stars, the Colorado Avalanche, and their surprise starter Michael Hutchinson, have many reasons for optimism.
Colorado Avalanche goaltender Michael Hutchinson’s NHL career has been a roadmap, to say the least. A third-round pick of the Boston Bruins in the 2008 draft, the Barrie, Ontario, native has played for 11 different professional teams since making his debut in 2010. In that time, he’s drifted in and out of the NHL spotlight, earning a reputation as mainly a solid third stringer.
After toiling in the minors for his first three seasons, Hutchinson signed as a free agent with the Winnipeg Jets in July of 2013. Later that same year, he made his NHL debut, before earning the backup job to former Jets starter Ondrej Pavelec in 2014-15.
In 38 games, Hutchinson posted a 21-10-5 record with a 2.39 GAA, as the revived Jets made the playoffs for the first time since relocating. After two more shaky seasons with the team, however, Hutchinson was let go, and has struggled to earn a full time NHL role since then, dressing for 25 games across three different teams.
This season, it seemed as though things were looking up, as he earned the backup job to Toronto Maple Leafs starter Frederik Andersen. But a shaky 4-9 record with a 3.66 GAA led to Hutchinson being dealt to the Colorado Avalanche at this year’s trade deadline.
With the Avalanche already possessing two solid options in Pavel Francouz and Philipp Grubauer, Hutchinson suited up for just one game with the Avs before the NHL suspended play due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Coming off a round one shock of the Calgary Flames last year, the Avalanche put up another solid fight in these playoffs, led by an impressive 25-point performance from former first overall pick Nathan Mackinnon. Following a 4-1 series win over the Arizona Coyotes in round one, the Avs found themselves down 3-1 to the Dallas Stars in their second-round matchup.
With Grubauer out with an injury, and Francouz having posted a shaky 2-4 record with a 3.23 GAA, Hutchinson was given the call in Game 5. Against all odds, Hutchinson led Colorado to two consecutive victories, forcing a Game 7, which they lost 5-4 in double OT.
Despite the loss, Hutchinson’s performance was admirable, especially with the lack of playing time seen prior to the season’s suspension. In three games, he posted a 2-0-1 record with a 2.75 GAA, with the possibility of being named Colorado’s starter should they have moved on.
This second round has seen its fair share of surprises, with three out of the four series going to a Game 7, with all three coming after one team was down 3-1 in the series. It’s been just another one of many unexpected moments in a rather unexpected NHL playoffs in general.
Despite its difficulties, the league has managed to put together a good product once more, with some of the usual feel good stories like with Hutchinson. The Avalanche themselves have been no stranger to this kind of scenario, with former flash in the pan Andrew Hammond almost playing the hero in the Avalanche’s series against the Nashville Predators in 2018, which they forced to a game six.
Following a rough three-year period which resulted a 22-56-2 record in 2016-17, Colorado has made the playoffs three years in a row, benefiting from an extreme resurgence from forwards like Mackinnon, and the production of rookies like Calder Trophy candidate Cale Makar.
In the end, Avalanche fans have a lot to look forward to, with players like Mackinnon and Makar just beginning to enter the prime and beginning of their careers, respectively. Personally, I see the Avs being a legitimate cup contender for the next few years and this playoff run was continued proof of that.
With the help of some more solid goaltending from Grubauer, look for Colorado to improve on their 42-win season, and maybe take aim at a division title.
At 30 years old, Hutchinson’s window of opportunity is closing, and it’ll be interesting to see whether this playoff performance will earn him another NHL shot. The NHL playoffs still have a long way to go, but for the Colorado Avalanche and Hutchinson, they have nowhere to go, but up.