Last season, the fate of the Colorado Avalanche was summed up with the fate of the franchise’s long time captain Joe Sakic. Sakic, for all intents and purposes, was going at it for one more year to see if the team could bounce back after being embarrassed out of the playoffs in 2007 by their one-time hated rivals from Detroit.
Sakic was already out of the lineup for the Avs dealing with a busted back but living in Colorado in December means having to deal with winter and snow removal and for Joe Sakic that resulted in one of the more bizarre injuries recorded by humans as he broke three fingers and damaged tendons in his hand while… Well, screwing around with the snowblower.
Public Enemy #1 in Denver
It could be more beneficial to you, the readers, to break down how bad the goaltending in Denver was last year or talk about how the offense was, by far, the weakest in the NHL managing to score 199 goals, two less than the NHL’s worst team the Islanders.
So they can’t put it in the net and they can’t keep it out of the net, but hey, they beat Detroit in some shootouts so season success, right? Oy. OK so what do the Avs do to make corrections for this season? Their first step came in the form of first round draft pick centerman Matt Duchene. Duchene will make for a great addition up the middle for a team in search of a new pivot now that Joe Sakic is retired and Paul Stastny has to carry the offensive workload. Duchene will have his hands full, however, as expectations are high and at 18 years-old he’d normally be the lone supremely young guy trying to help turn around the franchise.
Of course, this is Colorado and with the Avs trading away Ryan Smyth (to Los Angeles) in the off-season to get cap relief scoring is at even more of a premium in the Rockies thus opening the door for yet another 18 year-old 2009 draft pick in Ryan O’Reilly. Duchene should stick around all season long and if O’Reilly is still around after 10 games (otherwise they head back to juniors for the duration of the season), the Avs are in with the youth movement for the long haul.
How do you spell Avalanche? R-E-B-U-I-L-D-I-N-G
On the wings, Milan Hejduk and Wojtek Wolski are still here as is the enigmatic Marek Svatos. Svatos so far in his career has been the hot-and-cold type of player. In his first full NHL season (2005-2006) he scored 32 goals. He then followed that up with season tallies the next three years of 15, 26, 14 goals respectively. Svatos has also never played a full 82 game season and averages 64.5 games played per season. Inconsistency, thy name is Svatos.
OK so what about the rest of the forwards? T.J. Hensick, T.J. Galiardi, Cody McLeod, Chris Stewart, David Jones and Matt Hendricks lead the “Who the hell are they?” crew while Darcy Tucker and David Koci lead the “Don’t Turn Your Back On Them” brigade. Of that bunch, Chris Stewart is the most promising of the bunch while T.J. Hensick is still trying to capture the glory he once had at the University of Michigan. T.J. Galiardi, on the other hand, will be getting his first real taste of the NHL this year after being a high scoring hero at Dartmouth College.
One other young guy to keep an eye out for later is former Minnesota Golden Gopher Ryan Stoa. He’ll start the year in the AHL at Lake Erie, but with what the Avs are dealing with talent-wise at the NHL level, don’t be surprised to see Stoa join the club and flash the skills.
Hang on, David Koci has something to share with us.
Thanks David, that was inspiring.
The defensive corps is where the strength of this Avalanche team will be. Unfortunately for the Avs, these aren’t the, ahem, glory days kind of guys like Blake and Bourque, but Adam Foote is back in the fold (re-acquired in a trade last year) and he’s been deigned the new captain of the team. John-Michael Liles, Ruslan Salei, Brett Clark and Kyle Quincey (acquired in the Smyth deal) make for a very serviceable unit on the back line. Long time AHL’er and youngster Kyle Cumiskey gets to crack the big roster this year and once Tom Preissing returns from injury, Cumiskey will duke it out with him for steady playing time.
Goaltending in Colorado should prove to be interesting as career backup Craig Anderson was signed in the offseason and he’ll provide the bulk of the work in starting as new GM Greg Sherman sends the message to Peter Budaj that perhaps he should play a little bit better, a message that certainly couldn’t be sent last year with Andrew Raycroft as the backup to “push” him. Now Budaj is slated as the backup but at the very least should Anderson struggle a bit there will be someone mostly solid right behind him to steady the ship.
The Avs have a new head coach this year after deciding to live with deja vu all over again with Tony Granato last season. They’ve brought aboard former player Joe Sacco and while he has no NHL coaching experience, having him learn on the fly with what should be a really young team isn’t the worst thing in the world. After all, he was the coach of the Lake Erie Monsters, the Avalanche farm squad. Instant success isn’t demanded of him here but helping the admittedly very young team develop better at this level is. Sacco was always a solid depth forward in his career in the NHL and he was never a big time scorer… Which works out to be pretty coincidental since that is what this Avalanche lineup will be like.
It’ll be a young team, it’ll have moments of fleeting glory but one thing it will not be is a playoff team, something, I’m sure Sean Payton at Anyone But Detroit will be very grumpy about me saying. I will say though, at least Sean is being realistic about things, at least kind of, from what he had to say with the Slap Shots blog at the New York Times.
The Avalanche will be better — they finished 15th in the West last year so there is nowhere to go but up. I’ve got them finishing 13th, ahead of Nashville and the mess currently known as the Phoenix Coyotes.
Normally there would be nowhere to go but up, but in this case, staying the course is what I count on happening for the Avs this year. They will be out of the playoffs most assuredly and finishing dead last in the brutal Western Conference is a fate they appear to be aligned for.
Thanks for playing Colorado, go get ‘em next year.