Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Our next preview is the Colorado Avalanche
The preview was done by Joe from [ milehighhockey.com ]
Basically if you need to know anything about the Avs, Joe is the man to see.
2006-07: ( 44 - 31 - 7 ) 95 points
Playoffs: 9th spot (Missed)
57 GP: 31-16-6
It had to happen eventually. After making the playoffs every season for more than a decade (including two Stanley Cup victories), the Colorado Avalanche fell just short in 2006-07. Despite a miraculous 15-2-2 run over the last 19 games of the season, the Calgary Flames claimed the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference just one point ahead. Going home early is brand new territory for the Avs.
Though the Avalanche players found themselves on the golf course in May instead of in the late rounds of the playoffs, the season wasn’t a complete wash. In fact, of all the teams that missed the post-season, the Avalanche was the best. The team’s point total of 95 (44-31-7) is the highest ever for a non-qualifying club in NHL history. You can blame that on the silly one-point-for-an-overtime-loss rule, but it’s still a good result. The Avs tied for fourth in the league for goals scored with 272 and fourth overall for power play percentage at 21.1%. Clearly the team was doing something right.
But Colorado still missed the playoffs and that’s unacceptable for a team with such a long and consistent winning tradition. Avs General Manager Francois Giguere understands this. He signed star free agents Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan at the start of July, dumped some dead weight by not re-signing Ossi Vaananen and Patrice Brisebois and continued signing young prospects to ensure the team’s future.
The Avs don’t really need more offense. The roster of forwards remains largely unchanged going into 2007-08, with all the big players returning. Captain Joe Sakic, who scored 100 points at age 37 last season, has agreed to another one-year deal. Three guys who had either returned to form or did better than ever, Andrew Brunette, Milan Hejduk and Tyler Arnason, will all return. Superstar rookie Paul Stastny and fellow standout youngster Wojtek Wolski remain on the roster. Even Marek Svatos, despite a serious sophomore slump that saw him score 17 fewer goals than his rookie year of 2005-06, will return. And veteran tough guy Ian Laperriere, owner of the most crooked nose in hockey history, will resume his duties as enforcer and team cheerleader.
While the Avalanche doesn’t need more offense, Giguere went after Captain Canada Ryan Smyth anyway, landing the venerated former Oiler to a huge five-year contract. Smyth will contribute his trademark grittiness and in-the-slot goal scoring talents to a team already quite capable of lighting the lamp. His powerplay abilities will no doubt make Colorado even more dangerous with the man advantage. And his veteran leadership will contribute to a team already expertly guided by legend and future Hall Of Famer Joe Sakic.
On defense, the Avalanche wasn’t so great last season. In fact, the Colorado blueline was often downright horrible. Missed passes, botched clearing attempts, silly turnovers, you name it, the Avalanche defense was guilty of it at some point. The 251 goals allowed by the team are almost as much to blame on the defense as the goalies. The problem was a major lack of grit. Gone were the big, burly defensemen like Rob Blake, Adam Foote, Sandis Ozolinsh, and Uwe Krupp. Now in their places are small, agile, scoring d-men like John Michael-Liles and Jordan Leopold. Obviously, you can’t stop oncoming attacks if you’re more interested in launching your own, so the Avs’ suffered in their own end and gave away a lot of games due to poor defensive play.
In his other major free agent signing, Giguere landed Scott Hannan to remedy this. A stay-at-home defender through and through, Hannan brings the hard-hitting grit that the Avs have lacked for a while now. Add fierce youngster Jeff Finger to the equation and Colorado will be a much tougher team to score on this coming season.
That is, of course, if the goalie situation works out. Last season Jose Theodore proved what most people already suspected: he’s no longer a top goaltender. In fact, he’s not even a very good backup goaltender. But while much of the hockey world and most Avalanche fans could see this early on, Coach Joel Quenneville insisted on starting Theodore often, usually for one or two games before switching back to young standout Peter Budaj. Neither goalie could establish any kind of rhythm and the knowledge that a loss would mean ending up on the bench the next game proved stressful for both. The entire team suffered. Finally, after two-thirds of the season, Coach Q went with Budaj full time and suddenly the Avs started winning. Budaj, able to get into a consistent playing schedule, quickly improved his performance. Pulled once and benched only twice during the final 19 games, Budaj more than anyone else led the Avs in their 15-2-2 tear to finish the year.
Colorado could have bought out Theodore’s ridiculous $6 million salary this summer and been done with him, but recognizing the financial penalty of doing so combined with a weak field of free agent goalies, they kept him on. While Peter Budaj clearly proved himself at the end of last season as a viable starter, it’s rumored that Coach Q will insist on playing Theodore in some futile attempt to revitalize his former abilities. Luckily for Budaj, however, Theodore will miss training camp and some of the preseason due to knee surgery. This will be Budaj’s chance to really stand out. With a strong defensive lineup in front of him and a team determined to avenge the embarrassment of last season, that shouldn’t be hard.
With an amazing lineup of forwards, a stronger blueline and a potential goaltending star, this could be the best year for the Avalanche since the Stanley Cup season of 2000-01. Colorado fans are eager to get the party started.
Joe Sakic may never retire.
If any of Joe Sakic's skill wears off, it will be picked up by Paul Stastny, who would have won the Calder last year if it wasn't for Malkin.
A team that barely missed the playoffs last year sees the addition of Ryan Smyth, while basically losing no one.
That is, of course, if they can keep up with the expected-to-be best division in the NHL.
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