After three straight 95 point seasons, the Avalanche put up a point total last year that could only make a high school teenager smile.
The 69 points in 2008-09 was the worst point total this franchise has seen since it moved cities.
The last time the Quebec/Colorado franchise put up less than 70 points in a full season was in 1991-92 when the Nordiques finished the season with 52 points. Since the move to Colorado, the Avalanche had never dipped below 95 points and only missing the playoffs once.
And then the season from hell ensued.
Unfortunately for Francois Giguere, Tony Granato and the rest of the Avalanche front office, last season’s misfire made it the second time in three years fans haven’t seen the postseason and ownership had seen enough.
Greg Sherman was chosen to take over the GM role and despite the terrible season, should be able to turn this team around fairly quickly.
Sherman’s first move as GM was calling up their AHL affiliate head coach Joe Sacco. Sacco coached the Lake Erie Monsters for the past two years with mixed results. His first hand knowledge of the farm system will be an enormous asset this off-season when deciding if and where to make any roster moves.
Bringing up AHL coaches has proven to be successful recently and for Colorado this could mean a revolution of the youths is close in hand.
Sherman’s next biggest move will be the name he decides on for the third pick of the NHL Draft. If he decides to stick to Central Scouting Services ratings and go with the highly talent center Matt Duchene, then the youth movement should definitely be in full force.
Duchene is said by many scouts to be a player primed to make an immediate NHL impact. He often draws comparisons to last year's No. 1 draft pick Steve Stamkos.
Also, top prospect Ryan Stoa, a second round pick in 2005, has showed promise in the NCAA with Minnesota and could easily slide into a fourth line center role in training camp.
Ryan Smyth, Milan Hejduk, and Darcy Clark will have the most experience of all returning forwards and hopefully will be able to hand down wisdom while increasing production on ice.
But, it’s the knowledge and ability of Paul Stastny that could be the most useful tool for any young prospect seeking guidance. If Stastny can stay healthy, saying the Avalanche forwards are too short on talent to make the playoffs would be foolish
The talent and health of the blue-liners have also drawn concern from fans. With the minus-82 mark the defense collectively put up last year, their concerns are well deserved. Since five of their top defensemen are slated to come back for another season, don’t expect too much to change in personnel unless a trade is concocted.
The Avalanche did finished ninth in shots against per game, which should be translated as the defense doing an excellent job keeping the puck away from the goal but with goaltending that resembled an empty net, found it impossible to stop them all.
Deciding what to do in net will be the hottest and most important topic that Sherman will have to attend to this offseason. Make a long-term contract mistake here and you could be cutting the ribbon at your career’s funeral.
Andrew Raycroft, G (UFA)
There isn’t much to say about Raycroft’s 2008-09 season without using a great deal of explicit language. In short, Andrew has proven that the career numbers he put up with the Bruins in 2003-04 won’t be reappearing any time soon.
Colorado doesn’t have time to play the wait and see game in net anymore. They need proven talent or decent potential and Andrew has neither.
Joe Sakic, C (Unrestricted Free Agent)
For the second straight year, Sakic got injured and missed the majority of the season. This cannot happen again with the money woes Colorado is about to face. Letting Sakic go will be a hard decision, mainly because of the attached sentiment that comes along with it.
Joe gave his heart and soul to this organization and this city owes him a respectful farewell. While saying good bye will be the hardest part, it truly is a necessary step, especially if they want to move this franchise forward quickly. Sakic’s stock cost too much and his exorbitant dividend paying days are well behind him.
Tyler Arnason, C (UFA)
Arnason’s production has been in a steady free fall since the Avalanche acquired him three years ago. Once thought to be a consistent center that could get you 40-50 points, Tyler’s hasn’t seen higher than 31 points the last two seasons and the downward slop doesn’t seem like it will end anytime soon.
At his current talent level, anything at or above a million is way too much for Tyler but I have a feeling he won’t accept less.
Ian Laperriere, C (UFA)
Lappy recently received the cold shoulder from Sherman when presented with a contract that was below what he was making this year. Ian was definitely a fan favorite and this move has many fans questioning the managing style of this new GM. What Greg did to Laperriere may have seemed “low” but it was a necessary move.
It would have been hard to keep him for a million per year, let alone the increase he most likely requested. With the amount of money tied up in other players and the young talented centers waiting in the wings, it’s time to move towards the future.
Brian Willsie, RW (UFA)
Brian hasn’t done anything to wow management and should be a line item on their spending sheet. Willsie’s points/game has dropped dramatically the past 3 years and his NHL career may be close to its end.
Daniel Tjarnqvist, D (UFA)
Daniel was signed to fill an injury plagued blue line and shouldn’t be resigned. Tjarnqvist doesn’t bring much to the table and can be easily replaced.
David Jones, RW (Restricted Free Agent)
David has shown minimal signs of promise and easily gets beaten out by Ben Guite for a right wing contract offer this off-season. With Brandon Yip also finishing up his final year of NCAA eligibility, making room for this prospect should also increase the likelihood of Jones’s release.
Cody McCormick, C (RFA)
Cody led all Avalanche centers with 2.09 hits per game. Even a cheap contract might not be enough to keep this check happy center on the roster though. Too many centers with Stoa and possibly Duchene coming up the pipeline, he will be better off elsewhere.
Ben Guite, RW (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Guite led the team in plus/minus with a plus 2 and was the only right wing on the team that kept it above zero. Ben is a good quality grinder, who isn’t afraid to deliver hits or take shots to the body. His 1.60 hits/game and 0.64 blocks/game landed him in the Top Five amongst Colorado forwards. His price tag should keep Sherman interested as well.
Kari Lehtonen, G (Restricted Free Agent-Atlanta Thrashers)
It isn’t 100 percent certain that the Thrashers are ready to re-sign Lehtonen but if they drop the ball Sherman needs to be quick on the scoop. Lehtonen saw 32.5 shots against per game last year, the most in the NHL, and could definitely flourish behind an Avalanche D that doesn’t give up that many shots.
He has never had a save percentage below .906 and is still a year or two away from hitting full potential. Kari would be in Colorado’s spending range but it may force them to spend less on a back up goalie.
Peter Budaj, G (RFA)
At a short glance, Budaj’s increase in GAA and decrease in Win Percentage and Save Percentage should be a huge red flag to cut ties. The potential can still be seen in the Slovakian but keeping him around can only be beneficial if a) he comes cheap and b) Colorado also get someone he can learn under.
Lehtonen may or may not fall under category b) but if Kari does opt to stay with Atlanta, there are some decent veterans hitting the UFA, Manny Legace and Manny Fernandez quickly come to mind.
I personally think Scott Clemmensen could be an excellent fit. He has been around for a while and last year showed the world that he is more than ready for the NHL. He would be an off-season steal for the Avalanche if they can’t pull Lehtonen.
Cody McLeod, LW (RFA)
An undrafted signing in 2006, McLeod bullied his way onto the Avalanche roster using his body and fist and has yet to let go. He led the team with 194 hits and the energy that he brings can be very useful around a team that will definitely find themselves behind a few times. Cory won’t ask for much either which is once again music to Sherman’s ears.
As long has Sherman makes the correct decisions in goal and on draft day, his first year should be a success. But don’t be giving the man GM of the year awards if the Avalanche happen to win it all. He has a pretty decent roster to work with and all he needs to do is fill the gaps wisely.