Some injury-ravaged key players, free agency and a starting goalie void that's been growing larger ever since Patrick Roy's retirement, the Colorado Avalanche have fallen on hard times as of late.
With their recent draft standing and some savvy work with their prospects, the Avs hope to be back to their winning ways and challenging for the Northwest division crown once again in just a few years.
2008/09 Record: 32-45-5, 69 points, 15th in West
Additions: Craig Anderson—G (2 years/FA), David Koci—F (1 year/FA), Kyle Quincey—D (Trade w/Los Angeles), Tom Preissing—D (Trade w/Los Angeles), Matt Duchene—F (NHL Entry Draft 2009)
Subtractions: Joe Sakic—F (Retirement), Ryan Smyth—F (Trade w/Los Angeles), Ian Laperriere—F (F/A), Andrew Raycroft—G (F/A), Cody McCormick—F (F/A), Tyler Arnason—F (FA)
If you kept track of what happened in Colorado over the offseason, then congratulations—you kept up with one of the most confusing offseasons in any front office of an NHL team in a while (unless you tried to follow whatever the hell happened to Dale Tallon).
With a mass exodus of executives, coaches, and personnel alike, the Avs not only have a new look on the ice, but a new look off it as well.
With a disastrous last-place season behind them, the Avalanche are now looking towards the future.
A future featuring some promising prospects.
Back to the Future?
Pierre Lacroix (the out-going but not-quite-retired incoming executive. See? Confusing) has compared this upcoming season to the 1994 season where the team based itself around two of the top young center-men in the league: Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg.
With Forsberg now long gone (unless he tries to come back again) and Sakic now free to play with his snow blower all he wants, the Avs have two new center-man to forge a new dynasty around, the most well-known being Matt Duchene.
From everything the Avs are saying, it’s doubtful that Duchene gets left off the roster to start the year, as the turnaround process begins now for the rookie. Although Duchene possesses a bountiful skill-set he, like many of his teammates, may be in for a rough season.
Duchene is buoyed on the depth chart however by Lacroix's other prized center, Paul Stastny.
Stastny has a ton of talent, but unfortunately he’s going the way of Marian Gaborik: A consistent member of the “Injured Reserve” club.
Statsny missed 37 games last year due to a broken arm and a foot injury, and the year before that it was appendicitis (Not an injury you can blame him for, but a strange injury that only ever happens to the injury-prone players in any league).
The big thing for Stastny this year is to prove that he can stay healthy. If he can do that, not only can he return to being that 70-80 point presence, but hopefully he can get this “injury-prone” stage out of his system for good and go back to contributing for the Avs.
Veteran forwards Ryan Smyth and Ian Laperriere were shipped out over the offseason and in their place could will be rookies T.J. Galiardi and Ryan Stoa.
Stoa seems to be the rookie that everyone is talking about on this Colorado team, and for good reason: After having his college season cut short in 2007/08 by a devastating knee injury, Stoa rebounded nicely with 46 points in 36 games last year and might look very good lining up alongside Duchene.
Despite all the promise that Stoa brings to the table, Galiardi shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle.
With an eleven-game tryout last year, Galiardi potted three goals and an assist for the Avs, and although he’s been more of a playmaker throughout his career, there’s no doubt that Colorado could use a young finisher if Galiardi could continue to develop into that role.
T.J. Hensick had a good debut season for the Avs scoring 21 points in 67 games, but with the emphasis on youth, Colorado is going to need an improvement out of the youngster—one he is surely capable of if his College career is any indication.
In the form of a power forward, Chris Stewart certainly has all of the tools. The trick however, is that it will be finding a constant level of play at the NHL level.
Against some of the smaller defensemen in the division Stewart has the ability to dominate, and he’s one of the few Colorado forwards (the other being depth-option David Koci) who could physically hold his own against some of the more brutish blueliners in the Northwest.
With all of these younger, quicker bodies around, Wojtek Wolski may have finally found someone who’s able to keep up with him.
His ability to throw the puck on net will come in handy if he’s paired with Matt Duchene, whose vision and passing ability will help boost anyone’s numbers, while Duchene's talent—much like Sakic's—is enough to inspire linemates and teammates alike to push the envelope.
Marek Svatos is in the same boat as Wolski because, even though his passing hasn't caught up to him, Svatos can still shoot the puck. The trick is pairing him with linemates who are able to open up the ice with their creativity to allow him the time and space to use his shot effectively.
After that, veterans Darcy Tucker, Milan Hejduk and Brian Wilsie are going to have to provide the leadership for these young forwards. Hejduk can also help the younger forwards to develop their offensive game as he played on some of the most offensively dominating teams for the Avs, capping it with a 50-goal season in 2002.
Expect maybe half of that from Hejduk this year as age and a roster ripe with growing pains won't help.
It’s all about getting a “Foote” in the door…
All jokes aside, that’s what a lot of these kids need to do.
Although Kevin Shattenkirk is at least another season away from the NHL, there are still some youngsters trying to make names for themselves.
Already mentioned was the acquisition of Kyle Quincey, who really proved himself in Los Angeles last year after being forced out of Detroit because of a deep depth chart.
Quincey has outstanding vision and great instincts to help lead the Colorado power play, but his numbers will probably go down this year as the forwards he’ll be feeding the puck to don’t have the same kind of seasoning or comprehension of their talent that they did in Los Angeles.
Adam Foote and Scott Hannan provide the physical presence, but for Foote it's starting to come at a cost. Foote’s 38-year old body had trouble keeping up with his style of play last year as he missed a total of 40 games due to injury.
He still provides excellent leadership and tutelage from the back end, but he won’t be anything near the stud-defenseman he once was.
Hannan also has that leadership quality, and has only missed one regular season game in his two years in Colorado. If Hannan continues to stay healthy, his defensive presence will allow the offensive defensemen to do their job and jump into the rush a little more often.
Tom Preissing may be one of those defensemen who benefit from Hannan, as well as from a fresh start.
After two solid years in San Jose and Ottawa, Preissing found himself in L.A. where it just never clicked. After a year spent between the NHL and AHL, Preissing should get a ton of opportunity on the powerplay moving the puck in Colorado, which is where the undersized defenseman has always thrived.
Both Preissing and Quincey will help John-Michael Liles, who was seemingly left out to dry offensively last year from the back end. The tools Liles possesses are well known, but when team's are afforded the luxury of keying on one defenseman, the likelihood of them trying to knock him out of the play and turn it into an odd-man opportunity goes way up.
Brett Clark and Ruslan Salei were used extensively last year by the Avs, and while Salei played his defensive game well, Clark was forced into his defensive role, losing a lot of the offense and efficiency he had found over the past few seasons.
Kyle Cumiskey will get some time in the NHL this season as well after having last year cut short by shoulder surgery, making for a defensive core that's got some old, new, borrowed, and (for those fans holding their breath on Shattenkirk's arrival) blue.
Budaj, meet Buddha. Now you two, meet Anderson…
While Peter Budaj was once expected to be the starter of the future in Colorado, it seems that that experiment is over. For now.
After a lackluster season in which Budaj, despite winning 20 games, posted a career-high 2.86 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage, he’s beginning to look more and more like he’s destined for spot-start duty in the NHL.
Craig Anderson meanwhile, took his recent success as the backup goalie to Tomas Vokoun in Florida, and parlayed it into the opportunity to start in Colorado.
While Anderson really turned heads for the Panthers, it’ll be interesting to see how the former-backup does as a starter, as it’s really been a 50/50 split for success for those who've gone down this path before.
Anderson will definitely be in tough though, as he’s faced with the task of trying to pry the bottom-dwelling Avalanche out of the basement of the West. If anyone has earned the opportunity over the past few years to try however, it’s Anderson.
So what’s it all mean…
The Avalanche are in the middle of the rebuilding process. There are a lot of bright, young, talented kids coming up through the system, but it’s going to be a few years before they stop getting their feet wet, and jump right in to the NHL game.
There’s certainly a lot of promise in Colorado, but patience will be a necessary virtue.
If the fans give the team the time though, it’s going to be paid back in spades.
5th in Northwest
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile, and you can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.