Powerhouse of the Northwest not so mighty in recent years

Matt PagliaContributor IJuly 3, 2008

Former powerhouse of the Northwest division, the Colorado Avalanche have come to the realization that the glory days are long gone. The Avalanche have not won a division title since the 2002-2003 season, where they beat out the Vancouver Canucks and have not gone deep into the playoffs, failing to making it past the second round since 2002. Since their Stanley Cup run in 2001, the Avs haven't been the same team.

In 2003, after dealing away future star Chris Drury and Peter Forsberg, and the retirement of Patrick Roy, the Avs had struggled to climb out of the hole with weak scoring and inconsistent goaltending. After acquiring Paul Kariya and Teemu Selane in the summer of 2003, the Avs lineup looked unstoppable. But when push came to shove, injuries took over and eventually landed the Avalanche to second place, snubbed of first by a single point to the Vancouver Canucks, the same team they beat out a year earlier, and eventually, knocked out in the second round by the San Jose Sharks.

Second place isn't bad, but with the All-Stars like Kariya, Selanne, Hejduk and Sakic, among others, it did not meet expectations.

After the lockout, the Avs started strong in the 05-06 season, and showed they were willing to do anything to get back in the Stanley Cup hunt, by trading away inadequate goalie David Aebischer at the trade deadline for the experience net minder, Jose Theodore from Montreal. Jose was struggling at the time and it took him two seasons to prove himself as an Avalanche goaltender, but replacing Patrick Roy is a nearly impossible task.

The Avs closed out the season with a 43-30-9 record for 95 points, good for, once again, second in the division.

Despite an all-around good season, the Avs came up short and got swept by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks (now the Anaheim Ducks) in the second round.

2006-2007 had to change. The Avalanche had rookie sensations Wojtek Wolski and Marek Svatos playing and with the emergence of goalie Peter Budaj over Jose Theodore, the Avs were taking risks, and the risks were paying off. For the most part.

The Northwest division is the hardest division in hockey, and any true hockey fan can tell you that. The Avalanche finished the season with 95 points, and ended the season with a 16-2-1 run, before being eliminated in the second last game of the season, eventually missing the playoffs by one point and coming third in the division.

After the "year of disaster" in 2007, the heavily wounded Avs still found themselves in contention by reaching the playoffs. But mental meltdown took over and the Detroit Red Wings steamrolled right over the Avs in 4 straight, not one game even in reach for Colorado.

This brings us to the off-season. The Avs lost goalie Jose Theodore, who had come back-of-the-year type numbers after posting a 28-21-0 record with a 2.44 GAA. The Avs also lost key defenseman Jeff Finger to the Toronto Maple Leafs and their main goal producer, Andrew Brunette back to the Wild. Colorado filled in these holes by bringing in veteran forward Darcy Tucker and Per Liden. The Avs also brought in goalie Andrew Raycroft from Toronto, but it is unclear whether he will have a backup role or not.

Right now, the Avs roster is tough, with Ryan Smyth hoping to bounce back with a 100-point plus season and young guns Marek Svatos, Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski all pitching in. But the leader in the locker room, Joe Sakic is uncertain if he will come back.

Right now, the Avs look as good as they did in 2001 with their Stanley Cup run, but as shown in previous years, talent on paper won't always produce on ice.