Continuing my preview of the Northwest division with the Colorado Avalanche
Colorado is definitely an underdog in the Northwest, and one of those reasons is the goaltending. While the other four teams seem to have rather stable goaltending, Colorado has a tandem of Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft. These two goalies still have yet to prove they belong in the NHL.
Budaj is the favourite for the number one spot, as two years ago he started 57 games for the Avalanche. He posted a respectable 2.68 goals against average and .905 save percentage while winning 31 games.
Last year, he lost the starting job to Jose Theodore. As a result Budaj only played 35 games, posting a 2.57 goals against average and .903 save percentage. However, he still has to prove he can play at a consistent level for him to become a legitimate number one.
A Toronto Maple Leaf outcast, Raycroft has been on a decline since winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's best rookie in 2004. Raycroft hasn't had a save percentage on the good side of .900 since then, and seems to be lost.
Maybe the change of scenery, along with the motivation to show everyone he belongs, could lead to his resurgence. Or, he can crash and burn like he has the last three years.
Defensively, the Avalanche seem to be alright, with defensive stalwarts Adam Foote and Scott Hannan to go along with offensive-defensemen John-Micheal Liles and Jordan Leopold.
Leopold has been a disappointment since coming over in the Alex Tanguay trade, playing a total of 58 games the past two seasons, notching 18 points. If he can get over his injury troubles, he will be a very valuable member of the Avalanche team this season.
Ruslan Salei is another good defensemen, who, to go along with being reliable defensively, can help generate some offense. Brett Clark is also a pretty good defensemen, having scored 36 and 39 points the first two years after the lockout.
With Daniel Tjarnqvist and Kyle Cumiskey as reserves, the Avalanche should be in good shape even if a couple of their defensemen go down with injury.
Even with the possibility of losing Joe Sakic to retirement, Colorado still has a good offense led by Paul Stastny, who looks ready to take over as the number one centre in Denver. He's got some good support in Milan Hejduk, Ryan Smyth, Marek Svatos, and Wojtek Wolski.
The Avalanche do have a lot of wild cards. Can Darcy Tucker go back to his 20-goal form? Will this finally be the year Tyler Arnason plays for a whole season? If either of these two can find their game, the Avalanche could have seven 20-goal scorers. Not to mention TJ Hensick should definitely make the team this year, and could make some noise.
In the end, Colorado is ready to compete. The only question mark is their goaltending, and if one of Budaj or Raycroft plays to their potential. If one of them can, the playoffs could be within Colorado's reach.
For a Preview of the Vancouver Canucks, click here.