BT's 2008-09 NHL Season Preview: Colorado Avalanche

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BT's 2008-09 NHL Season Preview: Colorado Avalanche

Preface: The CL's are back! Kind of...

Following the preview of Minnesota where we were sans Community Leaders, we're back to where we are with Edmonton: Introducing some new writers you may not have heard of!

Anyways, today we're moving on to the Rocky Mountains, and dealing with the Colorado Avalanche.

Let's get to it:

 

There were only a few things I could think once I heard that the third jerseys were coming back to the NHL.

One of them was that I hope the Avalanche's old jersey comes back.

I can honestly say that I miss the diagonally written "Avalanche" across the front of the maroon jersey with the old-style tie-ups at the front. I thought they were snazzy.

And yes, I just said snazzy. And no, Clinton from "what not to wear" isn't proofreading this.

A few years ago though, I looked forward to Colorado Avalanche playoff runs as much as I'm looking forward to the new Pacino-DeNiro movie.

Now, both are older, both have slipped a little—but at least we're guaranteed a release date on the movie. The Avs aren't guaranteed anything in this division this year.

 

Roster Additions: Darcy Tucker-F (F.A.), Andrew Raycroft-G (F.A.), Daniel Tjarnqvist-D (F.A)

Roster Subtractions:
Jose Theodore-G (F.A.), Andrew Brunette-F (F.A.), Jeff Finger-D (F.A.), Kurt Sauer-D (F.A.), Peter Forsberg-F (F.A.),Jeff Jillson-D (F.A.), Brad Richardson-F (Trade)

How did 2007-08 go? 44-31-7, 95 points, Sixth in conference, second in Northwest, lost in second round of 2008 playoffs (Western Conference).

2008-09 Goal:
First in Conference, Conference Semi-Finals.

 

Let's break'er down!

As the Colorado Avalanche geared up for the playoffs last season, it seemed that everything old was new (or returning a wee bit older) once again.
 
Peter Forsberg, the annual head (ok, foot) case had returned to his old stomping grounds—I'm serious...there's no pun intended there whatsoever—in hopes of recapturing some magic with the seemingly ageless Joe Sakic. Adam Foote was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in an attempt to add some added insurance and stability to the blue line, and the Avs looked to be going on a reunion tour, hopefully with their favorite member—Lord Stanley—in tow.
 
Well, that didn't happen—and with that, the Avs were forced into a summer of decisions, with some of their older acquisitions approaching free agency along with some of their younger players.


 
Burnaby Joe looks to captain Colorado to another Cup

 
The biggest news for the Avalanche this season is probably that Joe Sakic is returning for one more season. In contrast to all of the hype surrounding Mats Sundin's decision, Joe Sakic quietly took his time in deciding one more year was worth it for the heart and soul of the Quebec-Colorado franchise.
 
Although I hate to say it, Sakic returning to Colorado is far more important than Mats Sundin returning to the Leafs. While Mats has been doing little bits of something with nothing surrounding him in Toronto, Sakic has recently posted a 100-point season (2006-07) and led the Avs to the playoffs, working with a young roster with few consistent standouts.
 
As has been the theme of the past few seasons, the Avs' young stars will have to step up. Wojtek Wolski will have to hold on to the two-way presence he found last season, but put up some points while he's at it and become a 60-point threat.
 
In his first two seasons, Paul Statsny has looked every bit the replacement for Sakic—and if Sakic's decision is put out of doubt next season, Statsny can prove he's ready by posting the first 80-point season of his career.  He's had two 70 point seasons so far.

Marek Svatos will have bigger fish to fry though, as while he's trying to recapture that elusive 30-goal season, he'll also have to work to recuperate from a torn ACL, suffered late last season.
 
But aside from the three emerging stars on the Avs, the established veterans will have to show up as well. Ryan Smyth and Darcy Tucker are both going to have to overcome subpar seasons, while Ian Laparrier will just have to keep adding grit with a little bit of scoring to help out the younger forwards.

 

The race to replace Roy continues
 
Peter Budaj or Andrew Raycroft. Is that really a question you want to ask yourself?
 
With the departure of Jose Theodore from the Avalanche (28 wins, 2.44 GAA, .910 save percentage), the Avalanche will return to Peter Budaj in hopes of finding that elusive franchise starter that they've missed since St. Patrick retired.
 
For Budaj, the ball is in his court—he's young (25), he's already posted a 30-win season (31 in 2006-07), and he finished the regular season on a strong note last season, allowing six goals in five games.  Of course, we're overlooking the Detroit series where Budaj filled in for a malady-stricken Theodore fairly well—aside from allowing five goals in Game Four.

Budaj is going to have to come out of the gate strong, as Colorado has shown that they’re willing to go with the hot hand in net—whomever it may be.
 
If Budaj can't shoulder the load, then it will be up to former Calder-winner Andrew Raycroft (who looked miserable as last season wore on in Toronto) and Jason Bacashihua, the highly-touted junior goalie who has yet to pan out in the NHL.

Raycroft has obviously seen success at the NHL level—his Calder trophy proves that—but since his rookie season, it seems that Rayzor has been on a downhill slide. Yes, he was able to secure a record 37 wins in his first season as a Maple Leaf—but he’s also been prone to giving up too many shaky goals, and he’s seemingly lost the ability to steal a game for his team.

Bacashihua still has yet to find a home at the NHL level. He has all the tools, but after being blocked by Marty Turco in Dallas, and an failing to strike in St. Louis, his chances at becoming a star in the NHL are fading fast.
 
Obviously, the Avalanche need Budaj to return to form to compete—and after a year of ups and downs, he's poised to make another big splash.



Lost a Finger, salvaged a Foote, and a Sauer taste in the mouth.


On defense, the Colorado Avalanche will look a little bit different this season.

For starters, the team will be missing both Kurt Sauer and Jeff Finger. Both defensemen logged heavy minutes for the Avs last year and made impacts—but which of the two was better depends on whether you ask Toronto or someone else.

Either way, there were some holes left to fill on the Colorado blue line that needed to be addressed.

One step Francois Giguere took was re-signing former Blue Jacket Adam Foote in the offseason. From a leadership standpoint, Adam Foote is a great player to retain—but aside from that, the Avalanche resigned a 37-year-old defensive defensman who was abused by Detroit in the playoffs, and could be a very likely buyout candidate in a year's time if his performance continues to decline.

In Brett Clark, Ruslan Salei, and Scott Hannan, the Avalanche have three defensemen who can stand up the opposition on their side of the blue line, but aren’t exactly dynamos when it comes to point production. Add in to that the defensively-reliable and hockey-smart Daniel Tjarnqvist, and the Avs have a strong defensive corps that will help keep the puck out of Peter Budaj’s net.

For points, however, the Avs are hoping for a bit of a resurgence from John-Michael Liles. In a trend never before seen in pro sports, Liles suffered his worst professional season in 2007-08—otherwise known as his contract year. He scored fewer than 10 goals for the first time in his career (he posted 14 his first two seasons), and his point total from last season was only two higher than his assist total from 2006-07 (32 vs. 30).

Liles will be looking to prove that last season was a fluke, and that he can (and probably will—flirt with the 50-point plateau once again in his career while being buoyed by his defensive teammates.

Depth-wise, Kyle Cumiskey and Jordan Leopold may also be able to provide some scoring depth on the back end.  However, that will depend on Cumiskey’s development this season—and whether or not he can tap into his offensive game at the highest level—as well as Jordan Leopold finding his stride for the first time since the lockout. Frankly, I’d put my money on Cumiskey.

 

So what does this all mean?

The Colorado Avalanche have been a good team for a long time, but even the best are bound to fall eventually. Unfortunately, this year seems to be Colorado’s time to tumble.

While I don’t doubt the goaltending, the problem I see with the Avalanche is quality on the back end, especially in the depth of the forwards.

Last year, the Colorado Avalanche reminded me of the New York Yankees, as they bought their way into the playoffs with older players. Well, even the Yankees have to misstep sometimes.



Fourth in Northeast

Now introducing: Jordan Walsh and Shane Giroux!

 

First up, Jordan:

I think the Avalanche will do a lot better than everyone thinks. Now , I'm not saying they're going to win the Cup, or even come close—but I think a playoff berth is definitely not out of the question. I also believe Ryan Smyth and Darcy Tucker will rebound quite nicely.
 
I believe you have underrated Colorado's blue line. Their blue line is going to be great this year. With the shutdown pair of Foote and Hannan, the offensive pair of Liles and Cumiskey, and the solid stay-at-home defencman Salei and Tjarnqvist you can't go wrong.
 
In net I think this is Petr Budaj's shot and I think Bacashihua might give Raycroft a run for the backup job. I think Budaj is going to do an alright job and I believe he is going to surprise a lot of people.
 
The Avalanche have a lot to prove this year—but to be honest, I think they can do it.

 

And now, Shane:

Goaltending

The goalie situation this year has people a bit concerned, but the apocalypse is not upon us. While Peter Budaj is no Robert Luongo, he has shown himself to be a capable starter when given the chance.

He stole the job from Theodore two seasons ago—as easy as it was to do—and led the team on a 15-2 run to end the season. However, last season the Avalanche management seemed intent on Theodore being the No. 1, and put a halt to Joel Quenneville’s goaltender rotation.

With Q gone—along with his motto of “One bad performance and you’re benched,” I think Budaj will flourish under Tony Granato’s watch. Jeff Hackett is not a “goalie whisperer” as others have said, but it can’t hurt to have a full-time goaltending coach either.

If Raycroft can come in and win 50 percent of his starts as a backup, the Avalanche should do fine.

 

Defense

The defense is the best part of the Avalanche roster. It’s not an elite lineup, but it has a nice mix of bangers, grinders, and puck movers. I’d like to see a No. 1 like Lidstrom back there, but what fan wouldn’t?

Ruslan Salei will be the team’s best defender this year, bar none. I knew of Salei prior to his acquisition, but hadn’t seen a lot of his play. Once he came over in the late season trade, I was an instant fan. He’s got great awareness, good defensive positioning, solid checks, and a good shot from the point—which is something the Avalanche have been lacking since Blake left.

Unfortunately, I just broke my own rule with that last point. (I swore I’d never bring up the lack of a point shot for the Avalanche after hearing Pierre McGuire say it one too many times.)

This squad should be able to provide offensive support, while letting Budaj do his job in goal and without worrying about trying to clear his own rebounds.

 

Offense

With Sakic back, there is no need to call Tyler Arnason the No. 2 center, which has dropped my blood pressure about 50 points. But even with Sakic back, this lineup will run into scoring depth issues.

The top two lines should have no problem racking up points, but the third and fourth lines are looking a bit weak in that department. If Tucker and Arnason—potentially this year’s odd couple—can find some sort of chemistry, it could alleviate my worries.

Per Ledin will be this year’s Jaroslav Hlinka. Hlinka was much heralded at the start of training camp, and during preseason he appeared to be worth the hype. However, as last season wore on, Hlinka seemed to lose his scoring touch.

Fortunately for the Avalanche, it appears if Ledin isn’t scoring. he’ll be pestering the opposition—which when done in a non-Sean Avery style is always fun to watch.

The squad has scorers and it has bangers, but I worry the banging-to-scoring ratio is tilted towards banging. I shall now strike the word “banging” from my dictionary due to overuse.


Playoff Bound

With Sakic back in the mix, I’m comfortable in calling the Avalanche a playoff-bound team. They’ve even got a shot at winning the division, as do all the teams in the Northwest—Vancouver notwithstanding.

There you have it—a few different looks at how the Avalanche could end up this season in the Northwest division.

Stay tuned for the next Northwest team tomorrow!

Until then...


Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader here on Bleacher Report. If you'd like to get in contact with him, you can do so through his profile, while you can check out his previous work in his archives.

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