Not so long ago, the Colorado Avalanche were expected to compete for a Stanley Cup year in and year out. Now, expectations are comparatively low. The stars of old have all but cleared out of Denver. Milan Hejduk remains, anchoring an offense loaded with young talent. Long gone are the days of Joe Sakic, the troubled Peter Forsberg, eccentric superstar netminder Patrick Roy, dynamic duo Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya and mainstays Alex Tanguay and Rob Blake, among others.
This is not to say the future does not look bright. The star potential is there in the form of Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and David Jones. Duchene and Jones both scored 27 times last season, lending support to an often caustic offense. If this potential is actualized in the next few years, the Avalanche have what it takes to make some noise in a large way. However, there are other questions remaining for the Avs.
The Avalanche haven’t seemed to have settled on a franchise goalkeeper since Patrick Roy’s retirement in 2003. There has been occasional brilliance shown at the position in recent seasons by Craig Anderson, who left Colorado for Ottawa in 2011. Next season, aging veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere will compete with the newly acquired Semyon Varlamov for the starting position.
While both players have tremendous upsides, neither has proven himself in Denver. With a superior save percentage of late, expect Varlamov to win the position and start most games during the upcoming season. The transition at goalkeeper could signify another rebuilding year for the Avs, but could represent a bright spot in the future.
Which is the most pressing concern for the Avs, going forward?
Off the ice, the organization faces the common issue of keeping local fans interested. Colorado was once home to one of the most diehard fanbases in the NHL, but as with most American NHL franchises located in major cities, hockey has to compete with the other major sports. The truth is that Avalanche fans have been spoiled over the years.
There was never a “breaking-in” period when the team moved to Colorado. They won a Stanley Cup in their first season in Denver. This immediate success (sustained over the course of the next decade) now appears to be a curse in disguise.
Casual fans of the team now expect nothing but success, which is a recipe for discontent. The Avs need to get fans to rally around the new players, rather than longing for the star-studded teams of the early 2000s.
This reluctance to embrace the new generation has caused fan support to become uncharacteristically stagnant at the Pepsi Center in the past few years. In fact, fans seemed to be more excited about the possibility of struggling Peter Forsberg’s return last season than they were about the team’s young stars. Of course, Forsberg failed to contribute and casual fans became further disillusioned.
So, the Colorado Avalanche face a number of challenges in their quest to reclaim glory. If the team’s young talent matures at a regular rate and a goalkeeper is allowed to achieve consistency in multiple consecutive seasons, the organization might get back to the ways of Sakic and Roy. If the team’s success in future seasons causes a revival in fan support, all of Colorado’s recent issues might simply be remembered as a rebuilding period rather than a steady decline into perennial mediocrity.