Our series of division previews continues with a look at the Avalanche.
10/11 finish: 68 points, 4th in the NW, 14th in the Conference
Playoffs: none since 09/10
Key Players: Stastny, Duchene, Landeskog, Johnson, O’ Reilly, Varlamov
Additions: Varlamov, Hejda, Landeskog
Subtractions: Foote, Fleischmann
Cap Position: Floored
Projected finish: in the conference’s bottom four
Ah, the Avalache. A team that spent 09/10 laughing at fate got theirs and then some last season, as injuries and a return to some normal levels of luck sent them spinning down into the depths, propped up only by the Oilers. At the expense of sounding like a jerk saying "I told you so," well, I did tell them so.
The tailspin of last winter seemed to push Greg Sherman into action. After apparently spending the summer of 2010 in a stupor, he traded his number one goalie and two good young players before last season’s deadline, then made one of the more controversial transactions of the summer when he traded a couple of draft picks for a talented but unproven goalie.
The Avalanche are still Paul Stastny’s team up front, at least for now. If I were running a lottery as to which significant Avs player would be out of the door next, he might be the man with the shortest odds. He had a struggling season in 10/11, and although Wojtek Wolski is no superstar, he was able to manage against good players 5v5, so his absence from Stasny’s side was almost certainly a detriment.
As I peruse Colorado’s depth chart, other than Stastny, O’ Reilly and maybe Dan Winnik, I don’t see a player on the roster that I’d trust against top-sixers at EV, so the Avs’ captain is in need of a bit of help if he’s to resume his form as a power vs. power outscorer. As I’ve mentioned many times, there are no one man armies in the NHL, and unsuprisingly, Stastny couldn’t manage that trick last season.
In time, I don’t doubt that Matt Duchene will be very good, and David Jones seems like he might be decent enough, but the Avs are still going to be a team that need a lot of things to go right if they’re going to create enough offence to compete in a difficult conference. A full season on the PP from Peter Mueller might help, as he returns after missing last year due to the after effects of suffering two concussions in a five month period.
O’Reilly and Winnik were two of the few bright spots for Colorado last year. They played middling comp last year, started in their own end a ton, and finished in the black in terms of outshooting. O’Reilly is a pretty adept player for someone still on his ELC, and his longterm outlook is as a number two center that plays the toughs.
It also appears that at least partially for cap reasons, Gabriel Landeskog will start the year in Denver. He was almost certainly the most physically mature player amongst the top picks last summer, and the word around him has always been that he was the closest to being NHL ready, even if his upside won’t top out as highly as a few other players selected in St. Paul. Still, he’s automatically on the team with the Avs scrambling to stay over the floor, and ready or not, that’s really not optimal.
On the back end, the Avs started the remake of their defence when they acquired Erik Johnson, and their primary FA move was the addition of Jan Hejda. The former Jacket looked like he might be losing a step last year, but on a team that could use a grownup or two on D, he’s likely to be a welcome addition when he gets healthy sometime next month.
A return to health by Kyle Quincey will be a bonus as well. He can play a bit, and a top three of Johnson, Hejda and Quincey is at least passable in the short term. The Roxy’s favourite patron and the likes of Ryan Wilson, Matt Hunwick and Kyle Cumiskey round out the bottom of the order. As a group, that D is one that could use more talent. Duncan Siemens will be back in Saskatoon this winter, but down the line he’s likely the best internal bet for a top four defender.
It’s in net where the Avalanche made their biggest moves over the last year. It might seem as if they panicked a bit on Craig Anderson, but it wasn’t a shock that they moved him before he bolted as a UFA. They were never that likely to resign him given their tight-fisted approach to financial matters. Combined with the fact that the relationship between the club and player was reputedly a bit shaky for most of last season, Anderson being dealt seemed inevitable once the ‘Lanche hit the skids.
If Anderson’s dismissal was always in the cards from roughly January onwards, what transpired this summer left most people flabbergasted. The price Colorado was willing to pay to finalize their acquisition of Semyon Varlamov was completely outside of anything we’ve seen in the goalie market as of late.
In fairness to the player, it isn’t as if he’s not potentially very good, as his EVSV% has hovered right around .930 the last two seasons. That’s not applesauce, and he’s only 23, so the possibility absolutely exists that he may be nowhere near his developmental peak.
As is so often the case when assessing young players, though, we’re dealing with a small sample size. He’s only faced about 1300 shots at EV in three seasons. Most of the top goalies in the league face that in one season, so the Avs made a significant gamble in trading away their first rounder in 2012 and a second rounder in ’12 or ’13 for a player that really hasn’t got a track record worth trusting. If Colorado flounders, that 1st rounder might be a lottery pick in a draft reputed to be very good. That seems like a hell of a risk to bolster a position that seems to have too many players for too few jobs league wide, in my view.
I got my shot in at the top of the article, but honesty compels me to note that the Avs were improving last season at the out-shooting business before injuries sent them spiraling, and there is still room for their kids to improve, especially Duchene.
Their formula for success hasn’t really changed, though. They need high end goaltending and more than their share of the bounces to be a playoff team, and they’ll be relying on a young goalie that’s never had to play a full year in front of a shaky team. Colorado will need the same sort of fortune as 09/10 or better to make the post-season, and the most likely result for them is a season finishing somewhere between about 12th and 15th in the West.