Over the Next 30 days I will be Previewing each of the National Hockey League Clubs heading into the 2011-12 season starting from the Anaheim Ducks. Day 7 of the series belongs to the official AarifDeenReport Colorado Avalanche Preview.
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Can anyone define “up-and-down season” without using the 2010-11 Colorado Avalanche team as the main example? The team that was scoring on a pace of 4 goals a game, and the most in the NHL in December ends up the 2nd worst team in the league at seasons end? Not only that, but they are forced to absolutely cut through the core of the team and change the whole identity within a month?
On opening day last year, the Colorado Avalanche were looking to build on what many people called a successful 2010 season. They had the 1996 Colorado Avalanche team in the building celebrating their 15 year reunion, and fans all over the Pepsi Center can feel the beginning of the return of this club to elite status.
After beating out the defending Stanley Cup Champions on opening night with an OT performance, Avs fans were all the more excited. They walked into the Joe Louis Arena on just the third game of the season and beat the 2008 champions in the shootout as well in a magnificent come-from-behind win. When you win your first two games against the Blackhawks and Red Wings, you have every reason to call yourself a successful team.
Once again, this last season the Avalanche were hit with injuries. It all started in the preseason when Peter Mueller, who has only dressed up for 15 wonderful games for the Avalanche suffered his second concussion as an Av and was forced to miss an entire season. But that wasn’t it. Captain Adam Foote was injured in mid-October followed by a freak accident that injured Craig Anderson in a pre-game warm-up against the Canucks on the 26th of October.
Two weeks later TJ Galiardi was added to the injury reserve, followed by Chris Stewart just weeks after him. Proven to be the biggest loss to injury. In order to cover for the major void that Stewart had left behind, Avs went out and traded veteran Scott Hannan to Washington to acquire Tomas Fleischmann. The Avs were in desperate need of roster players as many rookies were given bigger roles than they first thought they would get, and players like Porter and Yip were playing top line minutes.
Interestingly enough, throughout all of these injuries, the Avalanche were able to stay the course and as each game came to an end, the Avs were still shocking the hockey world scoring at a high pace as one of the offensive juggernauts of the league. However, this all started to regress on an Avalanche off-day in January. A major injury announcement put the team down and buried them into a hole they spent the rest of the season attempting to escape, but were unable to do so. The announcement was Tomas Fleischmann, the surprise addition who was making the most of his opportunity with his new club, was officially lost for the season. Due to pulmonary embolism, Tomas was to be put on blood thinners and would be unable to suit up for another game the rest of the season.
Just a short 12 or so hours before that announcement, Tomas had assisted on the game-winning-goal by David Jones in OT against the Vancouver Canucks. The Avs held a 24-16-6 record, good enough for 2nd best in the Northwest and part of the top 8 of the Western Conference after that game. However, from that game until the end of the season, the Avalanche put together a record of 6-28-2. The worst in the league that caused them to slip all the way out of the playoffs into 2nd last in the Western Conference, and in the NHL in front of only the Edmonton Oilers. Not even Peter Forsbergs return in early February was good enough to spark the Avalanche back to their winning ways.
Throughout their horrible run, the Avalanche ran into a February 14th contest against the Calgary Flames. This was to be the first game back at the Pepsi Center for Peter Forsberg. However, early in the morning Peter announced his retirement from the game of hockey after just 2 games back. It stunned the Avalanche faithful and the hockey world in general. Later that night the Avs took the ice against the Flames. They would end up losing 9-1 in what is said to be the worst game in Avalanche history. Matt Duchene was lost to injury, and Craig Anderson had suited up as an Av for the last time. A day Avalanche faithful will attempt to remove from their memories.
The Avalanche, as mentioned above, did not finish the season with Craig Anderson as their goaltender. The 2010 surprise goalie for the Avs had played his last game that horrible night in Denver and on February 18th, the Avs shipped Andy to Ottawa for struggling goaltender Brian Elliott. Just 8 hours later, around 2:30am ET on the 19th, the Avalanche pulled off the biggest trade of the season. They sent up-and-coming power forward Chris Stewart along with rookie Kevin Shattenkirk and a conditional 2nd round draft pick to St. Louis in exchange for former 1st overall pick Erik Johnson, PK specialist Jay McClement and a condition 1st round draft pick. It was the start of what we can now call the Erik Johnson era in Denver.
Major Players Added:
Looking into the off-season, Avalanche fans were excited for the draft where they are to pick 2nd overall and 11th overall. With those picks, Gabriel Landeskog and Duncan Siemens were chosen by Sherman and company. Later in the summer they would both sign 3-year entry level deals and will both participate in the Avalanche training camp in September.
Jan Hejda: Perhaps an unexpected signing on Canada Day, the Avs management added 6 foot 5, 237 pound defenseman Jan Hejda to the mix. The 32 year old signed a four-year contract in Denver and certainly will join O’Byrne and Johnson as the new wave of towering defensemen for the Avs. The defensively sound Hejda won’t do anything exciting nor will he score many goals. But his responsible game in the back-end will fill the void lost by Scott Hannan last season.
Semyon Varlamov: Pulling off another unexpected move, Greg Sherman traded a 1st and 2nd rounder to Washington to acquire young 23 year old Russian netminder Semyon Varlamov. Just before the deal Varly had one foot on an airplane to Russia to play threatening to join the KHL. However this trade re-ignited the young Russian and has convinced him to stay put in the NHL. Soon after the deal he signed a 3-year deal worth $8 million and is as excited as ever to take over the crease in Denver. While many will say the Avs overpaid for the goaltender third on the Caps depth chart, Semyon is out to prove the naysayers wrong and show he is worth every bit of what was given up to acquire him.
Chuck Kobasew: Later on the first day of free agency, the Avs signed Chuck Kobasew out of Minnesota. The 3 time 20-goal scorer will look to to play a grinding role for the Avs and possibly pitch in some offense as well. He is under contract for 2 years and $2.5 million in total salary.
J.S. Giguere: The last move Sherman made on the 1st of the month was completely revamp the Avs goaltending duo heading into the 2011-12 season. Signed out of Toronto, J.S Giguere was added to be Semyon Varlamovs veteran back-up goalie who also has the skill to take over as starter due to any possible circumstances. Giggy (as many like to call him) is a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner and Stanley Cup Champion. He will add much needed veteran presence to the Avs and the respected goaler is signed for a low $2.5 million over two seasons, similar to Kobasew.
The Others: The Avs added more goaltending depth after signing free agent Cedrik Desjardins. He suited up twice for the Lightning last season winning both games and allowing just 2 goals in total. Cedrik is under contract for 1 year in Denver. Also signed to play in the minors, the Avs added Evan Brophey from Chicago, and Patrick Rissmiller from Florida. Both could possibly see time in the NHL due to injury call-ups, however both know their role is to play in Lake Erie. The final addition made to the Avs was another towering defenseman. Sherman, looking to continue adding big physical players on the blueline signed Shane O’Brien out of Nashville to a one-year deal worth $1.1 million. Shane will play 3rd pairing minutes for the Avs and his physical play will be a great addition, as well as his ability to draw penalties. Unless one of the Avs defensive prospects has a successful training camp, Shane will probably suit up opening night for the Avs against the Red Wings.
Who Was Lost:
Peter Forsberg announced his retirement from the National Hockey League
Adam Foote announced his retirement from the National Hockey League
John-Michael Liles was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs
Peter Budaj signed on with the Montreal Canadiens for 2 years worth $2.3 million
Tomas Fleischmann signed on with the Florida Panthers for 4 years worth $18 million
Brian Elliott signed on with the St. Louis Blues for 1 year worth 600k
Ben Walter signed on with the Calgary Flames for 2 years worth $1.075 million
Phillipe Dupuis signed on with the Toronto Maple Leafs for 1 year worth 650k
Jason Bacashihua signed on with the Philadelphia Flyers for 1 year worth 525k
After the retirement of Joe Sakic and the drafting of Matt Duchene, the Avalanche made numerous changes and entered the 2010 season with a new core and a new identity. Now two years later, Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg have retired and Gabriel Landeskog and Duncan Siemens were drafted. The Avalanche once again have made many changes rebuilding the whole defense and goaltending side of the team, and adding a few new pieces up front. For the third straight year, Avalanche fans should be very excited heading into training camp.
On offense, the Avs are still lead by their two top centermen Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny. The “bang bang dance” duo will battle it out for top line duties all year long. The Avs hold a very underrated top 6 in the NHL. Joining those two centermen is 27-goal scorer David Jones, rookie Gabriel Landeskog (who has a spot all but handed to him this season), veteran 20-goal scorer Milan Hejduk, and coming off the injury list, Peter Mueller. Jones will look to break the 30 goal mark this season. A task that can simply be achieved as long as he does not suffer any harsh injuries. Landeskog will look to repeat what Duchene did two seasons ago and score 20+ goals as a rookie and be an integral part of the team right away. Hejduk is, as always, good for 20 goals, and if Peter Mueller can return to his former self, there is no reason to believe he himself can’t pitch in 20 goals.
Aside from the top 6, the Avalanche have rookie Joey Hishon, TJ Galiardi, Ryan O’Reilly, Chuck Kobasew, Jay McClement, Cody McLeod, Brandon Yip, and Daniel Winnik all looking to crack the opening night roster and make an impact. This teams offense has plenty of depth this year to cover for possible (and very probable) injuries.
The defense that was rebuilt this off-season will be one of the biggest in the league. Lead by 23 year old Erik Johnson, the Avs blue line has plenty of players looking to start on October 8th when the season begins. Joining Johnson is Hejda, Quincey, Wilson, O’Byrne, O’Brien, Hunwick, RFA Cumiskey, and a couple prospects expected to make the jump. Prospects Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott have the best chance to make it right out of training camp as rookies. Still without a captain, the Avs could possibly look to Erik Johnson as their new leader for many years to come. Erik has all the tools to become captain and in his short span with the Avs last year he was easily the best leader on and off the ice. If Erik becomes captain, the Avs defense will look to him for advice, and will attempt to take out the best in the league as these blueliners are bigger and badder then ever.
The goaltending duo of Varly/Giggy is a mega upgrade from the Budaj/Elliott tandem that ended the season with Colorado in April. Varlamov is still a youngster and will be the Avs starter for years to come. interviewed many times over the summer, Varly has stated numerous times that he was an Avalanche fan growing up and Patrick Roy was his idle. He is probably the most excited player on the roster right now and is licking his chops at the opportunity of starting his Avalanche career at the Pepsi Center against the hated Detroit Red Wings. Giguere will prove to be a great back up for the Avalanche this year instead of Budaj, and will play probably 30 games this season.
As long as Joe Sacco can repeat his 2010 coaching performance, and the Avalanche are not staggered with injuries (which seems to happen on a yearly basis for this team), there is no reason to believe the Avs can’t sneak into the playoffs. 5 of their top 6 players are proven 20 goal scorers, and the last is 2nd overall pick Gabriel Landeskog who will easily join them soon in his career. Erik Johnson is (probably) the new leader in Denver and his blueline play will lead the Avs to the playoffs once again, and make the jobs of the Varly/Giggy duo that much easier.
Deen’s Projected lineup:
Peter Mueller - Matt Duchene - Milan Hejduk
Gabriel Landeskog- Paul Stastny - David Jones
TJ Galiardi - Ryan O’Reilly - Joey Hishon
Chuck Kobasew - Jay McClement - Daniel Winnik
Erik Johnson - Kyle Quincey
Stefan Elliott - Jan Hejda
Ryan Wilson - Ryan O’Byrne
With a season similar to the one two years ago, the Avalanche will sneak into the playoffs as the 8th seed in the Western Conference (go figure probably with 95 points again). They will match up against the top seeded Los Angeles Kings in the first round. Also similar to the 2010 playoffs, they will take the Kings to 6 games before being ousted in the first round. Another early exit for the Avs. However, it will be another season said to be successful and is only the beginning of this team being one of the top in the West for a long, long time.
Thanks for reading! Follow me on twitter @AarifDeenReport please!
And once again, please keep Rick Rypien and his family and friends in your prayers through this tough time.
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