Before the salary cap was instituted, you could always count on one thing in the NHL: The Colorado Avalanche were going to make the playoffs and be cup contenders. Every year GM Pierre Lacroix put a playoff team on the ice and every year they would deliver. At the end of the 05-06 season, Lacroix stepped down and handed things over to Francois Giguere. Things started rocky with Giguere dealt Alex Tanguay to the rival Calgary Flames but because a new contract couldn't get worked out, he had no other choice.
The Avalanche took the ice last season looking at mediocre expectations. Most respectable websites had the Avs missing the playoffs citing that Theodore and the Defense was a liability and outside of Sakic, Brunette, and Hejduk, they lacked a scoring punch.
Well the Avs did miss the playoffs but they missed them by one point and finished the season with the most points ever by a team not to make the playoffs. Theodore was a liability. He showed a few signs of his Vezina Trophy form but those spurts were few and far apart. The defense held together but was too offensive minded, simply put, they lacked a shut down defenseman who opposing teams fear. The offense however, did not lack a scoring punch. Joe Sakic proved that age is nothing but a number finishing with 100 points, Brunette continued to put up consistent numbers playing on a line with Sakic, and after a slow start Milan Hejduk picked up his game at the end of the season. But the biggest reason for the Avs end of season tear was the amazing play of rookies Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski. Stastny developed into a great two forward with great hockey sense while Wolski was a legit scoring threat with flashy moves. Another emergence was that of goaltender Peter Budaj. Budaj's play down the stretch landed Jose Theodore and his hefty contract on the bench, making him a highly paid back up.
Thanks to the quick development of Stastny, Wolski, and Budaj the Avs may have fallen short in making the playoffs but the future looked bright if the right pieces fell into place.
The bidding began on July 1st. In the weeks leading up to the start of free agent period, the Avs needed to address two things: A nasty defenseman and grit up front. Little time was wasted in Denver. Giguere targeted Scott Hannan, one of the top defenseman on the market, and was relentless in his pursuit. Avs fans will remember Hannan as the man who gave Peter Forsberg fits in playoffs year ago when the Avs played the Sharks. Nasty defenseman, check. The next target was Ryan Smyth and he wouldn't come easy. Any team that had money to spend were willing to spend it on Smyth and by late night Sunday, Smyth had narrowed it down to 5 teams: Colorado, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, and New York. In the end, despite not having the most money on the table, Smyth signed with Colorado feeling that it was the best fit for him as a person and as a hockey player. Francois Giguere had scored and Joe Sakic notched an assist.
Though the free agent period is not over, the Avs are already winners in the minds of many. They addressed their need for a shut down defenseman and a gritty power forward up front. Scott Hannan is sure to be a pest to the top forwards on the opposing teams and Ryan Smyth is sure to be a pest to the top defenseman on the opposing teams. Now the Avs must address depth needs to round out their team.
The salary cap forced teams to change the way they do business. The Avs were a team that made money and spent money. Gone are the days of signing every under the sun to a huge contract to ensure a playoff run. No, in the new NHL, it's about mixing the right amount of high money players with the right amount of depth players and building through the draft. Thanks to the high money makers named Sakic, Smyth, Hannan and Hejduk, the depth players of Brunette, Liles, Leopold, Skrastins, and Arnason, and the quick development of Stastny, Wolski, and Budaj, the Avs are once again Cup Contenders.