I have not been posting in a while. I have graduated from university, went on vacation, started my new job. But with the Avs’ training camp just around the corner I will try to write more frequently about the Avs.
What can we expect from the Avalanche this upcoming season? Some analysts have already made up their mind and don’t think Colorado will qualify for the playoffs. I personally don’t know where exactly the Avs will be in April. But I expect them to finish higher than the 14th place predicted by The Hockey News (this ranking was made before Joe Sakic signed, though). In my opinion, Colorado has the potential to end up between 5th and 10th in the Western Conference or even win the Northwest Division. However, there are a lot of factors to be considered for this to happen. I will try to break down a few of them in this blog:
1) The Goaltending
There has been a lot of talk about the Avs’ goaltending situation since Jose Theodore departed and Andrew Raycroft came in. To be honest, this tandem doesn’t seem to be one of the strongest on paper. But then again, did it look that strong a year ago? There were rumours of Theodore being bought out but Budaj didn’t seem to be the perfect fit either. This year’s situation reminds me a lot of last year’s. As it turned out, Budaj wasn’t that strong, but Theodore really enjoyed working with Jeff Hackett and found his mojo again. The same could happen with Raycroft this year. He had definitely a bad year in Toronto and didn’t get a lot of support from his teammates. He finds a new scenery in Colorado and hopefully will be able to rebound.
If Budaj and Raycroft can play solid (not exceptional), Colorado will have a fair chance at competing for the division title.
2) Not enough offensive depth
Replacing Andrew Brunette will definitely not be easy. But I think it won’t be as tough as some people think. David Jones and T.J. Hensick will get a look in training camp and either one (if not both) will play on opening night. The will both be able to score 25 to 35 points (Hensick may be even more). To fill the rest of the void left by Brunette, the Avs got Darcy Tucker. Like Raycroft, Tucker will be in a totally new environment. He seemed like he didn’t have his edge in Toronto in the end but a change might work miracles for him. Tucker is still capable to score 20 to 25 goals a season and 25 points. Then there is also newcomer Per Ledin who arrives from Sweden. Ledin played for his country at the World Championships and scored on the regular basis in the Elite League. If it doesn’t take him too long to adjust to the North American game, he might be able to score 35 points as well.
All in all I think there have been made some good strides in order to remain deep up front. In my opinion, next year’s edition of the Avs will be more about depth then about two scoring lines. If the top-6 forwards don’t score, there is still a 3rd line which is able to celebrate in once in a while.
3) Too much toughness and penalty troubles
The one thing that was obvious during this off-season was that GM Francois Giguere was looking to add toughness and grit to his team. Tucker and Ledin will join likes of Cody McCormick, Cody McLeod, Scott Parker and Ian Laperriere. Then there is also David Jones who brings a physical element to the game. What the Avs to with Tucker is, as mentioned above, at least a 20-goal scorer. Besides that, Colorado got one of the NHL’s best agitators. Tucker might end up in the box from time to time but he will irritate and frustrate opponents, which will take their concentration away from the game. The same can be said of Per Ledin if all the scouting reports are true and he will turn out to be Sweden’s version of Sean Avery. Together with Laperriere, life won’t be easy for players lining up against those three guys. What makes players like Tucker and Ledin so special is, that they are not just one-dimensional. They know how to score and how to agitate.
Cody McLeod who played the agitator role last year will be a lot mature this time around and pick his spots a little more carefully which will make him more valuable.
4) Defensive holes
Kurt Sauer and Jeff Finger have left, Daniel Tjarnqvist has come in. Finger played really well most of the season and will be missed. But don’t forget, Brett Clark will return from his injury and was a very valuable player on the blueline. I think, Colorado has a pretty solid top-6 on the back-end with Foote, Salei, Clark, Liles, Hannan and Leopold. May be, Colorado lack’s a clear number 1 defenseman. But then again, there is no clear number 4, 5 or 6 (I think Tjarnqvist will be the 7th defenseman). So there doesn’t seem to be a big hole somewhere. The biggest question mark would only be: Is Jordan Leopold finally going to play a full season for Colorado? And in case of injuries, there is still Kyle Cumiskey in Lake Erie who has played 47 games the last two seasons.
As you can see, I can’t wait to get the season started. I love the Avalanche’s new attitude of more grit and toughness. If you consider that Peter Forsberg might still return at some point in the season, Colorado will have solid forwards and defensemen. The only area that can only be evaluated after 20 to 30 games is the one in goal.
I wish everyone a nice training camp and the best of luck for the upcoming season!