What follows is my meager attempt to fill in the black hole that is Avs coverage on Hockeybuzz.
Maybe Engblom will be back. Maybe not. But I can construct sentences. Mostly.
Alright, enough poking fun at Engblom's Hemingway-like sentence structure, let's get to it. I am nothing if not a procrastinator, so now that there's only a few hours of preseason left, this is the time for any preseason thoughts.
Expectations are a funny thing. For this season's Avalanche team, expectations can be viewed two ways. The first is that national expectations for this squad are very low. I have read plenty of professional preseason prognostications, and not a one has the Avs in the top 8 of the Western Conference. So does that mean that any signs of life will be greeted with Hannah Montana squeals of ecstatic joy? Unfortunately for Francois Giguere and Tony Granato (as I'm sure they know), that's not the case.
Let's face it, the Avs fan is a spoiled fan. This team has missed the playoffs exactly once in its history in Denver - and with the highest point total of any non-playoff team to boot. Nary a losing season to be found on the CO record. So fan expectations have become something along the lines of "call me when you have a legit shot at the cup". In that sense, expectations will, for the foreseeable future, be as high as Lindsay Lohan on a Saturday night. The Avs fan just doesn't know any different. Rebuilding is as foreign a concept to an Avs fan as class is to Sean Avery. It hurts to think about.
So what's the reality? As usual, the reality is somewhere in between. This is a team that secured a 6 seed last season while dealing with a ridiculous amount of injuries, spotty goaltending, and poor special teams. And yes, it is pretty much that same team, now fully healthy, with a new coach, and no Jose Theodore (please don't throw me in the briar patch!). This is a team with an above average top 6 forward group. It is also a team with an above average 1-6 D corps. This team also has plenty of grit (too much according to some). Until further notice, Budaj should be considered an average NHL goaltender. If this same team wore black jerseys with "Stars" on the front, would they be picked to be a playoff team? I have no idea. But it feels like there is a strange glee to be found by some when writing off this team.
Goaltending - Budaj - obvious, but must be mentioned. If this is the 2007 February through April Budaj, then the goaltending can be upgraded to "above average" also. I'm just hoping Raycroft can figure out how to not suck enough to be serviceable for 15 games.
Special Teams: I'm not too worried about the PK. Clarke's return is huge for this team overall, and will help the PK unit as well. The PP is where Granato needs to earn his money. Granato can't stop pucks, he can't score goals, he can't make momentum changing hits, but he can devise a PP system that works, and perhaps more importantly, he can put the right people in the right spots. But will he? Who knows, but if I could hypnotize Granato, I would implant these two concepts - Leopold at the point and Smyth in front of the net. Look, I like Liles. He's a great player, but he misses the net from the point five times for every one that is on target. It's just not acceptable. Maybe he has improved that, I don't know, I don't have the luxury of sitting in at practice. But Leopold should be the guy firing the puck while Smyth is pitching a tent in front of the net and camping out. Other than line combos and game management, the PP is where a coach can have the most direct impact on gameplay. Let's hope that Granato has something figured out.
Granato: Beyond the PP, will his style have any effect on this team? He's promised more of an up-tempo game, but plenty of coaches promise that, and then after the first 6-4 loss, it's back to a one man forecheck, collapsing the D, dumping the puck, and trying to win 2-1. I'll believe it when I see it.
Injuries: all NHL teams deal with injuries. But after the crazy injuries the Avs dealt with last year, one must assume a regression to the mean. In other words, it would be hard for it to be worse than last year.
So what does it all add up to? Well, its all relative, isn't it? So a couple thoughts on the rest of the West. I've heard Dave Reid on the NHL network for the last couple of nights now slurping the Flames. I enjoy Reid's work, but in this case, I just don't get it. Explain to me how this team is better than last year's team? Bertuzzi is washed up. Tanguay is gone. Keenan is still the coach and is getting towards the back end of his historical coaching shelf life. Kipper has been in steady decline. If this team gets off to a bad start, they could actually implode. In short, I don't see the Flames making the playoffs. That goes for the Canucks (Luongo and the Sedins aren't enough), Kings (a ways to go), Blues (ditto), Preds (Ellis can't do that again, can he?) or Jackets (major holes). In the NW that leaves the Wild and Oilers. The Wild are a borderline playoff team this year. It is unwise to underestimate the powers of Lemaire, but this team had trouble scoring goals last year and decided to let Rolston and Demitra walk. If everything goes well for them, they are a 7/8 seed. If there are any injuries or goaltending issues, they're on the outside looking in. I see the Oilers and Avs fighting for the top spot in the NW and the 3 seed overall. The loser is probably a 5 or 6 seed.
I see the Ducks as the 4 seed. Other than that it's a free for all between the Hawks, Coyotes, Stars, and Wild for the other three playoff spots.
Back to expectations: the Avs should be expected to compete for the division title and make the playoffs. But that legit shot at the cup is a long shot. All of the above wildcards would have to play out perfectly. The good news is that its possible. The bad news is that at the beginning of this long season, their odds seem longer than some others. Speaking of long, it's a loooong season and one thing you can count on is that alot will change, so enjoy the ride. And it also reminds me that this blog is too long.
Tomorrow: thoughts on tonight's Bruins/Avs game plus some thoughts on the Avs roster.