2011-2012 season preview: Colorado Avalanche
2010-2011 record: 30-44-8, 68 points; 4th in Northwest, 14th in West
Playoffs: Did not qualify
After making the playoffs two seasons ago, everything went wrong for the Avalanche last season. With injuries and poor goaltending being the main culprits, the Avs hope good health shines through and that offseason moves will help move them out of the basement of the Western Conference and back into the playoff race.
Scoring wasn’t a total failure for the Avalanche last season. They were 18th in the league in goals and had 20-plus goal seasons from Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk, and David Jones. Five other players scored in double digits, but one was dealt away to St. Louis in Chris Stewart. This time around, they’ll look for a healthy season from T.J. Galiardi and hope that 2011 first-round pick Gabriel Landeskog can jump in right away and give them another scoring threat on the wing.
Duchene and Stastny are a solid duo for their top two lines, but they’ll need depth guys like Kevin Porter and Brandon Yip to play bigger and better and hope that new guys Chuck Kobasew and Joakim Lindstrom can add help to the mix. At the least they’ve got solid defensive forwards in Jay McClement and Daniel Winnik.
Defensively, the Avs were an abject nightmare last season. Injuries plagued their blue line, losing the likes of Kyle Quincey, Kyle Cumiskey, and Adam Foote for huge chunks of the year. Foote is retired and John-Michael Liles has also left. The Avs beefed up adding Shane O’Brien and Jan Hejda to join Erik Johnson to try and lead the way. Quincey and Cumiskey are healthy again while Ryan O’Byrne, Ryan Wilson, and Matt Hunwick round out a deep but questionably talented group. Johnson will be good but they’ll need everyone to play strong together to get success.
Goaltending was a mess last season after the Avs dealt away the questionably motivated Craig Anderson to Ottawa for Brian Elliott to join the poorly played Peter Budaj. Everyone stunk and the bad defense didn’t help that. Colorado made a gutsy, yet highly questionable, trade for Semyon Varlamov from Washington to get a new starting goalie with a winning record. They’ll have to hope Varlamov’s injury history is behind him as well as Jean-Sebastien Giguere will back him up. Giguere is a long time removed from his great years in Anaheim after struggling in Toronto. How well Colorado does hinges on Varlamov’s play and health. Look out.
Joe Sacco enters his third season as Avalanche coach and after shocking onlookers by getting the Avs to the playoffs in his first season, things blew up badly last time around. Sacco will have to hope the team’s collective health holds up and he can hold the team together. If Colorado gets off to a bad start this season with their new defense and goaltending in place to correct the problems they had last season, the cries to fire Sacco will grow loud in Denver.
It’s not to say there’s a lot of pressure on Landeskog in Colorado, but if he can prove his worth as an 18 year-old fresh out of junior hockey and be the scoring force on the left wing for the Avs, it’ll give them a legit weapon to light up the scoreboard. At 6-foot-1, 204 pounds he’s NHL-sized to play the wing and if he can develop chemistry with fellow youngster Duchene or veteran Stastny, they’ll have some legitimate giddy-up in the Avalanche attack. He’s got the tools to be a special player.
The blue line doesn’t fall apart with injury problems while Varlamov takes being sent out of Washington personally and shines in goal. The offense produces the offense they’re capable of while Duchene and Stastny become 30-goal scorers and set-up men for their wingers Jones and Hejduk who put up solid 25-goal seasons. Landeskog has a year impressive enough to get in the Calder discussion and the Avalanche take advantage of an iffy division and get in the race for the bottom of the Western playoff picture.
Things are so very tenuous in Denver this season. If things break right and none of the players break themselves, there’s talent enough here to take a shot at the playoffs in Sacco’s system. With such a questionable defensive unit and goaltending that has the potential to be either fantastic or a mess, the Avs are a team that could drive their fans insane from the highs and lows. The question here is how long with the highs or lows last and which ones show up more often. They’re either going to be in the running for the eighth seed in the West or totally out of the picture. Hang onto your butts Avs fans, the ride could be bumpy this season.