Season Preview: Colorado Avalanche
Under the stewardship of superstar alumni Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, the Avs went from finishing 29th overall in 2013 to Central Division champions last season.
But a first round loss to Minnesota showed the franchise still has some way to go before it can hits the same heights it did during Sakic and Roy’s playing days.
Are the Avs a little older, and wiser, for their experience last season? Or has the rest of the league simple got wise to a resurgent franchise’s tricks?
Still sporting one of the most dynamic groups of forwards in the NHL; Colorado’s much talked about depth at centre will be truly tested this season, after Team USA forward Paul Stastny signed for St Louis as an unrestricted free agent.
At just 23, Matt Duchene is blossoming in to one of the games elite talents. His combination of blazing speed and incredible puck skills saw him emerge from Joe Sacco’s doghouse to lead the team with 70 points in 71 games last season. The Haliburton native has formed a potent partnership with Ryan O’Reilly, who scored a team high 28 goals but still underwent another bizarre summer of contract negotiations with the club…
Team Captain Gabriel Landeskog also posted the best number of his fledgling NHL career, scoring 26 goals and 65 points, whilst Nathan MacKinnon proved to be everything the hype suggested on the way to the Calder Trophy.
Veteran winger Alex Tanguay returns after missing 66 games (and the play-offs) with a knee injury, and crafty veteran Danny Briere was acquired from Montreal (in exchange for PA Parenteau) as the club sought to provide greater depth.
But the Avs most significant move during the off season was signing unrestricted free agent Jarome Iginla to a 3-year deal.
The Calgary Flames legend hit the 30 goal marker for the twelfth time last season, and adds valuable experience to a team who seem to have got themselves back on track after several seasons of indifference.
At The Back
Erik Johnson finally looked like the cornerstone defenceman St Louis hoped he’d become when they drafted him 1st overall in 2006. The Minnesota native posted the best number of his career last season and is just entering his prime, and perhaps finally provides Colorado with the go to blue liner they’ve been lacking since Rob Blake left Denver.
Tyson Barrie, arguably the Avs most exciting defensive prospect for years, made significant strides in his development and veteran Jan Hejda continues to be a steady influence along the blue line.
But despite some individual bright spots, Colorado’s D remains largely unimpressive on paper, and occasionally on the ice. Further progress from Nick Holden would be welcome, as would a return to form for Ryan Wilson – but Stefan Elliott’s inability to put it all together remains a frustration for Avs fans.
Adam Foote’s hiring as Defence Development Consultant is intriguing given the excessive number of shots on goal Colorado gave up last season, and it is the one area the club must make significant improvement in if they are serious about winning a third Stanley Cup.
Between The Pipes
Semyon Varlamov was outstanding for the Avs last season. Facing a league high 2,013 shots, Varlamov posted a .927 save percentage and earned himself a Vezina Trophy nomination.
Under the tutelage of experienced goaltending coach Francois Allaire, the Russian stoppers incredible athleticism has been combined with a much tighter technique leading to greater consistency from one game to the next. The end result is Colorado has a bona fide #1 goaltender again – perhaps for the long haul.
Swiss stopper Reto Berra assumes the role of backup following JS Giguere’s retirement.
At 27, Berra is coming up on what would be considered his peak, but needs to show his quality if he is to keep prospects Sami Aittokallio and Calvin Pickard out of the line up.
Behind The Bench
Patrick Roy made an instant impact in his first season as Avs coach – both in terms of on ice success and his now infamous plexi glass pounding argument with Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau.
His unwavering belief the Avs can win does not seem to have diminished since switching from playing to coaching, with the 48-year olds infectious desire to succeed engulfing the team last season.
The ‘why not us?’ mantra swept through Denver – but it is no secret where the Avs strengths, and weaknesses lie. In the ultra competitive Central Division, Roy needs to display his own virtues if the team is to remain among the front runners in the West.
Biggest Addition – Jarome Iginla
With more than 1,300 games experience, Iginla is not only an elite scorer to bolster the teams top 6, but a veteran presence on a team whose core is almost entirely under the age of 27.
His arrival could also be somewhat symbolic for a team who were once one of the leagues powerhouses, but have struggled to attract big names for the past few seasons.
Biggest Loss – Paul Stastny
Stastny took a lot of heat for being a big earner on a struggling team, but excelled under Roy last season – scoring 25 goals and 60 points.
Able to play in any situation, Stastny spent eight seasons with Colorado and was the go to forward whilst young starlets like Duchene adapted to life in the NHL.
His post season performance against Minnesota, in which he scored 5 goals and 10 points in 7 games, was as good as anyone throughout the 2014 play-offs
Key Man – Semyon Varlamov
On a team still trying to figure things out in their own end, solid goaltending is a must.
If Varlamov is even half as good as he was last season, Colorado can’t say they didn’t have a guy who gave them a chance every night.
This Seasons Chances…
Colorado put together an absolutely stunning campaign last year; but the element of surprise is gone.
An exciting group of forwards, who break out with alarming speed, give the club a serious offensive punch – but the defensive side still needs work, specifically from an organisational point of view.
A step back this season would not be surprising – but the franchise does appear to be on a much greater path again and has the makings of a Cup winner if their core continues to develop and excel under Roy.
Posted on September 4, 2014, in Colorado Avalanche, Hockey, NHL, Season Previews 2014 and tagged Colorado Avalanche, Jarome Iginla, NHL, Patrick Roy, Season Preview, Semyon Varlamov. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.