2010-2011 NHL season preview: Colorado Avalanche

mattduchene3.jpgLast season: (43-30-9, 95 points, 2nd in Northwest Division, 8th in Western Conference) The Avalanche were last year’s Cinderella story of sorts. They got off to a hot start and just kept winning games. Analysts were shocked by this considering how poorly they finished the year before and the fact that they kept getting outplayed yet not outscored by opponents. The team struggled towards the end of the season and nearly missed out on the playoffs.

Head coach: Joe Sacco’s first season in Colorado made for one hell of a debut. After coming into the job with no NHL coaching experience, he made the most of his aggressive defensive style and counter-attack with a very young team, many of whom he coached in the AHL in Lake Erie. While he can thank goalie Craig Anderson for helping cover up a lot of team mistakes, the Avs played hard every night and made the most of their opportunities flying under the radar. Colorado won’t be able to afford to do that this year as everyone is well aware of who they are.

Key departures: F Marek Svatos, F Stephane Yelle, F Darcy Tucker. Losing the inconsistent Svatos looks big on paper, but in reality he wasn’t much of a factor in the fortunes of the team anymore. Yelle and Tucker don’t matter very much either. Tucker’s departure appears to be a welcome one for Avs fans.

Key arrivals: F Daniel Winnik. He’s the only one. Seriously. These Avs aren’t quite so loose with the purse strings.

Under pressure: It’s a bit unfair to do, but Anderson is under the most scrutiny here. He faced the most shots (2,233) in the NHL last year and played in 71 games. Posting a ridiculous .917 save percentage with a 2.64 goals against meant that he was more than capable of doing his job but counting on having a guy without much of a track record doing that again is asking a lot. The Avs will need Anderson to be as good as he was last year to get into the playoffs again.

GYI0060240972-anderson-bahr-getty.jpgProtecting the house: It’s all on Anderson as outlined above. He’s the key to the Avs success and if he’s able to do what he did last year, they’ll be in good shape. You can’t help but wonder if there’s going to be some regression to the norm. Judging by Anderson’s statistics in his last two years as a backup in Florida with last season in Colorado, what we see is what we likely get. That bodes well for Colorado. Backing him up once again is Peter Budaj and Denver’s favorite goaltending whipping boy could be destined for another year of light relief work and spot starting.

Defensively, things are the same as they were last year. John-Michael Liles will do his part to improve his game while Adam Foote will try to make sure age doesn’t expose his game. Kyle Quincey, Kyle Cumiskey, and Scott Hannan round out the top five. Looking at the sixth spot, you likely have a competition between Ryan Wilson and Boston University stud Kevin Shattenkirk, who could be the surprise of the year for the Avs if he makes the team.

Top line we’d like to see: Peter Mueller-Matt Duchene-Milan Hejduk. Ideally, we’ll get to see this line at some point this season, but it won’t be at the start. Mueller is out dealing with another concussion, a blow that really does put the bite on the Avs offense. Duchene will look to avoid the sophomore slump after having a stellar rookie season, one where he didn’t play like an 18-year-old fresh out of juniors. Hejduk, while he’s not the goal scorer he used to be, is still one of, if not the best, on the Avalanche at filling the net. Staying healthy would allow him to get back to being a 30+ goal scorer.

Oh captain, my captain: Adam Foote remains the leader of the team. He’s the oldest player on the roster and he’s got the Avalanche legacy to show for it. When he was chosen for the “C” last year, some thought it would be Paul Stastny’s time to be the leader but it’s Foote’s job for now. Having the elder statesman lead the way in Denver probably isn’t the worst idea.

Street fighting man: Should he ever end up in the lineup, there’s only one man who can be this team’s fighting figurehead and it’s David Koci. Koci is the league’s most basic enforcer in that his sole job is to beat the tar out of someone on the other team. He’s ferocious, he has no qualms about fighting and that’s about it. Guys like Chris Stewart and David Jones as well as Foote will throw down on occasion, but they aren’t there to make a living out of doing so.

Best-case scenario: The defense tightens things up so Anderson doesn’t have to stand on his head night in and night out. Duchene avoids the sophomore slump and scores 30 goals while Mueller can come back and stay healthy and produce. Stastny continues being the team’s best assist man and gets Hejduk back above 30+ goals. Young players like Stewart, T.J. Galiardi, Brandon Yip and David Jones can each stay healthy and evolve into the power forwards Joe Sacco is looking for and the Avs return to the playoffs taking advantage of a poor division only to run into a buzz saw top-three team in the playoffs.

Worst-case scenario: Anderson’s statistics in goal come back to earth and the Avs have to rely on their offense to keep them in games. Duchene struggles with Mueller being unable to come back to normal after his concussion problems. The team’s young forwards all plateau while Stastny is left with virtually no one to pass to. John-Michael Liles gets run out of town as the scapegoat for all the team’s woes and the team misses the playoffs.

Keeping it real: This is a team that could go either way. They can either build off the success from last year and keep things going in the right direction, or they can slide back to the pack the way they did towards the end of last season as other teams seemed to figure them out. As Anderson goes, so go the Avs. It’s a tired bit to hang everything on what the goalie does, but that’s really the case here. The top two lines here can be good, but missing Mueller really touches on the Avs biggest problem being depth. It’s going to be an up and down year and this team can either sneak in at the bottom of the playoffs or just miss out. It’ll be close.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst chance and five being the best, the Avs are a 2. I don’t say this because they’re a bad team nor are they entertaining. They’ll be OK and they’ll certainly be enjoyable to watch (for fans of either team in a given game). I’m worried about Anderson having an off year. I’m worried about the team’s depth. I’m worried that the horseshoe they’ve carried around for the last year is eventually going to run out of good luck. They’re just not built to be a Cup winner.

(Anderson photo: Brian Bahr – Getty Images)

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    With arbitration hearing looming, Corrado and Leafs aren’t that far apart

    TORONTO, ON - MARCH 5:  Frank Corrado #20 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a puck drop against the Ottawa Senators during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on March 5,2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Senators defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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    Frank Corrado should be used to waiting by now. He had to wait 28 games before the Leafs inserted him into the lineup for the first time last season and now he’s waiting for a new contract.

    There’s still a gap between the two sides, but it doesn’t appear to be very significant. Corrado and the Leafs will head to arbitration on July 26th unless the two sides can agree to a new deal before then.

    According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, The Leafs have two different offers on the table. One is a two-way contract, while the other is a one-way deal that would see him make less money if he sticks in the NHL. Corrado is looking for a one-way deal worth $900,000.

    Toronto scooped Corrado up off waivers from the Canucks prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. Despite waiting a while to actually hit the ice as a Leaf, Corrado finished the season with one goal, six points and a minus-12 rating in 39 games. He averaged 14:27 of ice time.

    Splitting the difference would result in Corrado making roughly $737,500 next season.

    The Maple Leafs are also scheduled to go to arbitration with forward Peter Holland (July 25) and defeseman Martin Marincin (Aug. 2).

    Blues GM: We may take ‘half a step back,’ while young veterans grow into leadership roles

    DALLAS, TX - MARCH 12:  Alex Pietrangelo #27 of the St. Louis Blues celebrates with Jaden Schwartz #17 of the St. Louis Blues, Dmitrij Jaskin #23 of the St. Louis Blues and Jori Lehtera #12 of the St. Louis Blues after scoring the game-winning goal against the Dallas Stars in overtime at American Airlines Center on March 12, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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    After a few early exits from the Stanley Cup playoffs, the St. Louis Blues were finally able to make a long run. Granted, they didn’t win the Stanley Cup or make it to the final, but they did manage to reach the Western Conference Final.

    Unfortunately for the Blues (and a lot of other teams), the NHL’s salary cap number didn’t increase very much and it forced the organization to part ways with a number of key veterans. Gone are captain David Backes, winger Troy Brouwer and goalie Brian Elliott.

    There could be even more change between now and the start of the year, as Kevin Shattenkirk could find himself elsewhere.

    Those key departures mean that the Blues will need some of their younger players to step up and take on more of a leadership role starting this fall. How will the team respond? Nobody knows, not even GM Doug Armstrong.

    “It’s going to be an interesting case study on how quickly this group takes up the leadership,” Armstrong said, per the Boston Globe. “Can they do it in September? Or does it take them a year? There’s certainly a faith that over time, they’re going to pick it up without any issue. Obviously you want them to pick it up as quickly as possible. We don’t want to take any backwards movement in our organization. But sometimes you do expose yourself to maybe taking half a step back to take a couple steps forward.”

    Young leaders like Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo will need to “step up” in the leadership department, but the Blues aren’t completely out of veterans. Jay Bouwmeester, Paul Stastny and Alex Steen are all still on the roster. Still, it’ll be interesting to see if the Blues take that “half step back” that Armstrong was talking about.

    Related:

    Jake Allen still needs to prove he’s a ‘legit’ number one goalie

    Blues sign Schwartz to five-year deal

    Backes doesn’t want to ‘sling mud’ at Blues on his way out

    Newest Coyote Schenn is looking forward to playing in a market with no ‘outside added pressure’

    SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 20:  Luke Schenn #52 of the Los Angeles Kings looks back at Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks after Schenn was called for roughing in Game Four of the Western Conference First Round during the NHL 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on April 20, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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    Since coming to the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2008, Luke Schenn has had the opportunity to play in Toronto, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Playing in cities that love hockey is great, but it also comes with a certain amount of pressure.

    Schenn, who is a former fifth overall pick, hasn’t lived up to his lofty draft status and when you underachieve in Toronto and Philadelphia, the fans and media make sure you know it.

    On Saturday, Schenn signed a two-year deal in Arizona, which is a non-traditional hockey market. It sounds like it may have been done by design.

    “I’m looking forward to coming to a market where I can just worry about playing hockey and not outside added pressure, and hopefully growing with the team,” Schenn said of signing with the Coyotes, per the team’s website. “I know they have a lot of upside and I still feel like I’ve hopefully got some upside, too. (I’m) still at a good age where I can continue to grow with them and evolve.”

    The Coyotes have Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski who are more than capable of moving the puck up the ice and players like Schenn and Zbynek Michalek will be counted on to provide some defensive stability.

    “They’ve got a lot of guys who can shoot the puck and move the puck well and (who’ve) got a good offensive instinct for the game, so I just want to try to play solid defensively and help out in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill and play physical,” added Schenn. “Obviously, the way the game is now there’s a lot of skating so you’ve definitely got to pick your spots to be physical, but I still think there’s definitely still a need for that.”

    Arizona still needs to work out deals with restricted free agents Michael Stone and Connor Murphy. Even if both players return next season, Schenn should still have a role as a four, five or six defenseman with the ‘Yotes.

    Flyers’ Couturier has street named after him in his hometown

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    Most people will never be able to say they have a street named after them, but Flyers center Sean Couturier isn’t most people.

    The 23-year-old’s name is now on a street sign in his hometown of Bathurst, New Brunswick. Sean Couturier Avenue leads to the rink where he began his minor hockey career.

    “It’s special, it’s a great honour,” Couturier said, per CBC.ca. “It’s not something you dream of growing up, but if you can be an example for other young kids and remind them even coming from a small town like Bathurst, anything is possible if you make the sacrifices and believe in what you can do.”

    The month of July has been kind to Couturier for the second straight year. Last year at around this time, he signed a six-year contract extension worth $26 million. The new deal kicks in at the start of the upcoming season.

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    (Image credit: Radio-Canada)