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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    Looking to make the leap: Travis Sanheim

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    This post is part of Flyers Day on PHT…

    There appears to be a competition brewing for a spot on the Flyers blue line this upcoming season and 21-year-old Travis Sanheim is keen to throw his name into the mix.

    Taken 17th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, Sanheim has seen a rise in his offensive production, capping off his junior career in 2016 with 15 goals and 68 points, averaging well over a point per game in the WHL. He made the jump full-time to the professional ranks last season and provided more optimism for a Flyers franchise that has built a solid prospect pool.

    In 76 games with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Sanheim reached 10 goals and 37 points, finishing second in scoring among defensemen on that team. According to numerous reports, he followed that up with a strong showing at development camp earlier this summer, too.

    Now, the goal is to come to training camp next month and earn a spot on the NHL club.

    From CSN Philly:

    Under general manager Ron Hextall’s philosophy of earn what you get, Sanheim will have his chance. But is there room? The Flyers are at a numbers crunch on the blue line. There is expected to be two spots open, presumably for Robert Hagg and Sam Morin, both of whom acquitted themselves well during their April NHL debuts.

    “It’s going to come down to camp,” Sanheim told reporters in the summer. “I feel like I’m ready. I’m going to compete for a spot and until somebody tells me differently, that’s my goal. I’m coming to make the Flyers.

    “It doesn’t matter what team you’re playing on. You have to work your way up the lineup. It’s just like me this year. I had to work my way up the lineup in the AHL just to start playing more and more minutes, and getting power play time and (penalty kill) time. It’s going to be the same thing. Nobody said it was going to be easy and I was going to be slotted into the first pairing.”

    The Flyers took defensemen in the first rounds of three consecutive drafts, from 2013 to 2015, with Sanheim’s selection sandwiched in the middle. In 2015, Philly took Ivan Provorov at seventh overall. At just 20 years old, the Russian blue liner wasted little time in making an impact on the NHL roster, playing in all 82 games last season, scoring six goals and 30 points.

    Morin and Sanheim have each had time to develop in the minors, with the former spending the past two seasons in the AHL, which should prove beneficial to the growth in their games heading into September.

    “Whenever you play in the American League you get a leg up because you’ve been playing at a higher level of competition for a full year,” Hextall said, per the Courier-Post.

    “You expect those guys to come in and be a little more NHL ready than a kid that’s coming right out of junior, but the players are gonna dictate who’s on our team. We’ll see how it goes.”

    Poll: Will the Flyers make the playoffs?

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    This post is part of Flyers Day on PHT…

    The Philadelphia Flyers missed the playoffs by seven points last season, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that their future looks bright.

    Many experts believe that they have the best group of prospects in the NHL. This summer, they added Nolan Patrick to the fold by selecting him second overall in the 2017 Entry Draft. If Patrick could stay healthy, he could provide the Flyers with a nice offensive boost next season.

    Philadelphia can use all the help they can get up front, as they ranked 20th in goals for in 2016-17. The most disappointing Flyer in terms of offensive production had to be Claude Giroux. The captain managed to put up a respectable 58 points in 82 games, but he only found the back of the net 14 times (his lowest total since he scored 13 goals in 48 games during the lockout shortened season in 2012-13).

    They have other quality forwards on the roster. Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek are still around, Travis Konecny has a year under his belt, but there are some serious question marks surrounding the supporting cast.

    Brayden Schenn, who finished second on the team in goals with 25, was traded to St. Louis in the off-season. The Flyers received a package that included Jori Lehtera, who had struggles of his own last year. Lehtera, Valtteri Filppula, Matt Read and the rest of the forwards will have to step up.

    On defense, they’re blessed with some talented options. Shayne Gostisbehere struggled in his second year, but still managed to put up 39 points. If he can play like he did during his rookie campaign, that will help his team tremendously.

    Ivan Provorov, who played his first full season last year, was impressive. The 20-year-old had 30 points in 82 games, and he should be even better now that he’s going into his second year.

    Andrew MacDonald, Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning are also expected to round out the blue line in 2017-18.

    Youngsters like Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers and Robert Hagg are all close to contributing with the big club in the near future.

    Between the pipes, they went out and signed Michal Neuvirth to an extension and they added Brian Elliott in free agency. That still doesn’t give them a clear number one goalie, so it’s difficult to see envision how that’ll all work out. We’ll see where Anthony Stolarz fits into the equation.

    Last season, the Capitals, Penguins, Blue Jackets grabbed the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division, while the Rangers and Maple Leafs earned the Wild Card spots. The Islanders and Lightning both finished ahead of the Flyers in the race for the final playoff spots in the East.

    If the Flyers do earn s postseason berth, it’ll be interesting to see which one of those teams won’t be qualifying for playoffs.

    Will Philadelphia make the playoffs? You can have your say by voting in the poll below. Also, feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section.

    It’s Philadelphia Flyers day at PHT

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    The Philadelphia Flyers missed the playoffs last season, but the disappointment probably didn’t last too long after the events of the draft lottery a few weeks later.

    The Flyers entered the lottery with a 2.2 per cent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick. That selection eluded them, but they still moved up to the second overall pick in June’s Entry Draft. The Devils decided to take Nico Hischier first, leaving Philly to select fellow top prospect Nolan Patrick.

    Philly has since signed Patrick to his entry-level contract. The biggest question for Patrick is his health, following a 2016-17 WHL season interrupted by injury. His aim was to resume skating in the middle of July.

    Philly traded forward Nick Cousins to Arizona prior to the expansion draft. But the biggest shake-up this offseason in Philly was a draft-day trade that sent Brayden Schenn to St. Louis in exchange for Jori Lehtera, the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft and a conditional first-round pick in 2018.

    Philly didn’t bring back goalie Steve Mason, who has signed with the Winnipeg Jets. The Flyers’ goaltending duo heading into next season has Michal Neuvirth alongside Brian Elliott, who left Calgary and signed for two years at $5.5 million in Philadelphia.

    After three years with the Flyers, defenseman Michael Del Zotto has moved on to the Canucks, while Roman Lyubimov has returned to the KHL.

    Today at PHT, we’ll discuss the key storylines facing the Flyers heading into next season.

    Report: Red Wings RFA Athanasiou could sign in Russia

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    With training camp approaching, Andreas Athanasiou is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

    The 23-year-old forward and restricted free agent posted 18 goals and 29 points in 64 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season in the final year of his entry-level contract with an annual average value of $902,500.

    Based on a report Tuesday afternoon, traveling overseas to play next season could be an option for Athanasiou, one of the bright young forwards in the Red Wings organization.

    Earlier this month, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the organization has made a “number of offers” to Athanasiou.

    One of the issues facing Detroit right now is the salary cap, which the Red Wings are currently over by almost $4 million, according to CapFriendly.