2011-2012 season preview: Colorado Avalanche

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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.

Offense

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.

Defense

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.

source: APGoalies

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.

source: APCoaching

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.

Breakout candidate

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.

Best-case scenario

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.

Reality

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.

Rangers make changes after loss in Anaheim

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The scuffling New York Rangers — coming off a 6-3 loss Sunday in Anaheim, and with just two wins in their last seven — are expected to have a slightly different lineup tonight in San Jose.

Up front, winger Matt Puempel is likely to replace rookie Pavel Buchnevich. And on the back end, Dan Girardi will come in for Kevin Klein.

The Girardi-for-Klein switch is no huge surprise. Both d-men have been battling injuries, with Klein only returning Sunday after an extended absence due to back spasms. Head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters that he “didn’t want to put two injured defensemen in at the same time,” so Klein gets the night off tonight.

As for the potential scratching of Buchnevich, that decision would be slightly more controversial. The 21-year-old has two goals and three assists in his last 11 games, but clearly has not gained the full trust of his coach.

Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start in goal after a tough return to the net against the Ducks.

Canucks hint at shutting down injured Markstrom

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It doesn’t sound like Jacob Markstrom will play any more games for the Vancouver Canucks this season.

The 27-year-old goalie has been trying to recover from a knee injury suffered in the Canucks’ skills competition on Feb. 26.

“I don’t think things are great,” head coach Willie Desjardins said today. “We’ve got to make a medical decision on him.”

It has to be frustrating for Markstrom, who was hoping to challenge Ryan Miller for the starting job this year. The tall Swede played well at times, going 10-11-3 with a .910 save percentage — but in the end, he only made 23 starts.

“He’s a good goalie,” Desjardins said of Markstrom. “He can challenge for the number-one spot. Every time he goes in net, I’ve got lots of confidence in him. He’s left his mark this year.”

Markstrom is signed through 2019-20, while Miller is a pending unrestricted free agent.

It’s possible that the Canucks will re-sign Miller and come back with the same netminding tandem next season.

Oilers sign Walter Brown Award winner Gambardella

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Joe Gambardella, the UMass-Lowell senior that scored 52 points in 41 games this year, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Edmonton, the club announced on Monday.

Gambardella, 23, captured this year’s Walter Brown award as the top American-born collegiate player in New England. He beat out the likes of Clayton Keller, Colin White, Charlie McAvoy and Tage Thompson for the honor, and joined a distinguished list of past winners.

Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey won the Walter Brown in ’16 and ’15, while Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau won it in ’14.

Gambardella is the first UMass-Lowell player to ever win the award, which has been given out annually since 1953. It capped off a nice year in which he also paced the River Hawks to the NCAA tournament.

An undrafted free agent, Gambarella’s ELC will kick in next season. It’s also worth noting that one of his UMass-Lowell teammates, defenseman Michael Kapla, signed with the Devils earlier today.

 

 

Coyotes to honor Cunningham for his ‘tremendous courage’

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The Arizona Coyotes will honor Craig Cunningham with a ceremonial puck drop on April 8 before their final home game of the season against the Minnesota Wild.

From the team press release:

Cunningham, who survived a medical emergency prior to the Tucson Roadrunners game on November 19, has made a remarkable recovery. Fans will have an opportunity to congratulate him on the tremendous courage, willpower and perseverance he’s demonstrated throughout his rehabilitation.

Cunningham was recently honored by the Roadrunners.

The 26-year-old’s hockey career is unfortunately over after doctors were forced to amputate part of his left leg due to concerns over infection.

True to form, though, he’s maintained a positive attitude.

“Obviously I miss playing every single day, and I miss the atmosphere around the locker room,” Cunningham said, per the Arizona Daily Star. “The guys have been great. From Day 1, they’ve been to see me every day. It’s been pretty incredible.”