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.

Dahlin headlines Sweden’s roster for World Junior Summer Showcase

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Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, potentially the NHL’s first overall draft pick in 2018, will suit up for Sweden at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan.

Dahlin, who doesn’t turn 18 until April, has wowed scouts with his skating and puck-moving ability. At the 2017 World Juniors, he participated as a 16-year-old, garnering tantalizing reviews in the process.

Top-10 picks in the 2017 draft, Elias Pettersson (5th, Vancouver Canucks) and Lias Andersson (7th, New York Rangers), will also be in Plymouth representing Sweden.

Click here for Sweden’s and Finland’s Summer Showcase rosters. The tournament runs from July 29 – Aug. 5 and also features players from the United States and Canada.

Among the draft-eligible Finns to watch is 17-year-old forward Jesse Ylonen, who could be a late first-rounder in 2018.

Related: USA Hockey invites 42 players to World Junior Summer Showcase

All of a sudden, hope for hockey in Houston

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Leslie Alexander’s decision to sell the NBA’s Rockets has revived hope for a hockey team in Houston.

That’s because Alexander is arguably the biggest reason that Houston doesn’t already have a team. The 72-year-old billionaire controls Toyota Center, where the Rockets play. Without getting into all the details, he’s essentially been the only one who could bring an NHL franchise to the city.

From the Houston Press:

But Alexander selling the Rockets (and the lease that goes with it), opens up an NHL-ready hockey arena in Houston. And that’s something that Seattle, which the NHL seemed to favor, can’t offer, and unlike Quebec City, Houston offers up a huge media market with many, many large corporations around to buy up luxury seats.

Houston is certainly a big city. In fact, only four metro areas in the United States — New York, L.A., Chicago and Dallas — have higher populations.

And Houston is growing fast.

Jeremy Jacobs, the influential owner of the Boston Bruins, has not hidden his desire to put an NHL team in Toyota Center. Back in 2015, he told ESPN.com, “I would love to see one in Houston, but we can’t get into that building.”

Perhaps soon the NHL won’t have that impediment.

Predators hire new assistant coach in wake of Housley departure

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The Nashville Predators have hired Dan Muse as an assistant coach.

Muse, who spent the last two years as head coach of the USHL’s Chicago Steel, will be in charge of the Preds’ forwards as well as the penalty kill, while associate head coach Kevin McCarthy  — in the wake of Phil Housley’s departure — will now have responsibility for the defense and the power play.

Muse led the Steel to a championship in May. He also won an NCAA title in 2013 as an assistant coach for Yale.

“Dan comes to us as a successful young coach that brings great energy and passion to the game,” said Preds head coach Peter Laviolette in a statement. “He has worked his way up through the coaching ranks, first winning an NCAA title at Yale in 2013, and then taking a Chicago team that had missed the playoffs eight straight seasons and turned them into the Clark Cup champions in just two seasons. We are excited to welcome him to the organization and look forward to his contributions to the coaching staff.”

Senators avoid arbitration with Ryan Dzingel

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The Ottawa Senators have narrowly avoided arbitration with Ryan Dzingel.

Per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Dzingel has signed a two-year deal with a cap hit of $1.8 million.

Dzingel’s hearing was scheduled for today. Last season, the 25-year-old forward had 14 goals and 18 assists in 81 games.

Earlier this week, the Sens also avoided arbitration with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, though that case didn’t go down to the wire like Dzingel’s did.

Pageau and Dzingel were the only Sens with arbitration hearings scheduled.

Related: Sens want to avoid arbitration with Dzingel