James O'Brien

Los Angeles Kings v Colorado Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche ’15-16 Outlook

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The Colorado Avalanche can be a tough nut to crack.

If you bounce around “Hockey Twitter” at all, the team very much stands as a guinea pig in the “stats vs. tradition” debate (or whatever you’d like to call it). That debate often gets a little weird and then overshadows the team itself.

When you look at the Avalanche, it’s an odd mix of old and new.

You have old ideas and old faces in management with Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic running the ship. They seemingly lean toward signing old veterans from Jarome Iginla to Francois Beauchemin.

The fresh faces make this squad awfully interesting, however. Gabriel Landeskog is still one of the NHL’s youngest captains at 22. With all the pressure on Nathan MacKinnon to make the next step, one might forget that he’s just 19. Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie remain in the meat of their primes at 24.

What if all four of those promising young players make significant strides that often come at such ages, particularly MacKinnon, who may just be scratching the surface of his skill set as people move onto to the next big thing in Connor McDavid? Could the Avalanche see earlier-than-expected results from still-blooming prospects like Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko?

Ryan O’Reilly is a tough player to let go – and he’s also just 24 – but when you look at that group, it’s quite a bit easier to stomach, isn’t it?

Yes, that defense looks pretty shaky beyond a handful of solid players such as Barrie and Erik Johnson, meaning the Avalanche will again lean heavily on Semyon Varlamov.

Still, with the abundance of talent at the forward position in particular, even the most ardent number-crunchers would shudder to dismiss the Avalanche outright.

Lightning hire former Ducks assistant coach Brad Lauer

lauergetty

The Tampa Bay Lightning announced the hiring of Brad Lauer as an assistant coach on Tuesday.

The 48-year-old spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks, but he was fired this summer after a “post-season evaluation.” The Canadian Press noted that, for all the Ducks’ success, Lauer ran a unit that ranked 28th in the NHL.

It’s easy to see why the Bolts would hire an assistant who was part of such a successful franchise in Anaheim, whether Lauer fell short or was just a scapegoat in his eventual firing.

He also has some experience as an NHL player, as he appeared in 323 regular season games.

The Lightning summarized Lauer’s career in their release:

Lauer, a native of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, has spent the previous four seasons as an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks. He helped Anaheim to a 51-24-7 record and 109 points last season, tied for the most in the NHL’s Western Conference. The Ducks also ranked 11th in the league for average goals per game with 2.78 in 2014-15. They eventually lost to the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final. During the 2013-14 season Lauer and the Ducks had the best record in the West, going 54-20-8 with 116 points, one shy of a tie for the President’s Trophy. Anaheim was the NHL’s highest-scoring team that season, averaging 3.21 goals per contest.

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Grigorenko

Carolina Hurricanes v Buffalo Sabres
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If Mikhail Grigorenko were to make any roster in 2015-16, his best chance probably would be with the Colorado Avalanche.

After all, Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy has seen firsthand what Grigorenko can accomplish at his best … albeit in the QMJHL.

Regardless, Grigorenko didn’t cloak his excitement about being reunited with Roy, when asked by the Denver Post back in July.

“I can’t wait for the opportunity to have him as a coach again,” Grigorenko said. “I had my best years in Quebec and it was great having Patrick as a coach. He was great to me and taught me a lot of things on and off the ice. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me already, and I can’t wait to have him as a coach again.”

At 21, it’s too early to call this a make-or-break chance for Grigorenko, yet it’s a golden opportunity for him to show that the Buffalo Sabres dropped the ball regarding his development.

Let’s be honest, though: Griogrenko has more going for him than the pedigree of being a first-round pick (12th overall in 2012) and a good head start with his head coach. While the Sabres flinched at giving him a one-way contract for next season, that’s exactly what he received from Colorado.

The bottom line is that the Avalanche have every incentive to give the prospect a chance to succeed, so now Grigorenko just needs to take the bull by the horns.

Related: Will Zadorov make the Avs next season?

It’s Colorado Avalanche day at PHT

Tampa Bay Lightning v Colorado Avalanche
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As the Colorado Avalanche enter their third year of the Joe Sakic-Patrick Roy front office era, they seemingly remain a lab test for the league’s stat debates.

The Avalanche were once again a squad whose possession stats peaked at “really bad, but at least not Buffalo Sabres bad” in 2014-15.

The difference between missing the postseason this past season and 2013-14’s triumphant run may have just been some combination of Semyon Varlamov being less superhuman and Colorado experiencing bad luck.

To the stat-leaning public, this was an example of a team playing over its head one year and then crashing to reality last season.

To Roy, it was a rare failure, as he explained to NHL.com.

“I’m here to win the Stanley Cup,” Roy said. “I’m not in Denver to see us missing the playoffs, I’m here to see us winning. I really want to make sure that’s the last time we’re missing the playoffs. It makes you very humble. First time I missed the playoffs as a coach in junior and the NHL.”

The Avalanche might be humbled, yet they’re also sticking to their guns by defying conventional wisdom as far as strategies and team-building go.

Off-season recap

A year after respectable possession player and scorer Paul Stastny left town, the Avalanche traded away their other forward best known for being a rare beacon of light on a team that’s a fancy stats nightmare: Ryan O’Reilly.

One cannot totally blame the Avs for parting ways with a player who seemed out the door for some time, yet it perpetuates the theme that the Avalanche are bucking growing trends around the league.

That said, Carl Soderberg isn’t chopped liver, although he – like O’Reilly – will fetch quite a bounty for his work next season.

Actually, the haul for O’Reilly is quite intriguing: could Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko pay immediate dividends for the Avs? Considering how often this franchise invests in fading veterans, nabbing a couple potential blue chips could be crucial.

Francois Beauchemin is a fine defenseman, yet at 35, many wonder if he’ll be a letdown along the lines of Brad Stuart. Again, many of these moves ultimately fit into Colorado’s M.O.

***

The Avalanche seem content to do things their way, which makes them polarizing for some. However you feel about management’s broader moves, it’s foolish to count out a team that still boasts fascinating prime-age talent in Varlamov, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie and more.

PHT Morning Skate: Daniel is (barely) still ‘The Shooting Sedin’

Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Looking back at Daniel Briere’s legacy as a trailblazer. (The Hockey News)

Let’s check back in on the best UFAs still available, shall we? (NHL.com)

Speaking of the latest on a common theme, let’s take another look at perceived winners, losers and tweeners from the off-season. (NHL Numbers)

Want to kill time on a taxing Tuesday? Try to match these hockey nicknames with their “owners.” (Greatest Hockey Legends)

This one’s a month old, but still relevant: what can the Los Angeles Kings expect from Milan Lucic? (Jewels from the Crown)

Watching the Sedin twins play a game of “H-O-R-S-E” was a little rough at times. In fact, for a while there, it seemed like the moniker of “The Shooting Sedin” might just transfer from Daniel to Henrik Sedin: