Jarome Iginla

Risk Factors: Colorado Avalanche edition

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From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you“Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Colorado Avalanche

1. Asking the world of Varly (again) – There’s no shame in voters handing Tuukka Rask and his sparkling .937 save percentage the 2014 Vezina Trophy, but Semyon Varlamov had a strong argument in his own right.

Simply put, no successful team asked more of their netminder than Colorado did in 2013-14. Varlamov faced 2,013 shots on goal while no other goalie cracked 1,900 (Kari Lehtonen came in second with 1,888 save attempts). The Avalanche allowed 32.7 shots per game overall, the sixth-worst rate in the NHL. No team below them made the playoffs and only two in the bottom 10 managed to make it past game 82.

Varlamov shouldered that burden last season, but one would understand if the team said “Look, we got away with that once, but let’s not allow that to happen again.”

Instead, it sounds like Patrick Roy seems content to defiantly stick with his “Ride Varly” plan, at least publicly speaking.

“I would expect Varly to continue to do the same thing,” Roy told Yahoo in a fascinating piece regarding the team’s polarizing philosophies. “He’s in his age where I think it’s time for him to shine, and I believe it’s only the start.”

Asking any goalie to replicate such success is a bit much, but Varlamov carries a few extra worries.

The 2013-14 season was the only time he carried the workload of a true No. 1 “workhorse.” (It’s difficult to put too much stock in 2012-13, since that campaign was limited to 48 regular season games.) Glancing at his year-by-year work, it seems like he’s endured two tough seasons, one middling one and two very good years:

2009-10: 26 games played, 15 wins, .909 save percentage
2010-11: 27 GP, 11 W, .924
2011-12 (first with Colorado): 53 GP, 26 W, .913
2012-13: 35 GP, 11 W, .903
2013-14: 63 GP, 41 W, .927

Is it impossible to picture Varlamov being great again? No, if nothing else, his talent is pretty apparent.

Still, the Avalanche are asking a lot from a guy who’s had an up-and-down career, and to say that the jury’s out on Reto Berra being worth the honestly startling amount of confidence management has in him is to make a serious understatement.

2. Defense – Time and time again, teams with seemingly crippling possession stats have trotted out the “shot quality” argument in pumping up their defensive systems. In the long run, results haven’t been kind to the teams that get massively out-shot and seem to live off of high shooting and save percentages. The disastrous finishes of the Randy Carlyle Era Toronto Maple Leafs simply illustrate such thoughts in the most dramatic ways.

Roy steadfastly believes that the Avalanche’s defense is better than people think.

“We’re not that far away on defense,” Roy told the Denver Post. “You look at (Erik) Johnson, who had a really good year, we have (Tyson) Barrie, who played really well at the end of the season, and we have Nick Holden, who we think is a solid defenseman. Are they where (the Kings are)? The answer is no, but now the (question) is, ‘Who are we going to add?’ You cannot just add the top players. You have to have a great mix, and you look at some teams as a model, and I think L.A. is a good example. If we could get the good mix — stay-at-home, physical defensemen playing with high-skill defensemen — I think that’s the approach that we’d like to have, and I think we’re heading in a pretty good direction. I think the future of our franchise on the defensive side of the game is a lot better than people think it is.”

Most people don’t share Roy’s optimism, and when you look at the group on paper and the massive amount of shots Colorado is supposedly OK with allowing, it’s easy to see why.

3. Losing Stastny and getting older in the offseason – The funny thing about the Avalanche is that youth is one of their biggest strengths … yet they may have erred in seemingly exchanging prime-age players for big names who might be a little long in the tooth.

The general feeling is that Colorado balked at Paul Stastny’s asking price, ultimately allowing him to become the most coveted free-agent center of the 2014 summer. At 28, he still has at least a few more prime years and generally did things that people believe Avalanche forwards do too rarely: drive play. Stastny’s deal is bigger and longer than Jarome Iginla’s three-year, $16 million pact, but many will frame the situation as giving up Stastny for Iggy.

Iginla’s much older than Stastny at 37, and he’s not quite the dominant force he once was, even if he can clearly still put the puck in the net. In a league where center play is at a premium, the Avalanche swapped a versatile prime-age pivot for an aging winger.

The Avalanche also leaned toward experience by trading a second-rounder for Brad Stuart, 34, and swapped P.A. Parenteau, 31, for Daniel Briere, 37.

Avalanche GM Joe Sakic emphasized that he was deliberately adding experience, but time will tell if the team’s better for essentially exchanging fresher legs for veteran voices.

It should be fascinating to see if Roy and Sakic will end up looking brilliant or foolish and stubborn as the 2014-15 season goes along.

Islanders land Boychuk for bounty of assets

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In a trade that begs for “Oh Boy” puns, the New York Islanders grabbed defenseman Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins for an impressive set of assets, according to New York Newsday’s Arthur Staple.

Update: Staple reports that the Islanders indeed nabbed Leddy, as well.

(Note: it hasn’t been made official just yet, but Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston seems to rank among those who back up the report.)

Staple reports that the Islanders sent a 2015 second-rounder, 2016 second-round pick and a conditional 2015 third-round pick to Boston.

These are the conditions of that third-rounder, according to the Canadian Press’ Stephen Whyno:

The benefits and risks are pretty clear for both teams.

The Bruins lose an underrated blueliner, yet it’s clear that they were unlikely to re-sign the 30-year-old after his $3.667 million cap hit expires after the 2014-15 season. If nothing else, this helped them squeeze bargain deals out of Torey Krug and Reilly Smith, although Boston’s list of 2015 free agents is pretty foreboding.

Defense was an obvious problem for the Islanders, but Boychuk could really give them improved versatility. He won’t set the world on fire offensively (23 points in 75 games last season), but he’s still solid in that area. It’s his physicality and possession prowess that really proves promising, though.

Sportsnet’s Stephen Burtch believes that Boychuk is a bigger find than Leddy and could be quite the catch overall:

The Islanders paid a significant price asset-wise, yet for a team that clearly wants to take the next step, their offseason looks awfully impressive. Especially if you spin it as the Isles more-or-less “trading” possession stats whipping boy Andrew MacDonald for Boychuk. (Click here to see the somewhat similar assets moved in that trade.)

Risk Factors: Boston Bruins edition

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From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Boston Bruins

1. Zdeno Chara…he’s not so young anymore. In fact, only 12 defensemen were older than the 37-year-old last season, and not one of them came close to averaging the 24:39 of ice time the big Bruin did.

To be sure, nobody’s suggesting that Chara has become an average defender. Team president Cam Neely went so far in May to say, “Zdeno is still, in my opinion, the best defender in the game.”

But even Chara recognizes he has to work to keep up with today’s young speedsters — this after his performance in last season’s playoff loss to the Montreal Canadiens drew criticism. (Wrote the Boston Globe after Game 7: “When Chara was on the ice in the first, he looked a little shaky, stumbling around uncharacteristically during one penalty kill shift. He was thrown off balance and so were the Black and Gold.”)

No wonder GM Peter Chiarelli was loath to trade veteran blue-liner Johnny Boychuk, choosing instead to give RFAs Torey Krug and Reilly Smith the hard sell on taking less for the good of the team. Trading Boychuk would mean even more minutes for youngsters Krug and Dougie Hamilton, and nobody can be sure how that would turn out. Those two need to show improvement regardless.

To deny that any decline in Chara’s abilities would negatively impact the Bruins’ chances at winning the Stanely Cup would be to deny his importance to the team.

And to deny that age negatively impacts a player’s abilities would be to deny reality.

2. Who replaces Jarome Iginla on the top line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic? We only ask because Iginla scored 30 goals last season. And that’s a lot of goals to replace.

Iginla, of course, was brought in last summer to replace Nathan Horton, who’d left for Columbus. But nobody’s been brought in to replace Iginla, who left for Colorado. So the Bruins are stuck hoping for more from a player that came to them in the Tyler Seguin trade — one who didn’t show all that much in his first year with the club.

“We lost Jarome, but I think Loui Eriksson is a player that can be even better than he was last year,” coach Claude Julien told NHL.com. “I think we started seeing that at the end of the year and he could be a replacement for Jarome.”

Eriksson has proven he can score goals in the NHL. He had 36 of them for Dallas in 2008-09; four times he’s scored 26 or more in a season. And he’s eager to prove he can still do it.

“I think I can bring a little more,” said Eriksson.

Except he’ll need to bring a little more than “a little more” if he hopes to replace Iginla’s 30 goals. Twenty goals more, to be exact.

3. The new-look bottom six…what if it doesn’t look so good?

When Boston defeated Vancouver in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins didn’t have a single forward that played fewer than 11 minutes.

“From personal experience,” said former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, “I know when we lost the Cup to Boston, Boston was a four-line team. Probably the best fourth line, I felt, in the league.”

It’s not clear if the Bruins will still be able to roll four lines so successfully in 2014-15. They certainly didn’t in the Game 7 loss to Montreal, when Shawn Thornton played just 3:28 and three other forwards — Matt Fraser, Gregory Campbell, and Daniel Paille — each failed to break the 11-minute mark.

Two different games and two different scenarios, sure. But Boston’s bottom six still stands to be quite different this season. The popular Thornton is gone. Eriksson, as mentioned, may move up from the third line to the top line. There are open spots available for the taking.

“The competition, with it comes uncertainty and we’d all like things to be certain, but also the cream will rise to the top and I’m looking forward to it,” Chiarelli said.

“We’ve got some invites, we’ve got some young players pushing, I look forward to it.”

In deciding to let Thornton go, Chiarelli hinted that he wanted a faster and more skilled fourth line. That seemed to bode well for a player like Ryan Spooner, who’s scored at a point-per-game pace in the AHL. However, he’ll have to be reliable defensively if he wants ice time from Julien.

“You can give us some great opportunities up front and score goals,” Julien said recently, in remarks that were believed to be directed at Spooner. “But if you give up more chances against than you create then you’re not helping the team. In the long run, you don’t win championships that way.”

A championship remains the goal for the Bruins.

“I still think we’re in our window,” Neely said.

But the mere fact he had to say it, well — considering all of the above — isn’t that reason to wonder if they really are?

PHT Morning Skate: D2: Mighty Ducks cast brings back Flying V

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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.

The cast of D2: The Mighty Ducks had a reunion, so naturally they assembled the Flying V. (TSN.ca)

Greg Chase was in disbelief when he found out that he was put on a line with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for Sunday’s preseason game. (Calgary Sun)

Mike Cammalleri has traditionally worn No. 13, but the New Jersey Devils have never had anyone wear the unlucky number. They gave him No. 23 instead. (Star-Ledger)

Although the Philadelphia Flyers will try, Claude Giroux doesn’t think anyone can replace Kimmo Timonen. (NHL.com)

Jarome Iginla appears to have been made an assistant captain. (Adrian Dater)

Montreal Canadiens prospect Nikita Scherbak is making a great first impression. (Montreal Gazette)

Iginla has ‘real good chemistry’ with Duchene

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After losing Paul Stastny as a free agent and trading P.A. Parenteau, the Colorado Avalanche are hoping that Jarome Iginla can fill in the void offensively.

Iginla is 37 years old, but he had 30 goals and 61 points with Boston last season. He’s also getting the opportunity to play with a great center in Matt Duchene. They teamed up with Ryan O’Reilly in Sunday’s scrimmage and while you can’t read into the box score of an intrasquad game, Iginla has been upbeat about working with Duchene.

“I enjoyed it a lot,” Iginla told the Denver Post. “I think there’s some real good chemistry. I’ve been here about a month now, and although training camp just started a few days ago, it feels like it’s been a few weeks now because guys got together early. I like playing with Dutchy and Factor (Ryan O’Reilly).

“They’re skilled, they’re quick and they create a lot. You can tell they’ve played together a lot, because they have great chemistry, and I just want to add to it.”

Colorado has the potential to have two very effective lines as Alex Tanguay, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog are a viable combination for the team’s second unit. MacKinnon spent a fair amount of time with Duchene and O’Reilly last season, but he’s also got plenty of experience playing alongside Landeskog. Having a pair of recent Calder Trophy winners (MacKinnon in 2014, Landeskog in 2012) on the same line is a very rare luxury that the Avalanche have been afforded.

Colorado will get to further test out its lines in a pair of games against Anaheim Monday night.

Related:

Avs’ Tanguay looking to bounce back from injury riddled season

Sakic says Avs ownership gave ‘green light’ to ‘make this team win’