If you’ve been paying attention to Gone Puck Wild lately, and shame on you if you haven’t, then you know school has begun as Wild fans brush up on their knowledge of the new teams within Minnesota’s division. This week, that new team just so happens to be a former Northwest Division rival–the Colorado Avalanche. Going through Sunday, we’ll break down Colorado’s major additions and subtractions, strengths and weaknesses, prospect pool, 2013 draft class and team outlook.
Now that we’ve covered Colorado’s additions and subtractions, it’s time to take a look at the strengths and weaknesses in the Mile High City.
Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and now Nathan MacKinnon–it’s enough elite young talent to make any NHL head coach drool. There’s no doubt there won’t be a shortage of goals scored in Denver in the coming years with these four studs in the lineup. Duchene (3rd overall, 2009), Landeskog (2nd overall, 2011) and MacKinnon (1st overall, 2013) are three young players that will give goalies fits for many, many years to come. These young men will also be heavily relied upon to keep the ship afloat in what looks to be a very tough division.
Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy are heavily investing in their young, but talented, roster, having just signed 20-year old captain Landeskog to a brand new 7-year deal to lead the way for the Avalanche. The selection of MacKinnon gives the organization added depth at center, and could force O’Reilly to the wing if MacKinnon cracks the team’s top-6.
Without “Mac”, Colorado’s top two lines likely look like this:
The Colorado brass has stated they feel MacKinnon is a guy that can instantly step in as third line center, so expect Cody McLeod and Jamie McGinn skating on either side of him.
There’s no doubt offense is going to be the greatest attribute of the Avalanche franchise for a long time, but the defense is in desperate need of attention.
Last season, the Avs averaged 3.12 goals a game, good for 27th in the NHL. In addition, it wasn’t 2007 1st overall pick Erik Johnson that led all blue liners in scoring–it was 2009 3rd round pick Tyson Barrie with two goals and 11 assists for 13 points and a negative-11 rating in 32 games. In 31 games, Johnson had four assists and negative-3 rating. Barrie led all Avs defenders in time-on-ice by an average of 21:34 per game compared to Johnson’s 20:45. Sounds like they really could have used a guy like Seth Jones (cough, cough).
Colorado will be counting on a rebound year for Johnson and praying there won’t be a Sophomore slump for Barrie if they’re going to withstand the trials of the rugged Central Division. The newly acquired Cory Sarich will also be relied upon to log some big minutes. Help may also come in the form of the team’s second 2011 first rounder–Duncan Siemens.
According to Hockey’s Future:
A physical, in-your-face defender with size and an underrated offensive game, Siemens is the complete package. Capable of playing half of the game, Siemens is comfortable playing at both ends of the ice and in any situation, be it even-strength, with the man advantage or on the penalty kill.
Hmm, sounds like the kind of defenseman Colorado desperately needs patrolling their blue line.
Colorado’s problems don’t end at the blue line. The problem extends to the crease, as well. After a stellar first season in Colorado for Semyon Varlamov–a year that saw him post a 26-24-3 record with a .913 save percentage, 2.59 goals against average and four shutouts–last year was one to forget. In 35 starts, the former 2006 first rounder posted an 11-21-3 record with a .903 save percentage, 3.02 goals against average and three shutouts. His 98 goals against were tied for 6th worst in the league with Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom (who had seven more starts), while his 21 losses took the cake as the most in the league. Colorado will need him to get back to his play the year before and pronto.
To sum things up, Colorado may have the offense to keep up with the rest of the division, but the defensive corps and goaltending has to get better if they’re going up against guys like Patrick Kane, Tyler Seguin, Jonathan Toews, Vladimir Tarasenko, Evander Kane and Zach Parise nearly every game. Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy know what they’re doing and they know what it’s going to take to turn this franchise around. There may, and will be, some troubles, but the Avalanche aren’t too far away from being a very serious contender once again.