Last year the Avalanche struggled through another losing season that gained them the first overall pick in this past summer's entry draft. The Avs have been using the Edmonton Oilers' model of building a team by loading up with good, young goal scorers but forgetting about the blue line. Instead of the taking defenseman Seth Jones number one, they took Canadian center Nathan MacKinnon. You would think a team that gave up 3.13 goals per game last year (27th in the NHL) would want some defensive help but they went with another goal scorer instead.
The biggest moves Colorado made in the offseason were behind the bench and in the front office. Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy helped the Avs win multiple Stanley Cups during their Hall of Fame careers. Now it is up to them to try and return Colorado to the top of the NHL mountian; Roy as the head coach and Sakic as Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations.
Cheryl Bradley, who does a great job over at Mile High Hockey, joins us today to give us some insight on our new division rival.
Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy led the Avalanche to greatness on the ice, will they be able to do the same off of it?
I think they'll do quite well. Roy has already shown that he understands the team's strengths and is developing systems to match them. He has the respect of the players, not just because he's had so much success (though that is one reason they've often cited), but also because he works them hard. Training camp was an eye-opener for them, as well as those watching. Sacco's camps and practices had less instruction, and the players mostly just went through the motions. Roy stops drills to point out what was wrong or right, to illustrate what should be done, and to get on a player's case for coasting through the end of it. On the GM side, the two have recognized players who weren't appropriate for the team, either due to skill or effort. Some decisions—like bringing in Cory Sarich and Andre Benoit—are headscratchers at the moment, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. The fact remains that both of these guys did not accept losing as players. It just wasn't an option. That attitude hasn't changed.
With the struggles the Avs have had on defense, was passing on Seth Jones the right move?
This is such a divisive topic. Most fans have come to accept that passing on him wasn't the mistake many are making it out to be. Personally, I never wanted Jones. The Avs have defensemen in the system, especially now that they drafted Chris Bigras (who might make the roster this season). No, none of them will be the supposed generational talent Jones will (I'm not convinced he even will be, actually), but the Avs appear to have what they need in young players. To be developed correctly, Jones will need time and sheltered minutes, so he wouldn't significantly help the Avs's needs right now. If the team must wait for that top-two defenseman, why not see what the pool holds and get a supposed generational talent that can contribute now? Moreover, I don't think Jones has the type of attitude the Avs covet, especially now with Roy and Sakic at the helm. Nathan MacKinnon's team-first, never-say-die obsession with winning is eerily similar to Roy's.
Speaking of the defense, what improvements have been made to help out the Avs' goalies?
The biggest improvement on defense was done by subtraction. Greg Zanon, as nice of a guy he is, was all but useless out there. He blocked shots. And had a great beard. That's about it. His contract was bought out. Shane O'Brien was quite literally more interested in his social life than the team (as evidenced by his behavior in practices and warm ups, as well as "The Vegas Incident" late last season). He was traded to Calgary (lol). Matt Hunwick is one of the most mesmerizing skaters I've ever seen; he's just not very good at stopping guys from getting shots on net. He was put on waivers and will most likely report to the Lake Erie Monsters next week. As for additions, bringing in Sarich and Benoit is questionable. I'm still not quite sure why they did it. There's a good chance one of them won't even make the opening night roster. In short, the defense will still struggle. Semyon Varlamov and JS Giguere will need to be on top of their game for the team to have real success.
Has Gabriel Landeskog fully recovered from his concussion that caused a very unproductive season last year?
Interesting you should ask that. Most people overlook the fact that he had that concussion and assume his performance was due to a number of other reasons, including being a bust (yeah, okay). He's admitted this off-season that he continued to suffer with symptoms through the summer. He says he's 100% now, however, and from what I've seen in camp and preseason, I believe him. I think you'll see him perform beyond his Calder-winning season, especially since he's going to be playing with Paul Stastny and Alex Tanguay. That line is going to be possession-driven and hard to defend against. All three players will see their numbers improve from last season.
How do you see the goaltending situation between Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere working out over the season?
Varlamov is the number one goaltender. Giguere is the back up. It's been stated clearly by the coaches and Giguere himself. If Varly fails to perform, I could see Roy and Sakic trading him at the deadline (at a considerable loss) and bringing in one of the goalies from the Monsters, most likely Calvin Pickard (though Sami Aittokallio could just as easily get the nod) to split duties with Jiggy. The Avs are, for the first time ever, incredibly wealthy in net. Roy singled out the team's CHL starter (the Denver Cutthroats are also affiliated with the organization) as being the best goalie in camp day in and day out. Kieran Milan was never even projected as an NHL talent, but we may be surprised. Whatever happens, the Avs have no reason to look outside of the organization for goaltending if Varly doesn't perform. (Thus, stop the stupid Miller trade rumors, people.)
Does the Avs move to the new Central Division help or hurt them?
I think the move to the Central Division neither hurts nor helps. The Avs are kind of in the same situation now as they were then. There are clear dominating teams in Chicago and St. Louis. Then there are a bunch of wild cards. The Northwest had Vancouver and then a bunch of wild cards. One difference is that the games are going to be more exciting. The Avs always seem to match up well against the Hawks and Blues. The old rivalry with Dallas might be reignited. The Jones/MacKinnon story line will be front and center. Wait, that's a negative. I'm already tired of it
What needs to happen in order for the Avs to compete for a playoff spot this year?
The team simply needs to play to their capabilities. The forward corps is scary good, and anyone who doesn't recognize that is either fooling themselves or not well-versed on the players. The team has three legitimate top lines that can score and handle their own zone. While not stellar, the defense can be successful. If Erik Johnson can push past the mental blocks (and I do believe his troubles have been based in his head, not in his skill), Ryan Wilson can stay healthy (well, healthy-ish since he's already out until regular season starts), Tyson Barrie can continue where he left off last season (which I think he will), and the supporting staff of blueliners maintain a decent presence, the defense will be good enough to get the team into the playoffs. That won't happen without Varly living up to potential, however. Now that there's an experienced and wildly successful goaltending coach on staff (Francois Allaire), it's more likely to happen. I think the team is better than people realize and a playoff spot isn't as far-fetched as the pundits suggest.
I really appreciate Cheryl taking some time out to help us preview the Avalanche. The Blackhawks and Avalanche will face off five times this season. The Blackhawks will sandwich three homes game on December 27th, January 14th and March 4th, in between two trips to Denver on November 19th and March 12th.