Avalanche: Five Things You Need To Know
By Pierre LeBrun
Few teams confuse people more than the Colorado Avalanche.
Some love this young team, others see a team full of holes.
The Avs hung around the Western Conference playoff race last season before fading late, winning only three of their last 10 games. But they have promising talent.
I personally believe this is a team on the rise, although much depends on young netminder Semyon Varlamov. They are led by sophomore captain Gabriel Landeskog and the versatile Ryan O'Reilly (still unsigned as of writing), two great young leaders with impressive all-around games.
1. The Young Captain
Landeskog was the youngest NHL player in history to be named captain when Colorado announced as much in September. The 20-year-old Stockholm native deservedly took home the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year after putting up 52 points (22 goals-30 assists) and a plus-20, the latter the most impressive statistic of all given his age. Avs fans are going to love this kid for a long time. Question is, does he avoid the sophomore slump in the shortened season?
2. Is The Goalie For Real?
Varlamov was OK, certainly not great, last season. His 26 wins tied him for 20th, his 2.59 GAA was 27th, his .913 save percentage was 29th. The Avs need more from a guy they gave up a first-round pick for. But the Russian native is only 24 and has the tools to be great. His progression this season will go a long way in determining the Avs' playoff chances.
3. Money Well Spent?
P.A. Parenteau was perhaps the most debated UFA on the market last July. Just how much money was he really worth after developing late as an NHLer and then putting up big numbers alongside John Tavares on Long Island the past two seasons? Well, Colorado gambled that Parenteau can produce without Tavares, dropping $16 million and four years on him. Ironically, the early word from coach Joe Sacco was that Parenteau would begin the season on the top line, alongside Landeskog and Matt Duchene, who was taken two spots behind No. 1 pick Tavares in the 2009 draft.
4. Looking For Goals
Interestingly, despite an impressive young forward group, the Avs were only 25th in the league in offense last season. I expect that to change this year with the continued progression of youngsters Duchene, Landeskog and O'Reilly in a group that also includes Paul Stastny, David Jones, Milan Hejduk and the newcomer, Parenteau. This team should score more goals.
5. Blue-Line Good Enough?
The only real brand name on this defense corps is Erik Johnson, and he has been inconsistent. Jan Hejda, Matt Hunwick, newcomer Greg Zanon, Shane O'Brien, Ryan O'Byrne and Ryan Wilson complete a defense corps that doesn't jump off the page at you, but collectively represents a steady group. If Varlamov is the biggest factor in Colorado's playoff chances, the play of this blue-line corps is a close second.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering fourth NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 0
Second Chance: Erik Johnson
Failing again to make the grade as a former first-overall draft pick (2006) this past season, Erik Johnson nevertheless remains the No. 1 defenseman with the Colorado Avalanche. Armed with a new four-year deal, the four-year veteran will get yet another opportunity to live up to his pre-NHL promise. And, yes, he's still only 24 years old. Regardless, until Johnson proves he's capable of flirting with a 40-point pace (through a full season) once again, we suggest you let another fantasy owner roll the dice. At least until later rounds.
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Avalanche:
• May 18: Re-signed RW Milan Hejduk.
• June 4: Re-signed LW Cody McLeod.
• June 7: Re-signed D Matt Hunwick and RW David Jones.
• June 14: Named David Quinn assistant coach.
• June 23: Re-signed C Matt Duchene.
• June 25: Re-signed D Ryan Wilson.
• June 26: Re-signed D Shane O'Brien.
• June 29: Re-signed RW Steve Downie.
• July 1: Signed RW P.A. Parenteau, C John Mitchell and D Greg Zanon.
• July 3: Re-signed D Erik Johnson.
• July 13: Re-signed LW Jamie McGinn and C Mark Olver.
• Aug. 13: Re-signed G Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
• C Peter Mueller (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida)
• C Jay McClement (unrestricted free agent, signed by Toronto)
• C Kevin Porter (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo)
• C Joakim Lindstrom (unrestricted free agent)