(Ed. Note: It’s an Olympic year in the NHL. So, naturally, we decided to use the trappings of the Winter Games to preview all 30 teams for the 2013-14 NHL season. Who takes the gold? Who falls on their triple-axel? Read on and find out!)
Little went right for the Colorado Avalanche during the 2013 season. They struggled to score, especially from the back end, and they struggled to prevent other teams from scoring, which probably also had something to do with their defenders. As a result, the club finished outside the playoffs for the third consecutive year, and you know what they say: miss the postseason once, shame on you, miss it twice, shame on me, but miss it three times, and Joe Sacco is fired.
The day after Sacco's dismissal, things began to turn around, with the Avalanche winning the NHL draft lottery and the right to address their serious blueline issues by taking seemingly can't-miss prospect and homegrown talent Seth Jones first overall. (Or someone else, I guess, but ha ha ha why would they do that, am I right?)
Shortly after this, the Avalanche shook up their management structure, announcing that the great Joe Sakic was coming home to replace Greg Sherman (although Sherman was going to stay on, completely emasculated and shamed, perhaps to motivate Sakic with a constant reminder of the husk of a man he'll be reduced to should he fail). Later, Patrick Roy was brought in to replace Sacco as coach, as well as emasculate Sherman further by bleeding away a few more of his management responsibilities.
The Sakic/Roy combo wasted no time in putting their stamp on the team: rather than drafting Seth Jones -- perhaps soured on the idea of taking a defenceman first overall by the presence of former 1st overall pick and noted non-franchise defender Erik Johnson -- the Avalanche went with centre Nathan MacKinnon instead. He's reportedly quite good, but this is a decision that could be second-guessed for years.
In the meantime, however, it's an exciting time to be an Avalanche fan. There will likely be a 1st overall pick in the lineup, and two Colorado legends are changing the course of the team, looking to bring the Avalanche back to the respectability they gave it the last time they were at the helm. Will the new (old) faces be able to turn this ship around?
Matt Duchene is so talented the rules don't even apply to him! Offside? What is such a thing to a player like Matt Duchene?
The biggest outgoing name: Milan Hejduk, who hasn't retired, but won't be back with the Avalanche. The biggest incoming name is Nathan MacKinnon, whom Patrick Roy has already decided -- even though training camp hasn't even started yet -- will centre the third line between Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn.
Gone are David Jones and Shane O'Brien, traded to Calgary in exchange for Cory Sarich and Alex Tanguay, because if it wasn't clear by now, the Avalanche were really committed to their past this season. But not their recent past: Gone too are Greg Zanon and his fabulous beard, bought out by Sakic a year after Sherman signed him to a two-year $4.5 million salary. In his stead is Andre Benoit, who spent last season with the Ottawa Senators.
Forward: As mentioned, Patrick Roy has already revealed his top three lines for the start of the 2013 season, and they don't look too shabby. The top line will consist of Matt Duchene centering Ryan O'Reilly and P.A. Parenteau, a formidable trio, even if it does seem like a waste of O'Reilly's impeccable two-way game.
Below that, Team American glamour shot standout Paul Stastny will skate between captain Gabriel Landeskog and the newly-acquired playmaking winger Alex Tanguay, and MacKinnon will be brought along somewhat slowly on line three, protected by the skilled but feisty duo of McGinn and Downie. Don't touch the new kid. These dudes will wail on you.
It's a strong top nine, and as long as the Avalanche are headed up-ice, they're going to be a scary team. Turn the puck back the other way, however...
Defense: The Avalanche got just 4 goals from their blueline in 2013, but they did little to address the corps this offseason, looking over Seth Jones, then changing up their 7th and 8th defencemen by swapping O'Brien for Sarich and Zanon for Benoit, and that's it. Seems like more change might have been ideal, but what do I know?
On most nights, Colorado's top-six will likely feature the inconsistent Erik Johnson, followed by Jan Hejda, Ryan Wilson, Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott, and Matt Hunwick. The addition of Adam Foote as a defensive coach, might make some difference here, but from where we're standing, the Avalanche are thinner on the back end than Miley Cyrus.
Goalies: Semyon Varlamov remains the guy in Colorado, although he has yet to prove he can truly be the guy. Will this be the year?
Patrick Roy is going to be fun to watch. He's opinionated, he doesn't mince words (again, he told the Denver Post his lines for this season in June), and he has a temper. I'm most excited to watch him battle with Varlamov. How long until he makes his goalie skate 200 feet to fight someone?
Greg Sherman is still the GM, in effect, though he answers to Executive VP of hockey operations Joe Sakic, and I think we all know who's getting the side with the cream when these two split the Oreo.
GET OUT OF THE WAY HERE COMES THE AVALAAAAAAAANCHE
Nathan MacKinnon. It's win-win for the unbiased observer. He could be a joy to watch. And if he struggles and the blueline continues to look as sketchy as it does, how long until fans start complaining about the pick, especially if Seth Jones is playing with Shea Weber in Nashville? Fun all the way around.
Coach Roy. Did I say fun all the way around yet? Because that's what this will be.
That forward group. It's fast and it's skilled, from Matt Duchene, all the way on down. They should be a treat to watch this season.
The defence. It's not good. Unless Erik Johnson finally rounds into that franchise guy or the club manages to move Paul Stastny for help, this is going to be a problem for Colorado all year long.
Contending for a playoff spot. The Avalanche are strong up front. Strong enough to make the playoffs? Maybe, especially in the revamped Central Division, where the Blackhawks and Blues are playoff locks, leaving five mid-level teams to compete for two spots. Can the Avalanche best the Wild, Stars, Predators and Jets? If they can overcome their deficiencies on defence, and with a strong rookie campaign from MacKinnon, I think so.