Yes, indeed, despite the promise of impending labor Armageddon and a prolonged work-stoppage, your friends at Puck Daddy are previewing the 2012-13 NHL season (whenever the heck it starts). Why? Because this is the most important election in the history of all-time ever, and you need to know the candidates — like the Colorado Avalanche.
The Colorado Avalanche were in contention most of last season before fading down the stretch with 6 losses in their final 7 games and missing the playoffs for the second straight year.
For some General Managers, this would be a sign that something needed to change, but Avalanche GM Greg Sherman saw the bright side in everything. Sure, Colorado's season ended when the regular-season schedule did, but it was over a Hell of a lot sooner the year prior, when the squad finished 29th in the league with just 68 points. An 88-point season may not have been enough to make the playoffs, but it was a marked improvement on last year's mess.
Plus, the future looks bright, especially after Gabriel Landeskog's meteoric rise to the top of the Avalanche's depth chart during a rookie season that saw him earn the Calder trophy and the captaincy.
Sherman believes the Avalanche are on the right track, which he why he chose, mostly, to stay the course, handing the reins to the team's young star and giving coach Joe Sacco a two-year extension.
Can the Avalanche reward his trust and improve on the promise of last season?
"Our captain is too young? No, YOUR captain is too OLD."
Greg Sherman did his best to keep last year's group together, re-signing David Jones, Shane O'Brien, Erik Johnson, Milan Hejduk, Matt Duchene, Ryan Wilson, and Cody McLeod.
But he had to let a few guys go, so say goodbye to forwards Jay McClement and Peter Mueller, the former of whom will be missed a great deal more than the latter. During his year and a half, Mueller was effective for the Avalanche when he was in the lineup, with 36 points in 47 games, but as you can see, he missed a lot of time with injuries. The Avalanche are used to playing without him.
McClement, not so much. The underrated defensive centre was a primary cog on Colorado's penalty-kill, which improved from league-worst in 2010-11 to 12th last season. The Avalanche will attempt to replace him with free agent signing John Mitchell, who comes over from the New York Rangers, but Mitchell's not a special teams guy and he could struggle in what looks to be an increased role. Expect Ryan O'Reilly to see even more defensive assignments to cover for this, which could eat into his burgeoning offensive numbers.
Mind you, if it does, that's what major addition P.A. Parenteau is for. The Avalanche will be doing cartwheels if Parenteau meshes with Matt Duchene the way he meshed with John Tavares.
Greg Zanon also arrives to bolster a defence that occasionally struggles to defend.
At forward … the Avalanche are inexperienced, but that's about the only knock they'll get. Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, and Ryan O'Reilly make up an impressive trio up the middle, and Gabriel Landeskog leads a core of tough wingers that includes Steve Downie, Jamie McGinn and David Jones. Milan Hejduk and the aforementioned Parenteau complete the set, giving the Avalanche three skilled lines when healthy.
The Avalanche have the horses to be very good offensively, and it really shouldn't be all that difficult to be better in this regard than they were last year. As impressive as it was that Landeskog nearly led Colorado in scoring as a rookie, it's in large part because everyone else struggled to score all year. The team averaged just 2.43 goals per game, good for 25th in the league. They can and should be better than that.
On defense … is where the Avalanche will continue to struggle. Their forwards do a great job of pinning the puck in the opposing end, but when it gets into Colorado territory, the group's seams show. Erik Johnson is the leader on the blueline, but there's a reason his recent contract extension only pays $3.75 a season while the other members of his draft class are up in the fives and sixes. Johnson simply has yet to establish himself as the all-zone stud he can be. He struggles against high-end competition, and his elite puck-moving skills aren't always turned on.
If he can ever get over the hump, however, the Avalanche will improve exponentially.
The other issue on the blueline is that, behind the pairing of Johnson and Jan Hejda, there really isn't a whole lot of offence generation going on. When the Avalanche have the puck in the opposing zone, they're a scary group, but their bottom four defenders struggle to move it there. A step forward from Ryan Wilson would be a boon in this regard.
In goal … Semyon Varlamov will be given another year to prove to everyone that he's the guy. He struggled to hold down the starter's job in his first year in Colorado, especially down the stretch, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who had better numbers, will likely push him again.
The mayor of awesometown himself endorses the Colorado Avalanche with a topical reworking of classic rock staple, "Black Betty."
Joe Sacco enters his fourth year behind the Avalanche bench, but he's hardly an untouchable. The Colorado coach was given a two-year extension, a good faith showing after leading the Avalanche to a 20-point improvement. But GM Greg Sherman believes in this young group. Most of his work over the summer was done to give it a greater chance to succeed, and if they falter under Sacco, he'll do the same by finding someone else to coach them.
Uh, Gabriel Landeskog. Without question. In his rookie season, Landeskog led the Avalanche in goals, shots, plus/minus, and hits, and finished one point off Paul Stastny's team-high 53. This is his team now.
Jamie McGinn surprised everyone when he arrived from San Jose and immediately began lighting the lamp. The former Shark scored 8 goals in 17 games at a member of the Avalanche, and appears to have found another gear completely. It might not be reasonable to expect McGinn to keep up that pace, but is a 25-goal, 40-point season out of the question?
P.A. Parenteau. The winger earned his four-year, $16 million contract with two excellent seasons alongside John Tavares, but was that just a perfect storm of chemistry? The Avalanche have two skilful young centers of their own in Duchene and Stastny, so Parenteau won't suddenly be left to create all his own offence, but they also have a lot more forward depth, so he likely won't be counted on to produce as much either. Will a slightly diminished role and an environment change derail 29-year-old Parenteau's late rise to NHL stardom?
[NARRATOR] The Colorado Avalanche recently handed the captaincy to a 19-year-old boy. Was that smart? Here are some statistics on teenagers.
70% of teenagers drink alcohol. That's more than two-thirds! And speaking of two-thirds, that's the number of 18 and 19 year-olds that have used illegal drugs. Teenage captain? More like teenage wasteland.
[DRAMATIC PAUSE; SOUND OF A MOTHER CRYING]
[NARRATOR] 50% of teens live in homes where parents are divorced. Do teenagers cause divorce? It certainly looks that way.
More than one-third of teens say they have texted while driving. And one half have ridden in a car with someone who texted while driving. Tell us, Colorado: does this sound like the judgment of a captain?"
[VOICE -OVER] "I'm 21-year old Matt Duchene and I approve this message."
I thought the Avalanche were a playoff team last year, and I think a year of development for that young core will do wonders. Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, Erik Johnson, and Semyon Varlamov will all be better, and that should be enough. The Avalanche aren't going to set the world on fire, especially with their issues on defence, but I can see them holding strong down the stretch this time around and eking out a 7th or 8th place finish.