Puck Daddy - NHL

Colorful characters, revered championships, staged fights ... the rink shares plenty with the squared circle. So here at Puck Daddy, we've decided to preview the 2010-11 NHL season with the help of old-school wrestling icons, images and lingo. It's a slobber-knocker, Mean Gene ...

Last Season (43-30-9, 95 points. Second in Northwest, 8th in the West )

Many had the Colorado Avalanche finishing either 14th or 15th in the Western Conference last season. Many were very, very wrong.

Anchored by the stellar goaltending of free-agent acquisition Craig Anderson(notes) and the ahead-of-schedule play of rookies like Matt Duchene(notes), the Avs finished eighth in the West and took the San Jose Sharks to six games before bowing out in the first round. (See: Eulogy)

Outside of an ownership change to Josh Kroenke, son of Stan, it's been a rather quiet offseason for the 'Lanche, who weren't at the salary floor yet as of Sept. 7 but still had Peter Mueller(notes) to sign. It's a team with a solid, young foundation that arrived on the scene earlier than expected; can they repeat the feat, or improve on it?

New Additions

Forward Daniel Winnik(notes) arrived via Phoenix in exchange for a fourth-rounder in 2012. He's a solid defensive forward who tallied 19 points. He's also what passes for a major acquisition for the Avalanche this summer, unless you count No. 17 overall draft pick center Joey Hishon or former Calgary farmhand David Van der Gulik(notes), of the 185-foot goal against Matt Climie.

Key Subtractions

The Avs trimmed some salary fat this offseason, allowing players like Darcy Tucker(notes), Ruslan Salei(notes) (Detroit), Marek Svatos(notes) and Tom Preissing(notes) to become unrestricted free agents. Versatile defenseman Brett Clark(notes) left for the Tampa Bay Lightning on a 2-year deal. Chris Durno(notes) also left for the Bolts.

Wrestler That Best Personifies the Team

"Texas Tornado" Kerry Von Erich. A former world champion who made a rapid and surprising surge to the top again in the WWF during the early 1990s. The question now: Will the Avalanche build on their legacy or start jobbing to the stars like 'ole Double-T did? (And yes, we know he met a tragic end; keep it in the ring, people.)

Forwards

The top six scorers for the Avalanche last season were all forwards: Paul Stastny(notes) (79 points), Chris Stewart(notes) (64), Matt Duchene (55), Wojtek Wolski(notes) (47, before being traded to Phoenix), Milan Hejduk(notes) (44) and T.J. Galiardi(notes) (39).

Stastny didn't just put up good numbers -- he put up important numbers: His 21 points in 13 games during a critical stretch in March helped the Avs to a 8-5 mark. He played with Galiardi and Stewart, who re-signed as an RFA for a 2-year deal, on an effective scoring line for Colorado.

Sticking in the NHL when some felt he'd head back to juniors, Duchene mounted a serious campaign for the Calder Trophy and trumped the season of 2009 No. 1 pick John Tavares(notes). He saw time with Brandon Yip(notes) and Milan Hejduk, back for his 12th season with the Avs.

Ryan O'Reilly(notes) scored 26 points as a rookie, while Peter Mueller (still an RFA as of this writing) was a revelation after coming over from the Coyotes, scoring 20 points in 15 games. A healthy David Jones(notes) will also be a factor at forward, after a knee injury ended his season in late November.

Defense

Kyle Quincey(notes) lead the Avs in average ice time (23:36) while posting 29 points. His partner Scott Hannan(notes) was second in overall ice time (21:55) and first in shorthanded ice time (3:16).

John Michael-Liles led the Avs' defense in scoring (31 points) and power-play points (20). He saw time with Ryan Wilson(notes) in the postseason, as the rookie posted 23 points and was a plus-13.

Then there's 39-year-old captain Adam Foote(notes), who averaged 19:21 TOI last season and appeared in 67 games. He signed a 1-year deal with the Avs back in May, and will continue to make people pay for taking liberties with his goaltender. Speaking of which ... 

Goaltending

Craig Anderson wanted his shot at a starting gig after leaving the Florida Panthers, and he outworked Peter Budaj(notes) to earn one in Colorado. The result: 38-25-7, a 2.63 GAA, a .917 save percentage and 7 shutouts in Coach Joe Sacco's system. He was fifth in the Vezina voting and orchestrated a classic playoff win against the San Jose Sharks in the Dan Boyle(notes) Game, with 51 saves in a 1-0 victory.

Budaj will be back to push him. Can Anderson continue to improve or will he regress in Year 2 as a starter.

Match We'd Pay To Watch

The 25 Ice Girl over-the-top-rope Battle Royale, featuring special guest referee Craig Anderson.

Breakout Player

Ryan O'Reilly hit the wall last season both physically and mentally. He's had a head-clearing summer and said he wants to be an impact player in 2010-11; we believe he can be, especially by increasing his goal total.

Potential Flop

If and when Peter Mueller is signed, we can all agree that 20 points in 15 games is a pace he's not going to keep up in a 70-game season. His best offensive year was 22 goals and 32 assists as a rookie with the Coyotes; can he hit that with the 2010-11 Avs?

Finishing Move

It didn't take place in the NHL, but Duchene's goal in the 2010 IIHF world championships against Norway (VIKINGSTAD 4 LIFE) was just simply nasty. Don't worry, be happy, Norge:

Special Teams

Powered by Stastny and Duchene, Colorado was No. 15 overall on the power play last season with a 18.1-percent conversion rate. The Avs went 2-for-15 in the playoffs. On the kill, Colorado was a disappointing 21st overall, despite some quality killers on the blue line and Anderson between the pipes. They allowed 5 goals in 26 shorthanded situations in the postseason. 

Coach/GM

If Joe Sacco could climb into the DeLorean, travel back in time and prevent Dave Tippett from signing with the Coyotes, he would have won the Jack Adams last season. He provided structure to a young team, and did a hell of a job managing green players like Duchene and O'Reilly. Promising start.

GM Greg Sherman had to overcome the indignity of watching the public courtship of Patrick Roy and had a good first season on the job, especially in signing Anderson. The Mueller trade helped down the stretch; one assumes the team will bring on some bodies in the next month. 

2010-11 Preseason Report Card:

Forwards: B
Defense: B-
Goaltending: B+
Special Teams: C
Coaching: B+
Management: B-

Main Event or Dark Match? (Prediction)

The Avalanche are a tricky team. Sophomore slump potential for some breakout players. Craig Anderson has had one outstanding season as a starter. Injuries are always an X-factor. That said, they're in a very manageable division after the Canucks, and that could be enough of a points cushion to get back to the show.

Entrance Music: The rumbling theme for Earthquake could fit perfectly with any Avalanche. Also, its plodding beat perfectly mimics the skating stride of Adam Foote.

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