Although the weather is still warm here in Colorado, the temperature is still slowly going down to welcome in the fall weather. With the greeting of the fall weather, Avalanche fans are getting ready for the 2010-11 season which starts tomorrow night at the Pepsi Center.
Still, the Avs have a hard task right out of the gate like they did in the 2009-10 season, when they opened at home with two games, and then spent the next seven on the road. This year is looking almost the same, with one game at home, followed by the next five on the road.
The competition doesn’t get any easier as well, with the Avs host the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, then on the road to visit the Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and the New York Rangers. In addition, four out of the six teams they will play went to the playoffs last year, while the Rangers were edged out on the last game of the season, and the Islanders having yet another dismal year.
The 2010-11 schedule is just as tough as the schedule from last year, which could be the reason why many analysts are suggesting that the Avs are going to finish in ninth place in the Western Conference. The schedule could be a huge factor, but the fact the Avalanche GM Greg Sherman remained rather idle during the off-season could be a reason as well.
The Avs did see the departure of Brett Clark, who signed with the Tampa Bay Lighting, and Matt Hendricks, who signed with the Washington Capitals. The Avs also let long time pest Darcy Tucker test the free-agency market, which saw Tucker on the outside and leading him to retire after playing 15 years in the NHL. The only acquisitions the Avs received during the off-season were Julian Talbot from the St. Louis Blues (who was sent down to the Lake Erie Monsters) and Daniel Winnik, from the Phoenix Coyotes.
There are three other players who proved themselves worthy of a roster spot with Winnik this year: Mark Olver, Philippe Dupis and Jonas Holos.
Olver is a center who was drafted 140th in the fifth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Since being drafted Olver has played for Northern Michigan and Lake Erie.
Dupis has spent the last three years with Lake Erie, but has managed to play in 12 games for the Avs over the past two years. Dupis was originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets, but was then later acquired by the Avs.
Holos will be the odd-man out in the six-man rotation for defensemen this year for the Avs. Holos was drafted 170th overall, in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He has spent the last two years playing for the Farjestads BK Karlstad in Sweden.
With the loss of the three players from last year and the addition of the four this year, the Avs roster is almost intact from the 2009-10 season. With a lot of the focus on sophomore’s Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, T.J. Galiardi and Ryan Wilson, this saw all four having an impressive rookie season, and are looking to improve their play this year. Of course there will be a lot of focus on veteran’s Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk, Adam Foote, Scott Hannan and John-Michael Liles, who will be the leaders of this young Avs team.
However, if you are talking about Avs hockey, one can’t forget about goalie Craig Anderson.
Anderson was the MVP for the Avs last season and is going to be looked upon to help lead this Avs team through the tough times ahead. Still, the Avs are going to have to do their best this season to see the number of pucks sent towards Anderson drop from last year. Anderson led the NHL in saves and shots-against last season, which means the Avs spent way too much time in their own zone.
Also, Coach Joe Sacco is going to have to give Anderson a little bit more rest this year, and let back-up goalie Peter Budaj see some ice time as well. Anderson started in 71 games last season, which set a record for games started by an Avalanche goalie.
While many analysts are pushing the Avs aside, many teams around the league are not going to take this youth infused team as lightly as they did this past season. This is going to lay the foundation for the Avs to have to yet again prove themselves worthy of a playoff spot.
With the roster remaining almost the same, the Avs have a good chance to show the world what they are made of, as well as reaching the goal they are setting for themselves: winning the Northwest division.