After finishing the 2010-2011 season in 14th place, the Colorado Avalanche are looking to right the ship this coming season, and to make sure of it, GM Greg Sherman re-tooled the roster with some key acquisitions. Last season, the Avalanche had high expectations after a strong 2009-2010 season that saw the team capture the 8th and final playoff spot in the West with an impressive youth movement mixed in with some solid veterans, but things didn’t work out as planned.
Fast forward to one off-season later and the Avalanche are a much different team, one that is looking to get back into the playoff race and win back the fans with exciting and high tempo hockey. A breakdown of the moves that have been made will show why Colorado should expect to bounce back and fight for a playoff spot this season.
Out of the organization to start this year are John-Michael Liles, Chris Stewart, Adam Foote, Craig Anderson, and Peter Budaj. After 19 seasons, Adam Foote retired leaving a hole on defense that got a little larger after the trade of John-Michael Liles to Toronto. Having acquired Erik Johnson last year in the blockbuster trade for Chris Stewart, the Avs felt as though Liles was expendable and dealt him to free up the 4.2 million dollars he was set to earn this season. Needing to solidify the defense the team signed Jan Hejda to a four year contract with an annual cap hit of 3.25 million. Hejda will fill the void left ever since Scott Hannan was traded and will add stability to a defense that will be a lot tougher to play against and more defensive minded.
With a defense made up of Johnson, Hejda, Hunwick, Cumiskey, Quincey and O’Byrne, the Avalanche may still look to add another defenseman in order to make the team a true playoff threat. In order to improve on goals against, the Avalanche have rightfully given up on the Brian Elliott disaster and moved on from the Peter Budaj years by making some questionable and gutsy moves in net. By acquiring two new goalies in Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere, the Avalanche are hoping to finally solve the years of goaltending question marks. By trading a first and third round pick in next years’ draft and acquiring Varlamov from Washington, Sherman is hoping that his team improves so that the pick he traded does not turn into a lottery pick that the Capitals would love to cash in on.
In Varlamov and Giguere the Avalanche have two goalies at opposite ends of their careers. Giguere is a Stanley Cup champion looking to regain his form he had with Anaheim before being dealt to Toronto and serving last year as a back-up to newcomer James Reimer. If Giguere is able to play at a high level it will alleviate some of the pressure on young Semyon Varlamov; who will see the larger percentage of games. Varlamov is a 23 year old Russian with huge upside and enters the Colorado organization with strong NHL numbers posting a 2.39 GAA and a .917 SV %. Having lost the starting role to Michael Neuvirth last season, Varlamov has only appeared in 59 games in his NHL career, so it was essential to acquire Giguere in order to have an above average back up.
With a young forward core gaining another year of experience, the Avs look for greater production throughout the lineup, including star Matt Duchene and veteran Milan Hejduk. The team was focused on filling out the forward core by signing Chuck Kobasew as a free agent in order to add some veteran experience. Kobasew, who will be a strong fourth line player and penalty killer, is 29 years old and will add some veteran leadership in order to help the Avs stay focused on the goal of making the playoffs throughout the season. With the number two overall pick in the draft, Sherman and Co. selected Swedish LW Gabriel Landeskog who will be looked at to make an immediate contribution to the club. Landeskog is considered NHL ready and will add more youth and high end skill to this young Colorado offense.
Through the draft and with several key signings and trades, the Avalanche should have a more productive season than they did in the forgetful 2009-2010 campaign. With only one direction to go, they should be closer to fighting for the eighth playoff spot than drafting near the top of the board, but I would not be surprised if they miss out for the second consecutive season. Having over $15 million in cap space to start the season, they will be looking to add to the club during the year if they feel they have a shot to make the playoffs and win back the fan base. Getting strong goaltending will be needed, and they feel as though they have found the guy for the job in Semyon Varlamov who will look to grow with this young team and improve from last season.
The Avalanche are not close to winning the Stanley Cup right now, but the goal for this season should be to fight for a playoff spot knowing that the future is bright, and should provide the fans with plenty of exciting on ice moments throughout this season.