Saturday, December 24, 2011

Super 8

Of all the great teams the Colorado Avalanche have had throughout the years, none of them ever won 8 consecutive home games...until now!  The youngest team in the NHL, whose best players cannot even drink yet (Duchene, O'Reilly, Landeskog, Elliott), accomplished that feat last night, capped off with a Matt Duchene overtime goal.  Early in the season, the Avs could not buy a home win and were unstoppable on the road.  Fast forward to December, the Avs have won 8 straight at home, but have lost the last 9 in a row on the road.  If you could take the Avs' road play from October and their home play from December, they'd be virtually unstoppable!  Just got to put all the pieces together.  The Avs have also been phenomenal against the Eastern Conference, winning 9 games and losing only to the Penguins on the road.  Unfortunately, the new realignment doesn't have the Avs moving to an Eastern Conference.

Stastny and Johnson have picked up their play of late.  In their mid 20s and donning "A"s, they are somewhat "veteran" leaders on the team and the Avs need them to be good to be a successful team.  Both guys have huge expectations placed on their shoulders and their play has been good, despite the criticism that both players have faced.

While the Avs have dominated against the East, they have been abysmal in their own division.  Winning only once thus far and losing 9, this obviously has to change if the Avs want to be playing more than 82 games.  They'll get a chance to improve their division record right after Christmas against the Christmas-colored and division-leading Minnesota Wild in St. Paul.

Going into the Christmas break on a 4-game winning streak means that Joe Sacco's job is certainly not in immediate jeopardy, but some of his recent decisions are questionable.  The past 2 games, he's gone with the same lineup that won the previous 2.  Makes sense except that he has benched his supposed #1 goalie for all 4 games and the team's top-scoring defenseman, Kyle Quincey, is now healthy after missing 2 games with a groin injury, but has been a healthy scratch in the team's most recent pair of games.  Granted, Jean-Sebastien Giguere has played some fantastic hockey in his last 4 games, but Semyon Varlamov is supposed to be the guy, and at 23, he needs to have his confidence.  I have no problem with Jiggy getting starts when he's playing well like he is, but Sacco, McLean, or even Giguere needs to keep Varly's confidence up!  Remember how quickly Craig Anderson's stint in Colorado went south?  The difference between Andy and Varly is that the Avs did not give up 2 draft picks to get Andy.  As far as Kyle Quincey is concerned, are his days in Denver numbered?  He's been the Avs' best defenseman so far this season, but with the emergence of Stefan Elliott, have the Avs coaches and management deemed him expendable?  With his play, he should be able to garner a decent return, and I've been saying all year that the Avs could use some more help at wing.  Or even if they can get a 2012 first round pick back...

Finally, here are my Christmas wishes/New Year's Resolutions for the Avs:

-A healthy Peter Mueller.  The Avs have been fairly lucky thus far regarding injuries.  They have not lost any key players for an extended amount of time with the exception of Mueller.  It would be sad to see a player with his potential forced out of the league so young, but if he can finally shake his concussion issues, he can still be a player.


-Wins in the division.  Like I said, if the Avs hope to make the playoffs, they have to be good within the division!

Monday, December 5, 2011


Colorado Avalanche Ryan O'Reilly Pumps

In mid November, the Colorado Avalanche embarked on an 8-game homestand, the longest in team history.  The Avs started it with an underwhelming 2-3 record and all signs were pointing to continued home struggles for the Burgundy and Blue.  However, in large part due to the player nicknamed "Factor," the Avs rattled off three straight wins to conclude the home stretch.  This three-game winning streak the Avs are riding is the team's longest winning streak since their five-game streak back in October and the first time all season the team has won more than one consecutive game at home.

How good has Ryan O'Reilly been of late?  Over the past three games, Factor has scored 4 goals, 3 assists, and is a plus-7.  This does not even include the shootout game-winner against St. Louis.  He has also earned the #1 start of the game the past two games and was the #2 star the game before that.  This is by and large the best offensive strech of O'Reilly's young career.  Quite often, phrases like "wise beyond his years," "rink rat," and "work ethic" are used to describe the 20-year-old centerman.  Matt Duchene was the Avs' prize of the 2009 draft, after being taken 3rd overall and he has lived up to his billing.  He is by far the Avs' flashiest player and is very explosive and creative with the puck.  Duchene is the guy who is going to put up highlight reel goals for years to come. 

With the 32nd pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, the Detroit Red Wings select...Landon Ferraro.  With that, the Avs management excitedly went to the podium and selected the player they were hoping would still be available.  While Duchene came into camp with a pretty good chance at making the team, especially after the retirement of longtime captain and top center, Joe Sakic, pretty much no one expected the 2nd round pick to stick with the big club.  In fact, O'Reilly was the first non-first rounder to immediately make the jump to the NHL since Patrice Bergeron did it with the Bruins in 2003.

Throughout his first two NHL seasons, O'Reilly became known as a hard-working penalty killing center and a solid defensive forward.  However, this year, he has spent the majority of his time on a line with 2011's 2nd overall pick, Gabriel Landeskog and recently received new captain Milan Hejduk on his right wing.  O'Reilly has used these new weapons to flex his offensive muscles and has already accumulated 21 points in 27 games.  In each of his first two seasons, O'Reilly posted 26 points in 81 and 74 games respectively.  Needless to say, Factor is on pace to clearly surpass his previous season's offensive output, probably even before Christmas.

O'Reilly experienced a very scary moment last season, in which he lost an edge and went what appeared to be head first into the boards very hard.  Very fortunately, O'Reilly only experienced a shoulder injury that just kept him out a couple of weeks.  You certainly never like seeing a guy being taken off the ice on a stretcher, especially a 19-year-old kid whose whole career is in front of him.  There are plenty of cases in the NHL and sports regarding head and neck injuries and Factor is very lucky that he avoided this!

Can Factor keep up this fervent pace?  Probably not.  It is unrealistic to expect any player to continue scoring at over a 2 PPG pace, but O'Reilly's hard work, new-found confidence, and inspired teammates will certainly provide him with opportunities to continue to succeed.  Factor may not be the most talented player in the NHL or even on the Avs, but his passion for the game is quickly becoming legend and his leadership despite his young age have many people in Avalanche Country calling for him to wear the "C" when Milan Hejduk hangs them up.  Paul Stastny suffered a torso injury last night and if he misses any time, O'Reilly will be counted on to continue to produce like a top center.  Over in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins' top stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both missed significant time in 2011, but the Penguins were able to stay competitive due to the emergence of their "3rd line" center, Jordan Staal.  While Staal certainly differs from O'Reilly in size and probably overall skill (Staal was a #2 overall pick), they are both centers who can be the next great 2-way players in the game.  Do not be surprised to see both these names being talked about for the Selke in the near future.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention the play of Semyon Varlamov.  As I've mentioned before, he is probably the most scrutinized player on the Avs roster, as goalies often are.  Varly, by no fault of his own, also carries the burden of the eventual 1st round pick the Caps will receive.  With Giggy's three straight starts, there was talk of him usurping the #1 job from Varly.  However, once Varly got his shot to get back between the pipes, his play has been stellar.  He has allowed 2 goals or fewer in 6 straight games and has given the Avs a chance to win in all of these games.  His save % has risen and his GAA has fallen.  While I am still of the mindset that the Avs should employ a full-time goalie coach for the the 23-year-old Russian, Varly certainly seems to be playing with confidence now. 

Finally, with these three consecutive wins in the books, the Avs cannot take their foot off the gas as we have so frustratingly seen them do too many times so far this season.  Right now, we are exactly a .500 team and sit in 12th place in the Western Conference.  However, with 27 points, we are only 2 points behind the teams tied for 8th place.  One more win and the Avs will be right back in the playoff picture.  Three divisional road games coming up.  Yeah, it's only early December, but consistency and momentum are certainly things this young team needs to keep up.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Matterhorn

I thought that was apropos considering the roller coaster ride the Avs have been on of late.  There have certainly been flashes of brilliance and promising wins like Giguere's 3-0 shutout of Dallas and the Avs' first divisional win of the season over Edmonton, 5-2.  However, these promising wins were followed by flat, uninspired performances like a 4-1 loss to San Jose and a 3-1 loss to Dallas.  In fact, the Avs have not won 2 consecutive games since beating Montreal and Toronto on October 15th and 17th respectively.  Obviously, this has to change if the Avs want to put themselves in position to make the playoffs.  In the wins the Avs have earned, including last night's beat down of future hall-of-fame goalie, Martin Brodeur and the Devils, the Avs have looked like a very impressive, complete team.  However, in the losses, they come out flat, make costly mistakes and the offense never kicks it into anything beyond 2nd gear.

As I've previously addressed, I think the goaltending and defensive corps of the Avs is solid, especially since bringing up Stefan Elliott, who should have been on the roster since opening night.  Elliott's call-up to the Avs was made possible by a groin injury to Erik Johnson, who may return as soon as tomorrow.  After sitting 3 games while Giguere was in net, Semyon Varlamov seems to be back on his game.  He has a GAA of 1.75 and a Save % of .939 over his last 4 starts and has gotten his Save % on the year back up to .901.  When EJ does return, Sacco will have to decide which other defenseman (in addition to Hunwick) will be a healthy scratch.  My guess is Ryan O'Byrne.  I think that EJ will benefit greatly from having the exciting, young Elliott on the blue line with him.  Elliott has 2 goals and 1 assist in his first 3 games and has a quick, deceptive wrist shot from the point.  The Avs' PP and EJ especially, have suffered from not having Peter Mueller man the point on the PP.  Guys like Joakim Lindstrom and Matt Duchene are not PP point men.  However, a PP blue line of EJ and Elliott could really open things up.  PKs will have to respect the shot of Elliott, which will free up time and space for EJ to unload his slap shot.  Not having Elliott up until now is the single biggest reason EJ does not have a goal on the season.

In the games where the Avs only score a goal or two or get shutout, it is clear that they still could use some help at the forward position.  Rene Bourque, Zach Parise, Jason Spezza, and Bobby Ryan have all been rumored to be on the trading block, it's just a matter of what the Avs would have to give up to acquire one of these talents.  There are a handful of players who are untouchable (Duchene, Landeskog, Varlamov, O'Reilly), but the Avs do have organizational depth at defense and goalie that could be used to acquire a proven winger.  I would put Erik Johnson, Stefan Elliott, and Duncan Siemens in the untouchable category, but current Lake Erie defenseman, Tyson Barrie is highly touted and plays a similar style game to Elliott.  He could be a big piece in a trade.  The Avs also have the top scouted North American and European goaltenders of the 2010 NHL draft in Calvin Pickard and Sami Aittokallio.  One of them could certainly be used as trade bait, especially if Semyon Varlamov is in fact the answer in net for years to come.  Of current Avalanche players, guys like Ryan Wilson, Kyle Quincey, and David Jones have put up respectable numbers so far this year and could garner respectable return.  There have also been rumors of a Paul Stastny trade, but I don't like that call at this time.  First of all, I would only trade Stastny if Joey Hishon, the Avs 1st round pick of 2010 is ready to emerge as a top NHL center and to my knowledge, he has not played since last season due to a concussion.  Avs fans have certainly become aware of the impact concussions can have on one's career.  Moreover, Stastny has not performed up to his ability yet this season.  When a player is underperforming is not the time to trade him.  You ideally want to trade a player when he's playing well, in order to get the most for him.  If the Avs could get a guy like Bobby Ryan for Ryan Wilson and Tyson Barrie, I would pull the trigger on that deal in a heartbeat.

Over the course of the past four days, the NHL has had a bit of a coaching carousel.  On Monday, the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals relieved their head coaches of their duties and late last night, the Anaheim Ducks fired their head coach and replaced him with Bruce Boudreau, the former head coach of the Caps, whose unemployment lasted for only about 70 hours.  Is turnaround like that a good sign for our economy?  I would have liked the Avs to make a run for Boudreau, who made a name for himself dropping F-bomb during last years 24/7 HBO documentary.  While that won't happen now, Randy Carlyle, the recently fired former Ducks coach is currently looking for work.  He led the Ducks to a Cup win in 2007 and is known to coach gritty and tough teams.  Can you imagine Jan Hejda, Ryan O'Byrne, and Erik Johnson with some grit instilled into their games?  That could be the key for EJ to finally develop into the dominant defenseman the world has been waiting for.

One casualty thus far has been winger Joakim Lindstrom.  He was waived by the team the other day, in a move signifying that Stefan Elliott is here to stay.  Lindstrom had a great Avalanche debut, scoring 2 goals, but tapered off very quickly after that.  At the time he was waived, he had 5 points in 16 games and was a minus-9.  For whatever reason, the Avs European, specifically Swedish scouting just isn't there.  Lindstrom joins the list of European imports who have failed to really make an impact with the Avs.  Per Ledin, Jaroslav Hlinka, and Jonas Holos are a few others.  While Gabriel Landeskog is of Swedish nationality, he played juniors in Canada, making him a de facto North American prospect.  Even Peter Forsberg was drafted by the Flyers and not us.  How do the Red Wings end up with guys like Lidstrom, Zetterberg, and Datsyuk, while we get the aforementioned former Avs?

Note to the Colorado Avalanche:
-Trade for a top winger (Bobby Ryan would be ideal)
-Bring in Randy Carlyle
-Bolster up the European scouting
-Hire a full-time goalie coach (even if it's simply making Kirk McLean a full-time guy)
-This goes without saying, but WIN and WIN consistently!!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Quarter Awards

The Colorado Avalanche have 21 games in the books.  Just about a quarter of the way through an 82-game season.  So far, it has been the tale of two teams; the team that got off to a red-hot start, winning 5 straight on the road and 6 out of their first 8 overall and the team that has struggled ever since.  Here is my analysis of the first quarter of the 2011-2012 season:

MVP: Matt Duchene - After another slow start in October with only 2 goals and 6 points, Dutchy has come alive in November, scoring 7 goals and taking over the team lead in scoring with 16 points.   Now skating with confidence, Duchene is the Avs' best player.

Biggest disappointment: Chuck Kobasew - The former 1st round pick signed a 2-year deal with the Avs to provide secondary scoring.  Through 20 games (he was a healthy scratch in Minnesota last week, against his former team), Kobasew has accumulated an underwhelming 4 points.  With Mueller out of the lineup, Kobasew was given a shot to be a top line winger.  He has not delivered and has recently seen himself on the 4th line, or in the press box.

Biggest key to success: Semyon Varlamov - Varly came out of the gate flying.  Racking up wins and very respectable numbers.  He has struggled of late and has watched Giguere in net the past 3 games from the bench.  Varlamov will get his chance to rebound though, and as he goes, the Avs will go.

Biggest reason for optimism: Gabriel Landeskog - The #2 overall pick has lived up to his billing.  While rookies are often gun shy, Landy leads the team in shots, hits, and is 5th in goals and points.  Look out ladies and gentlemen, this kid is the real deal. 

Most pleasant surprise:  Shane O'Brien - Over the summer, the Avs signed the journeyman, maligned defenseman to add size and grit to their blue line.  SOB has proven his worth as an asset on the ice and as a leader and teammate.

Change that needs to occur:  Coaching.  Often in professional sports, especially the NHL, coaches are the scapegoats, plain and simple.  However, after 2+ seasons, it is clear that Joe Sacco is not getting the most out of his young, talented team.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Gettin' Jiggy wit It

Gonna keep this one short.  Thought the Avs played their best, most complete game of the season tonight.  The offense produced enough to win, the defense was solid all game long, and Giguere was calm, cool, and collected as he earned his 1st shutout in an Avs sweater and 35th of his great career.  Jiggy didn't have to make the spectacular, highlight reel saves, which means that he played a very solid positional game.  He made the timely saves and the defense was good clearing loose pucks and traffic in front of him.  Glad TJ Galiardi picked up an assist.  I like the work he's done all season and I think that if he keeps it up, results will start to accumulate for him on the score sheet.  The cliche of "your best players have to be your best players" rang true as Paul Stastny, who was invisible last night, gave the Avs their insurance goal and Duchene skated well all night and clinched the game with an ENG at the end.

I like the new line of Duchene with Landeskog and Hejduk on the wings.  Tonight was the first game of the season in which the OWL line was separated and the new combos paid off.  Like I've said from preseason, Landy and Dutchy could be absolute magic together if they click!

For some reason, the team seems to play better in front of Jiggy.  Before the phrase "goaltending controversy" gets recklessly thrown around, I'm going to say this, there is none.  Varlamov is still the #1 netminder here in Colorado despite Giguere's two consecutive starts in which he's had a GAA of 0.50 and a shutout.  I am all for riding Giguere, the hot goalie during this stretch, but at the end of the day, Semyon Varlamov is the goalie that the Avs are banking on now and into the future and it is his team.  A very classy Giguere even said as much, “The future of this team belongs to Varly, there’s no doubt about that.” 

The Avs had a big win against the Islanders last week, only to follow it up with three disappointing losses.  They desperately need to build on the momentum as another very good Pacific Division team comes to town Sunday in the Sharks.


The Colorado Avalanche made several big acquisitions last summer including goalies Semyon Varlamov, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and defenseman Jan Hejda.  Perhaps the most underrated of the Avs' offseason acquisitions has been the signing of defenseman Shane O'Brien.  Last year, it seemed as if Joe Sacco and Greg Sherman fell in love with undersized, puck-moving defensemen as 3 of their top 6 defensemen were John-Michael Liles, Kyle Cumiskey, and Matt Hunwick.  One look at the Avs' defensive statistics from last year and it is clear that this model did not work.  Liles and Cumiskey are now gone and Hunwick has been a healthy scratch in every game this season except one.  Ryan O'Byrne, Erik Johnson, Jan Hejda, and O'Brien were the answers to making the Avs defense bigger and more physical.  Of course, the gold standard for physical, mean defensemen in an Avalanche uniform is former captain, Adam Foote, who retired after last year.  While this year's defense is certainly more physical that last year's, O'Brien may be the one player who has the mean streak of Adam Foote in him.  While O'Brien earned a reputation for taking bad penalties earlier in his career, he has not hurt the Avs by being in the box, despite being 2nd on the team in PIM.  The Avs are O'Brien's 5th NHL team and he also earned a reputation in Vancouver as being a partier and was even suspended by coach Alain Vigneault for showing up late to team meetings.  To my knowledge, there has been nothing negative about O'Brien's attitude or behavior here in Colorado and if anything has occurred, it has been completely keep out of the public eye.  If anything, he seems to be an exemplary player.

On the ice, O'Brien leads the team with a plus-2 on the season to date and has registered 6 assists.  He's shown a bit of offensive flare, making creative moves to gain the offensive zone and has been solid in his own end.  He also seems very much like a team guy.  When Gabriel Landeskog took an illegal elbow from Andy Sutton, which ended up costing Sutton 5 games, O'Brien was the guy right there to fight Sutton and defend the Avs' prized rookie.  He has also stepped up as a vocal leader on the club, rallying the troops when down by 3 against the Islanders, in an eventual 4-3 comeback overtime victory.

Like many current Avs players, O'Brien has also made himself more available to fans and the community via Twitter (@ShaneOBrien55).  He retweeted a post of mine earlier today to help spread the word for the Avs Do What You Can canned food drive tonight at Pepsi Center and also fielded a question of mine as well as several others in the latest installment of the Avs Mailbag:

What do you think about the great state of Colorado? And how have you been spending your time aside from playing hockey?Joey, Westminster, CO
It’s been great. Denver’s a pretty laid back city and there are a lot of good people here. It’s sunny everyday here and it’s nice to wake up every morning with the mountains in the background. It’s a great place to live.

I do a lot of relaxing. It’s such a long season. It’s a grind. So anytime you get some time off to relax and save up some energy, you need to take advantage of that opportunity. I’ve been out in the city a little bit and have gotten to meet some people. It’s a fun city.

While Shane O'Brien has a ways to go before we can dub him the next Adam Foote, he has been good in his first 19 games in an Avalanche uniform and has helped the defensive corps to improve.  Hopefully, this is a good sign for things to come for both SOB and the Avs D.

For the full Mailbag, visit:|COL|home

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On The Hot Seat?

Since the Avs' late season collapse last season, which earned them 29th place in the final standings, fans in Avalanche nation have been calling for #firesacco on Twitter, message boards, and other media platforms.  My thought at the time, was that it was a bit premature to "sack Sacco."  Let's not forget that in his rookie year as an NHL coach, the Colorado Avalanche, who were picked by many to be a lottery team, surprised fans and experts alike and earned a berth into the Stanley Cup playoffs.  They gave the highly favored Sharks a run for their money before being eliminated in 6.  With that season, Joe Sacco also earned himself a nomination for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year.  Sacco is currently in the final year of his 3-year contract.  He's had one good year, one bad year, and this year.  If the Avs do not make the playoffs, Sacco is almost certain not to return next year.  The million dollar question now is if the Avs continue to struggle, do you let him finish out the season or relieve him of his duties now to try to salvage the season and bring in a fresh face behind the bench?

In seems that in the NHL more so than other sports, coaches are on an extremely short leash, especially during the season itself.  Davis Payne of St. Louis has already been the first head coaching casualty this season.  Often times, it seems that coaches are a convenient scapegoat for underperforming or struggling teams.  It's a lot easier to replace one head coach than it is to replace 23 players.  Do coaching changes, especially the ones midseason work?  Sometimes.  Look at Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  He was brought in as head coach in February 2009 to replace Michel Therrien, whose team had been struggling and was in danger of missing the playoffs.  Not only did Bylsma turn the team around and got them into the playoffs, they won the Stanley Cup that same season.  Conversely, right here in Denver, long-time head coach Mike Shanahan was fired after the 2008 season and his replacement, Josh McDaniels, despite getting off to a promising start, turned out to be a complete disaster for the organization.

Coming into this season, I was fully prepared to let Sacco ride out this season as his make-or-break year.  Thing were looking good early on after the Avs' fantastic 5-game road trip, but things have gone south since then.  Instead of translating their road success over to home ice, it seems like the Avs have brought their home struggles to the road as well.  The once 6-0 road team has now gone 0-3-1 in their last 4 road games and still only has a 2-6-0 record at home.  Has Coach Sacco "lost" the team?  You could certainly make the argument that he has, especially after last night's meltdown in the Steel City.  Ironically, Sacco always preaches playing a full 60 minutes, but I have seen very few games this season that would qualify.  The 1-0 shutout in Boston, the 7-1 stomping in Ottawa, and the first home win vs. the Kings are probably the Avs' only "complete" games this season.  The last 3 have been anything but.  Against the Islanders and Flames, the Avs gave them the first 2 periods and then tried to fight back in the 3rd.  It worked against New York, but not Calgary.  Last night, the Avs "started the game on time" and had a great 1st period.  Unfortunately, a couple bad calls and a couple bad breaks gave the Penguins all they needed to completely take over and dominate the Avs in the 3rd.

The Avs are a young and talented team and need a coach who can get the most out of them.  It seems that all too often, the Avs fall into the cliches of a young, inexperienced team like the proverbial roller coaster ride, being "scared" of tough, veteran teams like Detroit, and not having guys step up during crunch time.  Having a veteran leader as captain like Milan Hejduk will help, but ultimately, this is the coach's responsibility.  If Sacco could truly get his team to "start the game on time," and also "play a full 60 minutes," every game, the Avs would be well over .500 instead of below it for the first time since opening night.  The Avs also need a full-time goalie coach.  Badly.  Semyon Varlamov started out the season on fire, but the Avs' mistakes in front of him have caught up and his play has declined as well.  Earlier, it seemed the Avs were losing games, especially the home ones, 3-1, 2-1, etc.  Now, Varly is struggling to make that one timely save that gets the team back into the game.  It's as if he's lost a bit of faith in the team in front of him and has subsequently lost his confidence as well. 

The Avs play tomorrow in Minnesota and then have an 8-game homestand.  No question, Sacco's job will depend on how the team does during this stretch.  Obviously, the 2-6-0 record does not look good going into this homestand and if Coach Joe Sacco does not find a way for his team to win games at home, he could find himself in the unemployment line very soon.

Monday, November 14, 2011

This Is Your Captain


On November 14th, 2011, the Colorado Avalanche named Milan Hejduk the third captain in team history and 10th if you count Nordiques captains.  Hejduk becomes the first European player to don the "C" in an Avs sweater and the first since Peter Stastny counting Quebec captains.  He is also the first right wing to be named captain.

Hejduk was drafted in the 4th round, 87th overall by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1994 NHL Draft.  He is currently in his 13th NHL season, all with the Avs and is also the Avs most senior player at the age of 35.  He had a very good rookie year in 1998-99 scoring 48 points and earning a nomination for the Calder Trophy, which was ultimately won by Avalanche teammate, Chris Drury.  Hejduk was an integral part of the 2001 Stanley Cup win, recording 23 points in as many games.  Hejduk is also the last remaining member on the Avs of the 2001 Stanley Cup winning team and only the 2nd current Avs player to have won a Cup along with J-S Giguere.  Statistically, his best regular season came in 2002-03, when he scored 50 goals, 98 points and won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal-scorer and the Bud Light Plus/Minus Award along with Peter Forsberg.  Hejduk has been a model of consistency, scoring at least 20 goals in every season since 1999-00.  Hejduk has also been a 3-time NHL All-Star, and Olympic Gold Medalist in 1998 with the Czech Republic, and a Bronze Medalist in the 2006 Olympics and 1998 World Championships.

Hejduk was previously a permanent alternate captain since 2008-09 and will bring a quiet, lead-by-example style to the captaincy, much like long-time captain, Joe Sakic.  More vocal, "rah rah" leaders would have been guys like previous captain Adam Foote and Erik Johnson.  Milan Hejduk is the right choice.  On a team full of young talent (Stats, Edge, Dutchy, Factor, and Landy) Hejduk has and will continue to provide veteran leadership and experience.  His resume speaks for itself and he has played alongside the great leaders like Sakic, Foote, Roy, Forsberg, Bourque, and Blake.  What Hejy learned from playing with those guys is invaluable and he is the right guy to impart his knowledge to the young Avs at this time.  The question that remains is who will wear the 2nd alternate captain's "A."  Paul Stastny will almost certainly continue to wear the "A" and my guess is that it will continue to rotate as it has all season thus far.  Erik Johnson, Cody McLeod, and Jay McClement have alternated, in that order, all season long, with the exception of Saturday's game vs. Calgary, in which McClement was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game.  If you would have asked me a week ago, I would have said Erik Johnson would be a slam dunk for the 2nd permanent alternate captain position, but now, I'm not so sure.  EJ did wear the "A" for the 2nd straight game on Saturday, but his play and ice time might indicate a trip to Sacco's doghouse.  Edge was a minus-2 (minus-9 on the season) and only recorded 17:40 TOI.  Kyle Quincey, conversely logged 25:15 and was out there at the very end during the Avs' 6-4, while EJ was on the bench.  Prior to the season starting, many people were calling for EJ to be the next captain, including Adrian Dater.  Edge has been maligned for his play thus far with his aforementioned minus-9, some costly turnovers, and the fact that he has yet to score a goal this season.  However, Johnson does have a team-high 8 power play assists (which don't help his +/-) and still has the best point shot since Rob Blake.  Now, has Johnson been the second coming of Blake that some, including Joe Sakic have predicted?  No, not to this point, but let's not throw this kid under the bus just yet.  Keep in mind, Johnson is still only 23-years-old.  They say it takes defensemen 4-5 years to fully develop their NHL game and EJ is only in his 4th NHL season.  Being a former #1 overall pick, Johnson has had tremendous expectations placed on his shoulders his entire career, and even since his trade to Colorado, he has been billed as the "anchor" on the Avs blue line.  Sure, the minus-9 is not good and he does need to work on cutting down the turnovers (Varly and Jiggy would appreciate that, I'm sure), but give Edge time and he can be the staple on the Avs' blue line.  Another silver lining for EJ is that Chris Stewart, the other big name in the trade, only has 2 goals, 3 assists, and minus-3 so far this season.

The next question will of course be who will succeed Milan Hejduk as captain.  At 35, Hejduk certainly will not have the captaincy tenure that Joe Sakic did.  Much like Adam Foote, Hejduk will enjoy wearing the "C" now until he retires.  Again, I expect the usual suspects to emerge when that time comes.  Stastny, Johnson, Duchene, and O'Reilly.  For the "veterans" Stastny and Johnson, their play and number will determine how much of a shot they have at the "C" when the time comes.  While they are certainly staples of the Avs forward corps and defense respectively, they have both come under criticism for their play.  If they step up though, they could be serious contenders for the captaincy.  Duchene and O'Reilly have yet to even wear an "A" in their NHL careers.  Duchene is the most talented and flashy scorer on the Avs roster and arguably the face of the franchise even today.  O'Reilly, a known rink-rat and workhorse, has shown veteran leadership and is often described as "wise beyond his years" at only the age of 20.  Both of these guys could emerge as contenders, depending on their maturity both on and off the ice.  Another candidate could very realistically be Gabriel LandeskogLandy's racked up 8 points, is a plus-2, and while rookies are often gun shy, Landeskog is 6th in the entire NHL in shots with 61 and is tied with Ryan O'Byrne for the team lead in hits with 42.  Gun shy, young Landeskog is not.  Landeskog was also the first European-born player to be named the captain of his junior team, the Kitchener Rangers, so he has the leadership abilities as well.  Do not be surprised to see the "C" on #92's sweater when Hejduk hangs them up.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself a big.  We are entering the era of a well-deserving, Captain Milan Hejduk.  May the Duke enjoy much success during his time with the "C"!

"I'm honored to be named Avalanche captain," Hejduk, 35, said in a statement. "From my rookie season here in Colorado, I have always felt a great sense of pride wearing this sweater and being a part of this organization. I am looking forward to this added responsibility."

Read more: Avalanche names Milan Hejduk captain - The Denver Post
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Friday, November 4, 2011

Every Day I'm Shuffling

Coach Joe Sacco has once again shuffled the Avs' top lines in hopes to restore some offense into the lineup.  In their 5 losses, the Avs have averaged exactly 1 goal a game.  The first month of the season has seen an Avalanche team with solid goaltending and a much improved defensive corps, but whose offense has been inconsistent.  Surprisingly, the Avs are 2nd in the NHL in the power play.

Tonight's lineup will see Matt Duchene moved to left wing with Paul Stastny at center and Milan Hejduk at right wing.  There is certainly plenty of talent and skill on this line as all three players have been NHL All-Stars.  Both Duchene and Stastny have been much maligned early this season due to their output of 6 and 7 points respectively and a combined 4 goals between them through 11 games.  Can and should Dutchy and Stats be better?  Absolutely.  There are always the cliches that "your best players have to be your best players" and all that, but I do feel that these two do not deserve as much blame as has been put upon them.  Sure, Stastny and Duchene are not yet Sakic and Forsberg, Crosby and Malkin, or Toews and Kane, but I do feel that they are both top NHL center icemen and they are both capable of leading an NHL team's offense.  However, with inconsistent an unreliable wing men on their lines, defenses have been able to focus on Duchene and Stastny without worrying about too much of a threat from wingers like Chuck Kobasew and Joakim Lindstrom.  With that said, there will be no excuse from the new, stacked line of 9, 26, and 23.

Defenses will certainly have to respect the talent of the aforementioned line and those players' still certainly should be able to overcome teams' top defenses.  This could also benefit the OWL line (O'Reilly, Winnik, and Landeskog), the line that has unquestionably been the Avs most consistent.  With teams' top defenses forced to respect the "Dish Line" (DSH), this could open up more opportunities for this already productive line.  The third line tonight will be Lindstrom-Galiardi-Jones.  I like this line as well.  I'm glad to see Galiardi out of the doghouse (for now) and getting a chance to be a top-line guy and even a chance to play at his natural position of center.  He has speed, grit, and scoring capabilities.  Hopefully he can put these talents together and get some results on the scoresheet!  Jones can certainly be a scoring winger and Lindstrom may not get the point production he did last year in Sweden, but he can still be an effective NHL winger.  This line has potential as well.

Tonight, the Avs are sure to face a tough test in the Dallas Stars.  Dallas has been red-hot to start the season.  They are 8-3 overall and hold a 5-1 record on home ice.  The Avs will look to improve upon their impressive 6-1 road record tonight as well.  After tonight however, the Avs play 11 of their next 14 games at home including an 8-game homestand at the end of November into December.  One thing is for sure, the Avs MUST improve at home.  1-4 at home is not good and if the Avs do not get better on home ice, their impressive 5-0 road trip last month, will be meaningless.  Hopefully, the Avs will continue their road success tonight and going forward and become a team that wins at home also!

Monday, October 31, 2011


So, if you recall, I said before the season started, that TJ Galiardi should be a top-line winger.  That notion was further reinforced with the re-injury of Peter Mueller.  It was looking good for Mules during the preseason and he played the team's first 3 games, albeit without getting on the scoresheet.  However, Mueller has mysteriously been absent ever since.  The Avs are of course being mum on his condition, but one can only surmise that the concussion symptoms that have been plaguing Mueller for the last year and a half have returned.  The contract the Avs gave Mueller appears to be a gamble lost.  Don't get me wrong, I like Mueller.  He was fantastic in the 15 games he played in 2010 before suffering the first concussion.  At this point however, the Avs cannot rely on him.  Period.  It's sad.  The guy is a former 8th overall pick and is only 23-years-old, and his career is in real jeopardy.  Another gamble the Avs appear to have lost is by not signing Tomas Fleischmann.  Mules and Flash have probably been Matt Duchene's favorite wingers ever, but the Avs opted not to sign Fleischmann after his bout with pulmonary emboli last season.  Flash is a good player, but I do feel the 4-year, $18 million contract he received in Florida was an overpay.  However, if the Avs would have signed him when he was still restricted, that would been a moot point.

Anyway, back to Gali and the current Avalanche players.  After 8 games as a bottom-liner and 2 as a healthy scratch, Gali finally got a shot at left wing on a top line and the Avs came away with their first home win of the season.  Was Gali instrumental in the win?  Not on the scoresheet, but I still feel that his presence creates balance amongst all four lines.  The Landy-O'Reilly-Winnik line was once again untouched and continues to thrive.  Landy recorded an assist and the line was solid as a whole.  I like Jones-Duchene-Lindstrom.  In David Jones, Duchene finally has a scoring winger who can take some of the pressure off of Duchene.  Duchene has been much maligned so far this season, but I still feel that his lack of production has been due to his lack of capable wingers.  When Duchene was centering McLeod and McClement, defensed could just shut down Duchene without having to worry about much of a scoring threat from either of the McCs.  With Jones, Duchene can make moves and defenses cannot cheat toward Duchene because Jones is a very dangerous scorer as well.  Not sure Lindstrom is the long-term answer on the other side, but for now, he's the best option.  The line of Galiardi-Stastny-Hejduk is a great line as well.  Gali, with his speed, grit, and new-found size, can be the power forward the top lines have been lacking.  If he uses all of his assets, he can create havoc down low in the crease and along the boards and free up great scoring chances for the talents of Stats and Hejy.  I hope Sacco keeps these lines together.  I also would not be opposed to swapping Gali for Lindy and seeing how that goes, but the core of Jones-Duchene and Stastny-Hejduk looks very promising.

If there have been studs and duds so far for the Avs this season, I think most people would agree that Semyon Varlamov has been the team's MVP.  His start out of the gate is reminiscent of Craig Anderson's two years ago.  Every game he's been in, he has given the Avs a chance to win.  In his 3 losses, the Avs have averaged under a goal a game.  The defense has also been much improved.  Quincey is having a renaissance year and Wilson has been hard-hitting and defensively solid.  While many people would point to Duchene and Stastny's numbers so far and call them duds.  I disagree.  Sure, it would be nice if they had a bit more in terms of points, but I think they've both been fine so far.  The lack of wingers, as I've addressed before, is the more concerning part.  My duds would include Chuck Kobasew, who has proven to be a good 4th liner, but not a top-line forward whatsoever.  With Duchene's public criticism, it felt very good to see him rip the game-winner past Jonathan Quick last night.  Duchene came in with speed, used Doughty as a screen, and shot it between his legs top shelf on Quick.  An absolute beauty of a shot!  Hopefully now that the Avs got the proverbial monkey off their backs, they can start to accumulate the wins at home!
Colorado Avalanche Center Matt Duchene Celebrates

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Next Ones?

Since John Elway and Patrick Roy called it a career, there has been a revolving door of Denver Broncos' quarterbacks and Colorado Avalanche goaltenders.  We've had teases of potential in Jake Plummer, Jose Theodore, Jay Cutler, and Craig Anderson.  With the latter two especially, there was talk that the Broncos/Avalanche had found their long-term solutions.  However, after their brief glimpses of brilliance, they quickly became maligned and shipped out of town.  With their immediate successors, Kyle Orton and Brian Elliott clearly not the long-term solutions, the Broncos and Avalanche both made bold offseason moves by acquiring Tim Tebow and Semyon Varlamov respectively.

Are these players the answers to the questions and controversies surrounding the quarterback and goaltender positions these two franchises have been dealing with for the better part of the last decade?  We shall see.  In Tebow's case, he instantly became the face of the franchise and the entire makeup of Denver sports.  A 2nd round pick in many experts' opinions, the Broncos traded up to take Tebow late in the 1st.  Although the coach and management who drafted Tebow are now gone, Tebow remains and has recently become the starting quarterback after usurping the position from Kyle Orton for the 2nd time in as many years.  While Tebow enjoyed a dramatic 4th quarter comeback win against the Dolphins last week, serious questions remain about his ability to become a legitimate NFL quarterback.  Tebow is a proven winner, dating back to his high school success and his Heisman and NCAA Championship days at the University of Florida, and certainly no one can question his heart and work ethic, but some Broncos fans and Tebow loyalists seem blind to his obvious weaknesses as a quarterback and NFL player.  Can his mechanics and NFL instincts develop to make him a complete quarterback?  That question is about as polarizing as who will win the 2012 presidential election.  To be honest, I'm still not sure how to feel about him.  Is he a legit NFL quarterback now?  Certainly not.  Can he be?  Who knows.  Love him or hate him, he certainly has made the Denver Broncos more relevant than they have been since #7 was tossing the rock.  Never have I seen a quarterback, let alone an athlete in any sport, gain the attention, notoriety, and drama with only 4 NFL starts under his belt.

On July 1, 2011, the Colorado Avalanche were rumored and expected to sign veteran goalie and former NHL all-star Tomas Vokoun, who was set to leave the Florida Panthers for free agency.  However, in a surprise move, the Avs acquired Semyon Varlamov from the Washington Capitals in exchange for their 2012 1st round pick and a conditional 2nd round pick.  Much like the drafting of Tebow, this trade was surrounded by controversy.  Critics of the trade argued that the Avs paid too steep of a price for a somewhat unproven goalie.  Varlamov, who was the 1st round pick of the Caps in 2006 and 23rd overall, boasted impressive stats in his 3 seasons with Washington, 2.39 GAA and .917 save % in the regular season and 2.49 and .915 in the playoffs.  However, Varly only accumulated 59 career regular season games during his 3 year tenure with the Caps due to injuries and goaltending controversies with Washington's other goalies.  The Avs could have signed Vokoun and given up nothing.  However, Vokoun, despite being a very good goalie, is 35, and approaching the twilight of his career.  While he certainly would have been a capable #1 goalie for the Avs this year and maybe for a couple more after that, he would not have been a long-term solution.  At only 23, Varlamov has the potential to be the Avs' #1 goalie for many years to come.  Ultimately, the trade will be validated on the 1st round draft pick the Caps will receive next summer.  If the Avs are a lottery team like they have been in 2 of the last 3 seasons, the Caps will have won.  If the Avs are a playoff team and the 1st round pick turns out to be a mid or late round one and Varly turns out to be the real deal, the Avs will have accomplished what they set out to do.

Right now, Tim Tebow is the biggest sports story in the country, let alone the city of Denver.  Every move he makes on and off the field is a front page headline.  Varlamov actually might benefit from this.  Since the spotlight is clearly on the Broncos' QB, Varly will get to enjoy flying under the radar a bit.  Granted, he's been nothing short of superb during his first 6 Avalanche starts.  He's 4-2 with 1 shutout and in his 2 losses, he can hardly be blamed as the Avs scored 1 combined goal in both those games.  In an 82-game season however, Varly is bound to have a bad game.  When he does, he will receive a lot less criticism from the media and the Colorado fans than when Tebow has 1 bad throw.  Varly certainly does not lack talent and skill.  This made him one of the highest drafted goalies in 2006.  However, a concern about Varlamov is his durability, both physically and mentally.  His injury problems in Washington are disconcerting to some and it was rumored that he was considering leaving the NHL and going back to his native Russia after failing to secure the Caps' starting job.  A move that, had it happened, may have cost him his life as the Russian team who had his rights was the tragic Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, who died in the terrible plane crash in September.  Needless to say, both Tebow and Varlamov will have to overcome adversity to prove that they are capable of becoming a #1 quarterback and #1 goalie respectively.

Tim Tebow
Work ethic
Ability to inspire others
Proven winner
Passer mechanics
Inability to read NFL defenses

Semyon Varlamov
Injury history
The draft picks given up for him

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Avalanche Player Nicknames

1. Semyon Varlamov - Varly
3. Ryan O'Byrne - O-B, Obi-Wan, Burner, Big Sexy
5. Shane O'Brien - SOB, Donut
6. Erik Johnson - EJ, Edge, E-Jo
8. Jan Hejda - Playa (as in Playa Hejda)
9. Matt Duchene - Dutchy, Mighty Matt
12. Kevin Porter - Ports, Portsy
16. Jay McClement - J-Mac
17. Chuck Kobasew - Kobe, Chucky
18. Brandon Yip - Yips, Yippers, Yippie
22. Matt Hunwick - Huddy, Hunny
23. Milan Hejduk - Hejy, The Duke, Chaz
26. Paul Stastny - Stats, Money Bags, Pauly Walnuts
27. Kyle Quincey - Quince, Q, The General, Crash
28. Joakim Lindstrom - Lindy
34. Daniel Winnik - Winnie, Frank
35. Jean-Sebastien Giguere - Jiggy
37. Ryan O'Reilly - Snook, Rhino, Radar, Factor
39. TJ Galiardi - Gali, Big Sexy, Velveeta
40. Mark Olver - Molver, Olvertine
44. Ryan Wilson - Willy, Sauce
54. David Jones - Jonesy, Davy Jones, Bones
55. Cody McLeod - C-Mac, Highlander
88. Peter Mueller - Mules
92. Gabriel Landeskog - Landy, Lando, Ken Doll, Kog

Let me know if I'm missing any!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Road Warriors

After a disappointing loss on opening night to the Detroit Red Wings in which the Avs played well but just could not get a win or a goal, the Avs headed out on a 5-game road trip.  Honestly, I thought that if the Avs won 3 out of the 5 games and earned a winning % of over .500, it would have been a successful trip.  However, the Avs decided to just run the table and sweep all 5 of its opponents.  With all of the great teams the Avs have had over the years, this is the first time that an Avalanche team has won its first 5 road games to start the season.  The 2011-2012 Colorado Avalanche team is already in the history books. 

The first game of the trip was a Columbus Day matinee affair with the defending champion Boston Bruins.  Being the defending champs, the Bruins are the measuring stick for the other 29 teams in the league and the Avs were no exception.  They brought their best defensive and goaltending effort against the champs and skated to a tight 1-0 victory with Semyon Varlamov earning his first shutout in an Avs sweater and veteran Milan Hejduk netting the only goal in the 3rd.  Bruins goalie Tuuka Rask was good, but Varly was one save better.

The next game came against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who, as of this blog, are still seeking their first win of the season.  For most of the game, the Avs looked pretty flat.  Perhaps it was a bit of a hangover after a dramatic first win of the year.  TJ Galiardi scored his first of the season to give the Avs an early lead, but a turnover by Jay McClement gave Jackets captain Rick Nash a goal.  Columbus got another in the 3rd and just as it looked like Columbus was going to get in the win column, former Blue Jacket Jan Hejda took a slap shot from the point that hit a jumping Gabriel Landeskog and beat goalie Steve Mason.  A very timely goal for the Avs rookie!  He became the youngest player to score a goal in Avalanche history and the youngest Swedish-born player to score a goal in NHL history.  While Nash did score in the shootout, Varlamov stopped the other 2 Jackets shooters and Milan Hejduk and Matt Duchene both converted to give the Avs a shootout victory.
Colorado Avalanche's Gabriel Landeskog, Right, Of Sweden, Celebrates His Goal Against The Columbus Blue Jackets With

The next night, the Avs traveled north of the border to face the Ottawa Senators and former Avs goalie Craig Anderson.  I honestly thought Anderson was going to stand on his head against his former squad.  Former Avs player have been known to burn us in the past.  Also, going into that game, the Avs were only averaging 1 goal per game despite being 2-1-0.  That night however, the Avs offense came alive, shellacking Anderson for 7 goals and giving Jean-Sebastien Giguere his first Avalanche victory despite facing only 16 shots.  Landy had a goal and an assist as did Duchene. 

Continuing its Canadian swing on Saturday, the Avs took on the Montreal Canadiens.  Another former Avs goalie, Peter Budaj, now plays for the Habs, but Carey Price was in net against Semyon Varlamov.  Varly played well, but the defense had its worst game in front of him.  Fortunately, the offense continued their momentum from the Ottawa game, scoring another 5 goals.  Another late equalizer by Kyle Quincey gave the Avs the opportunity to turn a loss into a win, which they did with Hejy and Dutchy again converting shootout attempts and Varlamov turning aside both Montreal attempts.  The Avs shooters (Hejduk and Duchene) are a perfect combined 4 for 4 on the season and Varlamov has turned aside 4 out of 5 shots. 

The Avs ended the road swing last night against former defensemen and fan-favorite John-Michael Liles and the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Another close game that required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner as it was tied 2-2 after the 3rd.  However, quickly into OT, Kyle Quincey took a slap shot, which goalie James Reimer made the save, but was unable to control the rebound.  David Jones was at the right place and the right time, picked up the rebound and put it home to secure the Avs 5th win in as many road games.  J-S Giguere picked up his 2nd win of the year against his former team and the goalie who took his starting gig in Toronto last year.

My take on the Avs so far...the team looks good.  Anytime you win 5 out of 6 games, 5 of which coming on the road, you cannot complain about that start!  Varlamov has been solid in each of his 4 starts so far.  If he stays healthy throughout the year, he could certainly solidify himself as a legit #1 goalie in the NHL.  J-S Giguere is a reliable veteran backup.  He does not look as quick as he once did when he was winning Conn Smythes and Stanley Cups in Anaheim, but his positioning is solid and he is the best backup goalie the Avs have had in years, if not ever.  The Avs defense is certainly bigger, stronger, and meaner.  Thus far, the moves to retool the defense seem like good ones.  I like the additions of Jan Hejda and Shane O'Brien.  Hejda brings a veteran presence and solid defense.  O'Brien brings that grit that every team should have on the blue line.  While none of these guys have the leadership of Adam Foote (Edge could potentially grow into that role), the overall size and grit of the D-men is there.  I think Footer would be proud of the Avs new back 6.  The game against Montreal wasn't their best.  O'Brien took some bad penalties, although one was a very weak call and O'Byrne did not have a good game against his former club.  Hunwick has yet to see action this season, which I don't particularly mind, but what Sacco's and Sherman's intentions with him are remain a mystery.  I also can't help but wonder if the Avs will try to ship Ryan Wilson or Kyle Quincey out.  Both of whom have played very well so far, so their trade value will be high and believe both are in the final years of their contracts.  A move of either of these defensemen could pave the way for Stefan Elliott's and/or Tyson Barrie's NHL debuts.  I would like to see Quincey kept and re-signed.  He had probably the 2nd best offensive ability of any Avs defenseman behind Erik Johnson.  Wilson may be expenable.  I like Wilson, and I like the physicality he brings to the game.  Last year, especially when Foote was hurt, Wilson was the Avs most physical defensemen.  Ironically, with the Avs new revamped D, Willy is now the smallest.  And while he still brings his physical game, the Avs brass may determine that he can be moved with guys like O'Brien and Hejda on the blue line.  You never know.  I will stick by my theory that whether it's due to a trade or an injury, Elliott gets the call-up sooner rather than later.

The offense got off to tremendously slow start.  That is obvious by looking at the scores of the first few games.  The best forward line this season pound-for-pound has been the line of rookie Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly, and Daniel Winnik.  This line was put together in camp and played together every regular season to this point.  These three have really clicked and have produced much more than you would expect from a 3rd line, especially one where 2 of the players are not even old enough to drink!  This is good and bad for Landy.  While it's certainly good that he has gelled with O'Reilly and been able to produce, the fact that he has played so well with O'Reilly has virtually eliminated the possibility of him being moved to a top line with either Stastny or Duchene.  Being 18 and being a viable part of the Avs roster, I don't think he really minds.  David Jones was the Avs overtime hero last night and been the most prominent Avs forward through 6 games, leading the team in scoring with 4 goals and 5 points.  Under the radar, as he always seems to be, is Milan Hejduk, who also has 5 points.  Jonesy and Hejy have by far been the Avs' best wingers.  Peter Mueller played 3 games with 0 points and then missed the next 3 under enigmatic circumstances.  When Muells was out of the lineup, red flags of course arose as to whether or not his concussion problems had returned.  While the Avs are still hush hush about this, the good news is that he was listed as "available" and a healthy scratch in Toronto.  We may see his return on Thursday against Chicago.  In Mueller's absence, Joakim Lindstrom has been a bit of a pleasant surprise.  In his Avalanche debut, he scored 2 goals in his Avalanche debut against Ottawa.  Lindy led the Swedish Elite League in scoring last year before attempting to resurrect his NHL career with the Avs this year.  Chuck Kobasew has 1 goal in 6 games.  Stastny and Jones deserve a better 3rd winger.  Perhaps Lindstrom will be moved to the Stastny-Jones line when Mueller's back or, like I said before, Galiardi has top line potential and could be effective with Stats and Jones providing that grit on the top line.  Gali, who had a goal against Columbus, was scratched against Montreal, but reinserted into the lineup against Toronto, as Kevin Porter was ineffective in his 1 game played thus far.  Hopefully Mueller will regain his form soon, and the Avs could use a bit more depth at wing.  Duchene and Stastny have been good.  Sure, they may not be leading the team or the NHL in scoring, but they've both contributed positively thus far.  Duchene has been money in the shootouts and Stastny had a great steal from PK Subban and breakaway goal on Price.  Do they need to be better?  One could make the argument, but as long as the Avs are winning, I'm not one to complain.  If we win, it doesn't matter if Stats and Dutchy score 60, 80, or 100 points.  Last year, the Sedin twins scored 104 and 94 points respectively while Boston's two leading scorers (Krejci and Lucic) had 62 points respectively.  The Bruins won the Stanley Cup.  Who do you think was happier?

As promised, Joe Sacco has kept Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk as alternate captains, while rotating the 3rd "A" between Erik Johnson, Cody McLeod, and Jay McClement.  I'm not going to get into this too much, as I've already addressed my thoughts on the captaincy.  Edge makes sense to be a 3rd alternate and even an eventual captain.  Actually, he seems like the most likely candidate.  If Hejduk or Stastny were going to be named captain, that would have happened during the off-season.  Sacco likely wants to name Johnson captain, but feels he should get some more games under his belt in an Avs sweater.  Pay his dues with the club, so to speak.  I don't mind McLeod as a third alternate.  He seems like a good leader and a vocal guy, but I would rather see someone like Duchene wear it, a player who is the future of the club.  McClement makes no sense to me.  Sure, he could be a good lockerroom guy and good leader as well.  Fans like you and me will never know what takes place behind closed doors, but McClement's stats speak for themselves.  0 points thus far and a handful of key turnovers.  To give credit where it's due, his penalty killing has been good over the past few games, but don't slap an "A" on a guy's sweater for killing a couple penalties well!  J-Mac's play indicate borderline scratch, not alternate captain.  But, that's just my opinion.  I'm not the coach, Joe Sacco is, and like I said, while the Avs are winning games, who am I to criticize?  Let's hope they can carry the momentum from that 5-game sweep back here to Pepsi on Thursday against old coach Joel Quenneville and his Chicago Blackhawks.  Should be a good one, they're just a little over a year from their Cup win and still have stars like Toews, Kane, Hossa, and up-and-coming netminder Corey Crawford.  With only 6 games in the books, no one's hoisting any banners for the Avs just yet.  But if Avs continue to play like they have, it's going to be a fun season!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Giggy vs. Andy

That's the goaltending matchup tonight.  We will see the regular season Avalanche debut of Jean-Sebatien Giguere, who will give the impressive Semyon Varlamov a night off.  Giggy and the Avs will take on Craig Anderson, who just last year, was thought to be the Avs goalie of the future.  This storyline alone will make tonight's game a good one.  The Avs came off a hard-fought win in Boston on Monday and looked flat for much of the game last night before rookie Gabriel Landeskog tied things up with 41 seconds left and sent the game into overtime.  Varly stopped 2 out of 3 in the shootout and Hejduk and Duchene iced Steve Mason to give the Avs the two points.  Hopefully last night's dramatic come-from-behind win last night will not give the Avs some complacency, but rather fuel them for tonight's game.  Anderson, who had a falling out with the Avs last year, will certainly be hungry to beat his former squad. 

I'm hoping to see a bit of a change up with the forward lines as the Avs, despite having two wins in three games, still have only recorded three goals in as many games.  The offense is still looking for that spark.  Hopefully Landy's late goal will help to propel that.  Like I've mentioned before, I'd like to see Landy up with Stastny and Jones and Gali moved to O'Reilly and Winnik's line.  Incidentally, both guys I'm calling for to get moved up, were the goal-scorers last night.  Sure, they were both opportunistic goals, but Gali and Landy were in the right place at the right time, especially Landeskog, whose goal came from the puck simply hitting his skate.  These guys will get down low though and create chances.  Kobasew especially has not shown me that much thus far. 

Boston Bruins' Chris Clark, Left, Tries

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cuts and Keepers

I'm actually not talking about the Avs or any NHL roster.  Sure, I could talk more about Elliott not making the opening night roster, but this is about the new fall TV shows!  Thus far, there have been three official cancellations; the NBC shows The Playboy Club and Free Agents and the CW reality show H8R.  None of which were on my lineup, so this does not impact me and my fans in the least.  I, myself have also cut three shows from my DVR Series List; Revenge, Whitney, and The Office.

First of all, Revenge isn't terrible.  It's watchable and Emily VanCamp is actually good in the lead role.  It is very soap opera-like with campy dialogue and plot lines.  Nonetheless, I decided to keep only one soap opera-like show on my roster and I chose to go with Ringer.  Whitney was underwhelming.  I think Whitney Cummings is funny, but she would do better on cable than being restricted by network TV.  When The Office first became a U.S. TV show, I was not too impressed.  The short, 6-episode 1st season mirrored its U.K. counterpart too much and was pretty unoriginal.  However, I was convinced to give it another shot and in the 2nd and 3rd seasons, the show really took off.  Michael Scott, Dwight Schrute, and Jim Halpert established themselves as top sitcom characters and they and the rest of the cast has great chemistry and humor.  However, around the 6th-7th season, the show started to decline.  It was announced the Steve Carell was leaving the show after the 7th season and many speculated that would be the end of The Office.  However, they decided to limp on and cast James Spader as the new CEO.  After 2 episodes with Spader, I have been unimpressed.  I like James Spader, but his character just didn't do it for me.  The other characters seem to have gotten stale too.  So, after 7 seasons and 2 episodes, The Office is now closed.

The big winners of the new TV season thus far are Homeland and Person of Interest.  Homeland is Showtime's newest original show and immediately follows Dexter, its most popular one.  It is produced by Howard Gordon, a former producer of 24.  Claire Danes makes her first starring TV appearance since the teen cult drama, My So Called Life of the 1990s.  She is very good as a CIA agent who may be paranoid and a little crazy or just ahead of everyone else.  Damian Lewis returns to TV as well.  He starred in the short-lived NBC police procedural, Life.  In Life and Homeland, Lewis plays a character who is imprisoned for several years.  The similarities end there.  In Life, Lewis was quirky, charming, and of course, a little out of touch.  In Homeland, he is much darker after being imprisoned by Al-Qaeda for eight years.  Carrie Mathison (Danes) suspects him of being "turned" by Al-Qaeda and working with their sleeper cells in secret.  Obviously, she has to tread lightly with her theory as Nicholas Brody (Lewis) is now regarded as a war hero from surviving 8 years of Al-Qaeda capture and torture.  The supporting cast is solid as well with Morena Baccarin (V) as Brody's wife and Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson, Mathison's mentor.  So far, Homeland has received universal acclaim.  Expect this to be green-lit for a 2nd season very soon.

The best new network show of the fall 2011 TV season is Person of Interest.  The new JJ Abrams vehicle is a winner.  Last year, Abrams made an attempt at a lighthearted espionage-themed show with Undercovers, but that did not succeed and was canceled after 11 episodes.  Person of Interest reunites Abrams with Lost breakout star Michael Emerson.  Emerson brings his same dark, mysterious, and creepy persona of Ben Linus to his new character, Harold Finch.  While Ben Linus was certainly a villain, who kind of became a good guy, but still did bad things until the end, Finch seems to be a hero, genuinely interested in helping others.  He recruits John Reece (Jim Caviezel), a former CIA agent who has fighting skills comparable to a James Bond or Jack Bauer.  Finch has developed a machine that allows him to see crimes before they happen and Reese is enlisted to stop them.  Kind of like Minority Report, but less futuristic and sci-fi.  Caviezel is good as the badass fighter and Emerson as the mysterious mastermind.  Expect PoI to succeed.

As previously mentioned, I like Ringer.  It's the one guilty pleasure on my DVR.  Sarah Michelle Gellar is very good in her dual role of twin sisters Bridget and Siobhan (still not quite sure how to pronounce that).  Bridget is being hunted by the mob and assumes the identity of her wealthy sister, whom she thinks has killed herself.  Ioan Gruffudd, best known as Mr. Fantastic in the Fantastic Four films, plays Siobhan's husband, and Nestor Carbonell of Lost and The Dark Knight plays an FBI agent who is searching for Bridget.  Like Revenge, Ringer is very soap opera-like, but I like the casting and the storylines are a bit more suspenseful than Revenge was.

This fall season has not really produced any great comedies so far.  Earlier this year, we got Happy Endings, which I say is the best network sitcom out right now and FX's Wilfred, the funniest show of the summer.  However, a couple of sitcoms have made it onto my roster that were not initially in the lineup.  The first is Up All Night.  It stars Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as parents of a young baby.  The couple tries to balance parenthood and Reagan (Applegate) returns to work as a TV producer and Chris (Arnett) becomes a stay-at-home dad.  Maya Rudolph also stars as Ava, the star of the Oprah-like show where Reagan works.  All three lead actors are comedy veterans and are good in UAN.  Already picked up for a full season, it is a good show, but not the funniest show out there.

The other show that was a late addition to my lineup is New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel.  Its pilot episode was really good.  The problem was that the character, Coach, played by Damon Wayans, Jr. was the funniest part.  When Happy Endings was renewed (it's a much funnier show anyway), Wayans left New Girl to continue his role as Brad on Happy Endings.  They wrote the character Coach out of New Girl, and replaced him with a character named Winston who is not nearly as funny.  The 2nd episode of New Girl suffered from a major sophomore slump, but the 3rd episode was good.  So, I'll keep New Girl for now, but with a couple more bad showings, it could be in trouble. 

The final new sitcom is How to Be a Gentleman.  This show was created by, produced by, and stars David Hornsby, Rickety Cricket from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  In fact, Mac, Dennis, and Charlie are credited as "Creative Consultants" on Gentlemen.  Unfortunately, How to Be a Gentleman is no Sunny.  Hornsby plays Andrew Carlson, a magazine columnist who is determined to be a gentleman.  The best character of the show is Bert Lansing, played by Kevin Dillon, who becomes Andrew's personal trainer and roommate.  Lansing is essentially Johnny Drama as a trainer rather than a struggling actor.  So I guess if you're still depressed over Entourage ending, you can watch HTBAG (catchy acronym) to see a bit more Johnny Drama.  Rounding out the cast are Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe from 24) and Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords) as Andrew's sister and brother-in-law respectively.  I'm still on the bubble with this one.  Although critical reception and ratings have been poor, so it might not be long before CBS pulls the plug and makes the decision for me. *Update* CBS has halted production after nine episodes and will effectively burn off the remaining seven episodes on Saturdays starting this week.  So, only seven more chances to watch it.  Perhaps Kevin Dillon will get a third gig playing Johnny Drama.  There are always Entourage reruns too.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thoughts After 2

The 2011-2012 Colorado Avalanche officially have two games in the books.  They are a respectable 1-1-0 after facing two formidable opponents.  Last Saturday's game was a very emotional one with the retirement ceremony of Peter Forsberg, the tribute to the fallen Avalanche players, and of course playing against an old rival in Detroit.  Unfortunately, the Avs could not manage to get a win, let alone a goal on Saturday night, but there were still several positives to take away from the 3-0 loss.  First of all, Semyon Varlamov was strong.  He earned himself the 3rd star of the game and stopped 36 of 38 shots.  Both goals that beat him were rockets that resulted from defensive giveaways by McClement and Hejda respectively.  Certainly not soft goals on Varly's part.  The team skated well.  The Avs seemed to have the momentum early in the game, but were stymied by goalie Ty Conkin and then hampered by some trips to the penalty box.  To give credit where it's due, Conklin played a good game.  When the Avs go up against backup goalies getting a spot-start, they always seem to play well.  Whether it's the Conklins, Rasks, Clemmensons, or Schneiders, those guys always seem to bring their A-game against the Avs.  Another positive from Saturday's loss was the play of Gabriel Landeskog.  I'm sure there were nerves and butterflies before his first ever NHL game on the night his boyhood idol's number was retired, but judging by his play, it was not evident.  Landeskog looked strong, played hard, and was probably the most effective forward the Avs had all night.  He tied Paul Stastny with 5 shots on goal and leads the team through two games with 10.  He also had 3 hits against Detroit and tallied another 2 against Boston.  While he hasn't recorded a point yet, he no doubt will soon.  He has skated very well with linemates Ryan O'Reilly and Daniel Winnik.

  Gabriel Landeskog #92 Of The Colorado Avalanche Heads
Yesterday, Varlamov backstopped the Avs to a 1-0 shutout victory.  Varly stopped all 30 shots he faced including robbing Bruins players on several occasions.  The best one came with about 5 minutes left in the 3rd.  A well-played 2-1 gave Milan Lucic a seemingly open net, but Varly slid across and got his blocker on the shot.  Duchene later tweeted that it was the best save he's ever seen Varly make.  I agree.  Speaking of Duchene, he did his best to preserve Varlamov's shutout by sliding in and making a great block when Varly fumbled the puck behind the net.  Duchene really looks like he's maturing into a 2-way center and complete player.  Milan Hejduk got the game's lone goal with assists from newcomer Jan Hejda and Duchene.

Boston Bruins Left Wing Milan Lucic (17) Tries To Make A Play Against Colorado Avalanche Goalie Semyon Varlamov (1), Of

The defense looks a lot bigger, stronger, and better than last year.  A year ago, Sacco and Sherman fell in love with undersized, puck-moving defensemen.  The top six included John-Michael Liles, Kyle Cumiskey, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Matt Hunwick.  Aside from Hunwick, who has been a healthy scratch for the first two games, those guys are all gone.  The Avs added size to the d-corps with the Erik Johnson trade last season and signing defensemen Jan Hejda and Shane O'Brien.  Ironically, the only puck-moving defensemen the Avs have now, were sent to Lake Erie during the preseason.  However, Elliott for sure and Barrie likely will get their shots this season.  Varly and Giggy should benefit from this revamped defensive corps more than Anderson, Budaj, and Elliott did last year. 

On the downside of course, the Avs have only scored one goal in two games.  This obviously has to change if the Avs are going to find success this year.  Varlamov cannot be relied upon as heavily as he has been the first couple of games.  He will need some offensive support to continue to thrive.  Like I mentioned, Landy has looked very strong and the 3rd line has played very well.  Both top centers have skated well too.  Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny have both hit posts and generated chances for themselves and their linemates.  Hejduk is his reliable self, but the other wingers need to step up and help their centers.  Peter Mueller is still trying to get his legs and timing back after missing all of last year.  It'll come.  David Jones and Chuck Kobasew have not provided Stastny with the offensive support you need from your top wingers.  The problem with the Avs top two lines is that there is just not enough strength.  While there is plenty of skill, none of the top six forwards are power forwards who will get down low and grind out the ugly goals.  The Mueller-Duchene-Hejduk line looked good in camp and preseason and will be very effective once Muells gets his timing back.  Stastny and Jones have developed chemistry in the past, but Kobasew doesn't add a whole lot here.  Put Landeskog with these guys because he can be that guy who will get down low and get rebound goals and screen goalies.  With his and Stastny's combined 19 shots through two games, we could see a spark. 

Unfortunately, the Avs game vs. Columbus is not on TV tomorrow night due to some lame Vs. contractual rule, so I'll just have to listen to Mose's call on the radio.  Jan Hejda will face his former team for the first time, but probably will not receive the same negative ovation that Adam Foote did for years.  Columbus is 0-3 so far, so they will be angry and hungry for a win.  Another good road test for the young Avalanche team.  On Thursday, the Avs will travel north of the border to Ottawa to face former netminder Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators.  After a brilliant 2009-10 season, Anderson was supposed to be the Avs' goalie of the future.  However, after a rough start to last year and failed contract negotiations, Anderson was shipped to the Sens and now the Avs are banking on Varly.  We could also see the regular season Colorado Avalanche debut of veteran goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, as Sacco will likly give Varly a night off during the back-to-back set.
  Semyon Varlamov #1 Of The Colorado Avalanche Clears

Monday, October 10, 2011

Peter The Great

How good was Peter Forsberg?  Pretty damn good.  Unfortunately, the world will never know how good he could have been had his career not been plagued with so many injuries.  Before even playing in the NHL, Forsberg became a national hero in his native Sweden by scoring the Olympic Gold Medal-winning goal on a penalty shot.  He later became the first Swedish athlete to be immortalized on a postage stamp.

In the 1991 NHL Draft, Forsberg was far from the main attraction.  Back then, European scouting isn't what it is today, and the main draw was Canadian power forward Eric Lindros.  The Nordiques selected Lindros, but after a bitter year-long holdout, they finally traded Lindros to the Philadelphia Flyers for a huge package of draft picks, $15 million straight cash homie, and several players including Peter Forsberg, whom the Flyers had selected 6th overall (he was originally projected to be a 2nd rounder).  To this day, it is seen as one of the most one-sided trades in NHL history.  Sure, Lindros went on to have a fine career, but even him for Forsberg straight up would have been a steal for the Nordiques (and of course eventually the Avs), not to mention everything else they got in the trade.

In his one season with the Nordiques before they relocated to Colorado, all Forsberg did was put up 50 points in just 47 games and won himself the Calder Trophy.  The next year in Colorado, he help the newly formed Avalanche win its first ever Stanley Cup.  He would go on to win another Cup with the Avs (despite not playing in the final two rounds of the playoffs after suffering a ruptured spleen), a Hart Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy, another Olympic Gold Medal (2 total), and 2 World Championship Gold Medals.  All in all, a very impressive resume that will no doubt be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

However, with all the glory and talent came equal frustration.  In the late 90s, injuries began taking their toll.  The Avs' first Stanley Cup year of 1995-96 was the only one in which Forsberg played a full 82 regular season games and after his ruptured spleen in the 2001 playoff, Forsberg took the entire regular season of 2001-02 off to recover.  Amazingly, he returned for the playoffs and led the NHL in scoring despite not playing a single regular season game.  After the lockout of 2004-05, the Avs were affected by the new salary cap as much as anyone and opted to keep superstars Joe Sakic and Rob Blake and let Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg go.  Forsberg signed with the Flyers, the team who originally drafted him and played parts of two seasons there before being traded to the Nashville Predators.  He eventually re-signed with the Avs after taking the majority of the 2007-08 season off to heal injuries and helped the Avs make the playoffs and get to the 2nd round.  He tried one last stint this last year, but his troublesome heel, which has now been plaguing him for the past decade, got the best of him yet again and he announced his retirement after just two games. 

If Forsberg had been healthy his entire career, he would be one of the top 5 NHL players off all-time.  You'd think of Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier, and Peter the Great!  No question though, he did have an amazing career and was probably pound-for-pound the most talented player to ever play for the Colorado Avalanche.  That's certainly saying a lot too as players like Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, and Ray Bourque have all famously donned Avalanche sweaters.  Joe Sakic, to this day, is the face of the Colorado Avalanche franchise.  He holds virtually every record for Quebec/Colorado and was the ultimate clutch player with a record 7 playoff overtime goals.  He was also the ultimate leader donning the captain's C for nearly 2 decades.  Patrick Roy is the greatest goalie in NHL history.  His Stanley Cups and playoff numbers prove that.  Ray Bourque is the greatest defenseman in NHL history.  He had a storied career in Boston for 20 years and finally came here to win the Stanley Cup.  However, Forsberg, amongst all those great players, had an incomparable talent about him.  When the puck was on his stick, he could truly work magic.  The most skilled NHL defensemen could not remove him from it.  He was creative, strong, and dynamic with the puck and could setup seemingly impossible plays.  I, and all Avalanche fans were very lucky to have been able to watch a player as special as Peter Forsberg for as long as we were.  He graciously said in his retirement speech the other night that he wouldn't change a thing in his career.

Top 5 Peter Forsberg Memories

Honorable Mention.  Return to Colorado - I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Forsberg's return to Colorado after spending parts of two seasons with the Flyers and Predators.  On the day of the 2007-08 trading deadline, the Avs signed Peter Forsberg and also re-acquired defenseman Adam Foote.  The Foote and Forsberg combination from the Avs glory days helped propel a borderline Avalanche team into the playoff and upset the favored Minnesota Wild and get into the 2nd round.

5. 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs - After missing the entire 2001-2002 regular season after having to have his spleen removed during the 2001 playoffs, Forsberg took the entire next season off to heal his body.  Miraculously, he returned for the playoffs and led the league in playoff scoring through 3 rounds.  Had the Avs beaten the Red Wings and gone on to win the Stanley Cup, he would have been a lock for the Conn Smythe.

4. The 2002-2003 Regular Season - Forsberg had a fantastic season in 02-03, leading the NHL in scoring with 106 points and winning the Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, and Bud Light Plus/Minus Award (with Milan Hejduk).

3. Hoisting the Cup in 2001 - After a grueling 7-game series with the Los Angeles Kings, the Avs advanced to play the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Finals.  However, after that brutal game 7, in which the Avs defeated the Kings, it was announced that Forsberg had suffered a ruptured spleen and would miss the remainder of the playoffs.  Many people thought that was the end of the Avs' run right there, but the Avs persevered and won the Cup for #77.  Peter Forsberg, dressed street clothes with the exception of his jersey and skates, came down from the press box and hoisted the Cup. 

2. Hat trick vs. Florida in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals - The 2006 playoffs were all about the miraculous play of captain and eventual Conn Smythe winner Joe Sakic and his 34 playoff points in 22 games.  However, Peter Forsberg did record a hat trick against the Florida Panthers, that helped the Avs to sweep the Eastern Conference Champions.

1. March 3, 1998 - The Avs were playing in Florida against the Panthers, who were absolutely dominating Colorado.  In the 2nd period, the score was 5-0 Florida, when #21 figuratively put the entire Avs team on his back.  Forsberg scored 6 total points (3g, 3a) including 5 3rd period points and single-handedly won the game for the Avs with a final score of 7-5.  It was the single most dominating performance of any player I have ever seen in the National Hockey League.  After the 5th Florida goal, it was as it Forsberg decided the Avs were going to win the game, even if he had to do it all himself, which he practically did!  It was absolutely unreal!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Drop of the Puck!

The NHL season gets underway tonight!  The Avs' will kick things off on Saturday against the hated Detroit Red Wings.  Things will get underway early with the retirement ceremony for #21, Peter Forsberg.  It is sure to be an epic night!  The Avs will also pay tribute to the three former players whom we lost over the summer and will likely wear a commemorative patch or sticker for those players this season.  The offseason has been way too long!  Hopefully the Avs will once again get accustomed to June-October offseasons instead of these brutal early April-October offseasons!

The Avs finshed the preseason with a 2-4 record.  However, I am of the believe that preseason records mean absolutely nothing.  No team has ever won the Stanley Cup, clinched a playoff berth, or even earned a single regular season point from a preseason game.  If anything, the opposite is true.  Aside from coaches evaluating players and guys trying to make the team, everything else that can come out of the preseason is bad.  Sure, it's a necessary evil for guys to get into game-shape, but superstar players especially have really nothing to gain and a whole lot to lose in the preseason.  Take last year's Avalanche team for example.  Peter Mueller sustained a concussion that kept him out the whole year.  Would the Avs have been better than 29th overall with him healthy all year?  Probably.  With that said, the Avs didn't not suffer any serious preseason losses this year.  A few guys (Yip, Cumiskey, and Olver) will start the season on IR though.

Yesterday, Adrian Dater posted the Avs' practice lines this week, which will likely be the lineup we will see on Saturday night.  Some changes I would make would be to put Gabriel Landeskog on Stastny's line from the get-go.  Give this kid a chance to shine off the bat.  Duchene was the #2 center opening night 3 years ago.  Sure, they want to light a fire under Kobasew, but who's going to be the future of the team, Lando or Kobe?  I would also put Galiardi on the 3rd line.  He was injury-plagued last season, but I really like what he's done over the summer and he has top-line skill.  This could be a breakout campaign for Gali.  Like Dater and much of Avalanche nation, I would have liked to see Stefan Elliott in an Avs sweater on opening night.  I have no doubt that he will be soon, but with his camp and preseason, everyone said across the board that he deserved to be here.  Here's my opening night lineup:

Healthy Scratches
Porter, Wilson, and Lindstrom
Yip, Cumiskey, Olver
(Hunwick sent to Lake Erie)

The three players who will be key to the Avs success this year will be Varlamov, Duchene, and Johnson.  Varlamov is obvious.  The Avs gave up a lot to get him and this will be a HUGE year for him, make or break.  I would go so far to say that Greg Sherman's and Joe Sacco's jobs directly tie to Varly's success as well.  The Varlamov trade will be judged on the 1st round pick given to the Caps to get him.  If the Avs finish poorly and the Capitals get a lottery pick out of it, the trade will be a massive failure.  If Varlamov performs well and the Avs are more the 09-10 Avs than the 10-11 Avs, the trade will be a success.  Having only played 59 NHL games in his career, Varlamov will not be a 70-game workhorse like Craig Anderson was two years ago.  If the Avs can get 50-60 quality games out of Varly and 30 or so from J-S Giguere, their revamped goalie tandem will be a success.

Matt Duchene is the face of the franchise and its best player.  He has a lot to live up to following the footsteps of his boyhood idols, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, but Duchene certainly seems to have that "it" factor. Last year he was the victim of being the best player on a very bad team.  When he finally started to gel with one of his wingers, Tomas Fleischmann, he suffered pulmonary emboli and was lost for the season.  If Duchene, Mueller, and Hejduk gel and stay healthy, this could be a very formidable line and all three players could enjoy a lot of success.  While neither of Duchene's first two years have been bad by any means, he could really breakout this year.

Like Varlamov, the Avs gave up a lot to get Erik Johnson.  Chris Stewart was very popular and just starting to tap into his full potential as an elite power forward.  The Avs are going to give Johnson every opportunity to success including possibly even the captain's C.  Since being traded, it appears that Johnson has a chip on his shoulder, which is fantastic for the Avalanche.  He said that he wants to make the Blues regret giving up on him and he has said that the Capitals will not get a good pick in the Varlamov trade as the Avs will be competitive.  He certainly seems to be the vocal leader on the team now and the undisputed leader of the defense corps as captain Adam Foote has hung up his skates.  If Johnson finally taps into his potential that made him the #1 overall pick, the Avs defense will be very good.

Other players who will have a major impact on this team are Paul Stastny, Peter Mueller, Gabriel Landeskog, and Stefan Elliott.  Paul Stastny has been much maligned since he signed his big 5-year contract extension.  After 5 years in the NHL, Stastny may not have become the next Joe Sakic or Peter Stastny, I guess, but he is still a very good NHL center.  People have been calling for Stastny to be traded, but I believe that would be a mistake.  2009 first round draft pick Joey Hishon is a center, who could supposedly one day supplant Stastny as a top line center for the Avs, but he is suffering from post-concussion syndrome and missed all of training camp.  Hopefully Hishon will crack the roster and make an impact.  He could be a future winger as well though.  Don't get rid of Stats.

The million dollar question with Peter Mueller is obviously his health.  He suffered two concussions in 2010 and hasn't played in an NHL regular season game since March, 2010.  Another question is what level of play he'll be at if he remains healthy.  How much of a toll will missing an entire season affect his game physically.  People always say that you can workout and practice all you want, you cannot simulate NHL game-level intensity.  If Mueller remains healthy though and reaches the level of play he had with the Avs before his injury, he could be a real factor for the Avs offense and power play.

Gabriel Landeskog.  Anytime you're drafted as high as Landeskog, there will be tremendous expectations.  Matt Duchene didn't disappoint and Landekog seems to have all the tools to succeed.  Those who have talked about Lando frequently use phrases like "mature beyond his years," "great leader," "most NHL-ready of the 2011 draft."  Very good praise for the young Swedish forward.  The Avs could have their second Calder candidate in three years.

Stefan Elliot will get his chance to play for the Avs this year and make an impact as a scoring defenseman.  After all, why would you not want the player who broke defensemen scoring records in the WHL.  He could make Avs fans forget all about last year's standout defenseman, Kevin Shattenkirk and maybe even longtime fan favorite, John-Michael Liles.  Barrie could get the call-up eventually too and possibly next year, we could be seeing first rounder Duncan Siemens with the big club.

Many experts are picking the Avs to finsh outside of the playoff picture yet again, but if these pieces fall into place, we could see an Avs team that suprises many other teams and "experts" alike, just like the team did two years ago.

(Hopeful) Predictions for the 2011-12 Season:
-The Avalanche will win the Stanley Cup
-Matt Duchene will score over 30 goals and 100 points and win the Hart Trophy
-Gabriel Landeskog will win the Calder Trophy
-Stefan Elliott will be a regular on the Avs blue line before the end of October and will also get a Calder nod
-Semyon Varlamov will establish himself as a bona fide #1 NHL goalie and Vezina candidate
-J-S Giguere will have a renaissance year as Varly's mentor and spot-starter
-Ryan O'Reilly will establish himself as a premier Jordan Staal-type two-way player and get a Selke nod

(Realistic) Predictions for the 2011-12 Season:
-The Avalanche will make the playoffs
-Matt Duchene will be a point-per-game player
-Paul Stastny will be a point-per-game player
-Gabriel Landeskog will get nominated for the Calder Trophy
-Stefan Elliott will be a regular on the Avs blue line before Thanksgiving
-Semyon Varlamov will establish himself as a bona fide #1 NHL goalie
-J-S Giguere will have a renaissance year as Varly's mentor and spot-starter
-Ryan O'Reilly will establish himself as a premier Jordan Staal-type two-way player with 40-50 points