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:
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