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!!!

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