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2013-14 Colorado Avalanche Preview
By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
(Sports Network) - Although the roster in Colorado is full of potential future stars, the guys who will actually be running the Avalanche franchise are nothing short of hockey legends.
Colorado has a pair of Hall of Famers running the show with Joe Sakic installed as the team's vice president of hockey operations and Patrick Roy tabbed as the club's new head coach. While the duo were responsible for leading the Avalanche to a pair of Stanley Cup titles in their playing days it's no sure bet they can duplicate that success in their new jobs.
In fact, it's reasonable to question both hirings as nothing more than a futile exercise in nostalgia, a sign this once-great franchise has run out of ideas and is making a desperate attempt at regaining a shred of its former relevance.
There are more familiar faces on Roy's coaching staff, as Adam Foote is there to serve as defensive coach and Francois Allaire -- Roy's former goaltending coach from his playing days -- is in Denver to mentor No. 1 netminder Semyon Varlamov.
Although this will be Roy's first coaching job at the NHL level, since retiring from the game after the 2002-03 season he has served as an executive and bench boss for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. Perhaps his experience as a junior coach will lead to a better rapport with Colorado's roster of young prospects.
Like Jake and Elwood Blues, Colorado is getting the band back together, but it's anybody guess if the new regime can get this struggling franchise to sing a different tune.
FORWARDS - Although Colorado has missed the postseason each of the last three seasons, it's not like Roy will be without talent in his rookie season as an NHL head coach.
Most of Colorado's impressive youngsters are on the offensive side, where Nathan MacKinnon, the first overall pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, joins former high draft selections like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly.
Duchene, the third overall pick in the 2009 draft, rebounded from a down season in 2011-12 with a strong showing during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. The 22-year-old centerman had 14 goals and 14 assists in just 58 games during an injury-plagued season in 2011-12, but managed to record 17 goals and 43 points in 47 games last year.
Colorado is going to try to give Duchene a new left winger by switching O'Reilly from his natural center position. Duchene and O'Reilly reportedly butted heads over the latter player's contract holdout that caused him to miss the beginning of last season, but by all accounts that rift is in the past.
After recording 55 points (18G, 37A) in 81 games with the Avs in 2011-12, O'Reilly struggled at times in 2013 and ended with six goals and 14 assists in 29 games.
Speaking of struggles, Landeskog, the second overall pick of the 2011 draft, followed up his Calder Trophy-winning season of 2011-12. Perhaps, it was the pressure of being named the youngest captain in NHL history in September of 2012 led to the young Swede recording just nine goals and eight assists in 36 games last season.
The Avs hope Landeskog, who won't turn 21 years of age until Nov. 23, used 2013 as a learning experience and that he can get back to the form he displayed in 2011-12, when the winger recorded 22 goals and 52 points in 82 games. Colorado doesn't seem too worried about the sophomore slump, as it gave Landeskog a huge vote of confidence over the summer by signing him to a seven- year, $39 million extension.
MacKinnon's arrival was the impetus to move O'Reilly to left wing and the 18- year-old could play third-line center behind Duchene and Paul Stastny. MacKinnon led his junior club, the Portland Winterhawks, to a Memorial Cup title last season and Colorado hopes his winning pedigree translates to the NHL game.
Stastny, 27, is a steady performer who has scored 20 goals or more in every season in which he's appeared in at least 66 games. He had nine goals and 15 assists over 40 games in 2013.
The Avs could fill out the remainder of their top-six forwards with wingers P.A. Parenteau, Alex Tanguay and Steve Downie. Parenteau, who will enter his second season in Denver in 2013-14, led Colorado with 18 goals in 2013 and also tied Duchene for the team lead with 43 points.
The 33-year-old Tanguay, meanwhile, is a former Colorado teammate of both Roy and Sakic and is back in the Avalanche fold for the first time since the 2005-06 season. Last year, the Quebec native registered 11 goals and 16 assists in 40 games for the Calgary Flames.
Downie, a hard-hitting player with strong scoring potential, is an important piece of the puzzle for Colorado. The 26-year-old missed almost all of last season after suffering a season-ending ACL tear to his right knee in just the second game of the season.
Although Colorado boasts a wealth of potential up front, the club has yet to show it can put it all together on a nightly basis. The team was ranked 26th in the NHL with just 2.38 goals per game last season, a number that needs to get better in 2013-14.
DEFENSE - While the Avs are loaded with potential on offense, the blue line situation doesn't inspire as much hope for the immediate future. In fact, Colorado's lack of a stud No. 1 defenseman made it somewhat surprising the club opted to take MacKinnon at first overall instead of big blueliner Seth Jones, who wound up falling to the Nashville Predators at No. 4.
When he was acquired in a trade with St. Louis during the 2010-11 season, Erik Johnson was supposed to be Colorado's No. 1 defenseman of the future. However, that has yet to materialize.
Johnson missed 17 games due to injury in 2013, but it doesn't seem likely he could've salvaged his season if he played a full 48. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2006 draft managed only four assists in 31 games last season and ended the year with a minus-three rating.
Even more glaring than his lack of offensive production was the fact Johnson finished third on the blue line in average ice time, as Colorado used him less than Tyson Barrie and Matt Hunwick.
Barrie, a 22-year-old who was picked by Colorado in the third round of the 2009 draft, not only led Colorado in ice time last season, but he also paced the blue line with two goals and 11 assists. Hunwick added six assists in 43 games, while Jan Hejda recorded 10 points on one goal and nine assists.
Along with group mentioned above, Ryan Wilson and Stefan Elliott will also be back for the Avalanche, but they could lose playing time due to Colorado adding Cory Sarich, Andre Benoit and Nate Guenin during the offseason.
GOALTENDING - With a talented, but low-scoring offense and a pedestrian defense in front of him, Varlamov shouldn't be judged too harshly for his 11-21-3 season in 2013.
Still, Roy, who is one of the best goaltender's of his or any generation, is unlikely to make any excuses this season for his 25-year-old Russian netminder. Varlamov had a 2.59 goals against average in 2011-12, but that number ballooned to 3.02 last season. However, by earning three shutouts in his 33 starts it's clear Varlamov can take over a game when he's at his best.
Colorado has a solid backup option in veteran goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who is past his prime but still a fearless competitor. Giguere, who grew up idolizing Roy in his native Quebec, saw action in 18 games last season and went 5-4-4 with a 2.84 GAA and .908 save percentage.
WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - It's easy to take shots at Colorado for trying to duplicate its past by handing the keys to the franchise to Sakic and Roy, but thanks to the club's recent struggles, the bar is set pretty low for them heading into this season. Qualifying for the playoffs seems like a tall order for this rebuilding club, but Roy's no-nonsense reputation could at least result in a better effort this season. Colorado still has a long road back to respectability, but the club is hoping it can move forward by looking to the past. If nothing else, it should be interesting to watch.
09/24 13:14:34 ET