We are just a day away from the beginning of Avs hockey AJ (after Joe). The Avs will begin their first season under new captain Adam Foote against the San Jose Sharks tomorrow night.
Last season's most blaring weakness was in the goaltending department. As we already know, Peter Budaj is not a starting goaltender and Andrew Raycroft signed for league minimum with Vancouver. Knowing that, the Avs brought in Craig Anderson from the Florida Panthers. While Anderson has never been a true number 1 tender, he has at least shown improvement over the years (.924 sv% since the 2005-06 season and .911 throughout his career) and nearly stole the starting job away from Florida starter Tomas Vokoun last season. He seems to play a lot better with the more shots he faces. Also, at just 28 years young, he is just entering the prime of his career. Returning from last season's duo is Peter Budaj. Last season was Budaj's first (and probably only) shot at being a number 1 goalie. Budaj has shown in the past that he can at least be a capable backup so the Avs won't be forced to play Anderson like he was Brodeur or Luongo.
While goaltending didn't help the defense out much last season, the same could be said about the defense helping the goaltending. Despite the Avs being one of the leading teams in blocked shots, they often got out of position, couldn't get the puck out of the zone, and left the goalie out to dry. Another big problem with the defense last season was lack of offensive production. John Michael Liles' 39 points lead the defense corp while the rest of the D accounted for just 50 points. Bad news for this season is that the same D will be running the blue line this season. There is one positive though, the acquisition of Kyle Quincey. Between him and Liles, they should really help bolster the Avs offense from the blueline, especially on the power play as that would give the team 2 point threats. Being a contract year, Ruslan Salei and Brett Clark should also see increases offensive production.
Under new coaching, the defense should also be more physical. Under Cloutier, it seemed like the only was the D would try to shut the other team down was to just lay down in front of the shot. Sylvain Lefebvre will instill some more physicality in the defensemen's game. This will benefit guys like Adam Foote, Ruslan Salei and most importantly, Scott Hannan, who was brought in to be our shut down guy.
The offense will be the wild card in whether or not the Avs will compete for a spot in my opinion. With the goaltending now bolstered, the offense is going to have to find a way to score more goals. The Avs were one of just two teams last season that didn't score 200 goals. Paul Stastny will be heavily relied on to stay healthy and finally have a break out year with more points than he had in his rookie year. Milan Hejduk will be good for 25-30 goals as usual. One of the most important players for the Avs this season will be Wojtek Wolski. Heading into his 4 full season in the league, he will need to put everything together. He has the size, speed, playmaking abilities, and scoring touch to be a top player in this league but he needs to find a way to be more consistent with it to become that player. The Avs need to have big years out of their big power forwards, Chris Stewart and David Jones. Stewie showed his offensive touch in his rookie season last season and should improve on that. Jones, when healthy, has the size and speed to be a top power forward in the league but needs to work on finishing and staying healthy. Those 2 should get around 90 points combined. Another player who will need to stay consistent and healthy is Marek Svatos. He has yet to play a full season but is also a former 30 goal guy. If he can stay healthy, 30 goals is not out of the question. Super Rookie, Matt Duchene is not expected to have an Ovechkin or Crosby-like rookie season with over 100 points but he should be able to score around 40. TJ Galiardi showed last season that he has the scoring touch and now that he has added around 20 lbs to his frame, should be able to really produce over a full season. A guy like Darcy Tucker, who recently went on record saying he's having a bounce back season. He could be an important piece if he can get around 20 goals from the bottom 6. Also rounding out that bottom 6 is Cody McLeod who probably won't get the 15 goals he got last season but will still be a spark plug for the team and pitch in around 10 goals.