Sunday, August 7, 2011

Avs Offseason Moves

Well, we're now into August and it doesn't appear the Avs will be bringing anyone else into the team. Since the team played their last game of the season, they have been building up for next season and into the future. Management has made some bold moves that could either make or break the team.

The offseason started on the last game of the season when captain Adam Foote announced his retirement after a very solid 19 year career which included 2 Stanley Cups with the Avs and a brief stint with Columbus. Foote was never very flashy but he was the rock on the back end that opposing forwards hated playing against. While it was apparent that last season would be Foote's last through his play on the ice, his presence off the ice will be missed next season. It won't be long before 52 is raised to the Pepsi Center rafters either.

The Entry Draft saw a few more additions to the organization and one that is a lock to make the team next season. Gabriel Landeskog was taken with the 2nd pick, the highest the Avalanche have ever had since coming to Denver. Landeskog was said by many to be the most NHL ready player in the draft. His combination of size, skill and leadership screams Mike Richards, a type of player the Avs desperately need especially after Chris Stewart was shipped off.

The other 1st rounder the Avs received was from St. Louis in the Stewart-Johnson trade. It was the 11th overall and they used it to select Stefan Elliott's defense partner Duncan Siemens from Saskatoon. He's a physical defenseman who is compared to Scott Stevens. Siemens has stated that he has no intentions of changing his style of play at any level. He's still a year or two away from cracking the Avs lineup. The other draft picks brought in at this year's draft were Joachim Nermark (4th round), Garrett Meurs (5th round), Gabriel Beaupre (6th round) and Dillon Donnelly (7th round). A lot of size added this draft.

Hours before the draft, the Avs shipped off veteran defensemen John Michael Liles to Toronto for 2nd round pick in next year's draft. The 2nd rounder will be Boston's so it likely will not be a very high pick. The move was made to make room for younger guys like Stefan Elliott, Tyson Barrie, or Cameron Gaunce who are all just about ready for primetime. Liles was the top puck mover but the prospects (mainly Elliott or Barrie) have higher ceilings than Liles.

Along with the Liles trade, free agency completely remodeled the back end both on defense and in goal. The Avs waived bye bye to both goalies who finished last season, Peter Budaj and Brian Elliot who went on the Montreal and St. Louis respectively. GM Greg Sherman knew goaltending was a problem and all signs pointed to veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun landing in burgundy and blue. That didn't happen for whatever reason and Vokoun ended up signing in Washington on the 2nd day of free agency.

The Caps had an open spot in goal because the Avs had acquired Semyon Varlamov from them for a 1st and 2nd rounder. This is a high risk high reward situation for the Avs. Varly is very athletic goalie who is capable of playing at a high level and is still just 23 years old. The problem, he has not been able to stay healthy but a new training regimen has him focused, strong and ready to show all the doubters wrong next season.

Backing up Varly will be veteran Jean-Sebastian Giguere. The former Leaf and Duck won the Conn Smythe in 2003 despite his Mighty Ducks' team's loss in the Finals. He was, however, a Cup winning goalie for the Ducks in their 2007 run. While he is older and no where near the level of play he was in 03 or 07, he is still a decent insurance policy in case Varly goes down with injury.

On defense, the Avs bulked up. Last season the back end was so small with Liles and Cumiskey or Hunwick. With the Likes of Erik Johnson, Ryan O'Byrne, Kyle Quincey and Ryan Wilson, the Avs also added 6'4" 237lb veteran defender Jan Hejda from Columbus and 6'3" 230lb Shane O'Brien from Nashville. Both guys are steady stay at home defensemen who are very capable of playing physical hockey. Hejda should be a good mentor and partner for Erik Johnson and also should take some pressure off Ryan Wilson so he won't have to get top pairing minutes anymore. Slotting both those guys in should give the Avs one of the biggest defense groups in the league.

The last move the team made was bringing in forward Chuck Kobasew from Minnesota. He's played full time in the NHL for 9 seasons and has scored 20 goals once with the Flames and twice with the Bruins but is coming off 2 pretty disappointing seasons for the Wild. He was brought in to add some scoring depth on the bottom lines and fill in for injury duties on the top lines.

The Avs have a very good core group of guys already in Stastny, Duchene, O'Reilly, Jones, Galiardi and Johnson. All of them should also get better next season and with the rebuilt defense and if Varlamov can stay healthy, play at the high level he is capable of, there is no question the Avs are a playoff team. Also with the potential arrivals of Stefan Elliott, Tyson Barrie and Gabriel Landeskog, the future is looking bright.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Vokoun interested in Avs?

Last week, I mentioned the Avs best option for a goalie would be Tomas Vokoun as he would only cost money and be a perfect stopgap until one of the prospects like Calvin Pickard or Sami Aittokallio are ready. Well it's sounding like Vokoun would be willing to accept an offer from the Avs. He told a Czech newspaper that he would accept an offer from the Avalanche and that he feels that they are close to contending for the Cup. Interesting stuff since most fans feel the team is still 3-5 years away from seriously contending.

Dater wrote tonight that GM Greg Sherman seemed pretty confident that the team will upgrade it's goaltending through free agency. Hopefully there isn't any tampering going on as that would leave a huge black eye on the organization who doesn't really need any more bad press coming off the worst season in Avalanche history. July 1 can't come soon enough.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Tale of Two Luongos

When this Stanley Cup Final began, I was saying that the goaltending would be the best part about this series. In games 1 and 2, that was the case with Thomas and Luongo letting in a combined 6 goals on 133 shots. Since then though, Tim Thomas has been the only guy looking like a Cup finalist and Vezina candidate.

Luongo gave up all 8 goals in game 3's 8-1 loss (seriously, why wasn't he pulled?) and 4 more last night before being pulled. Roberto Luongo was the better goalie in games 1 and 2 and looked really focused, making great saves in those games. When the plane landed in Boston, the wheels fell off. He has now surrendered 12 goals in the last 2 games and some of the goals that have gone in have been really weak including a couple that he actually got a glove on.

Game 5 is going to be a very huge game for Luongo. If he falters again, the Bruins will have a chance to hoist the Cup in front of their home fans. All the momentum is in the Bruins favor and Luongo is looking like a goalie that has lost all confidence.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Goaltending Options

There's no denying that the Avs biggest weakness heading into next season is goaltending. Peter Budaj's days with the team are all but over as he won't be re-signed and Brian Elliott is a RFA who will more than likely return in a back up role next season. This leaves a hole in the starting position. The free agent pool is slim with little high end talent and now that Ilya Bryzgalov looks like he'll be off the market, the list is smaller.

The names that keep floating around are the young up and coming goalies from other teams, Jonathan Bernier from LA and Cory Schneider from Vancouver. That #11 pick in the draft would more than likely have to be sent off to acquire one of them so I don't see the Avs going in that direction listening to them say how important this draft is with those 2 high picks.

Back to free agents, Tomas Vokoun is looking like the best option for the team. He is 34 years old but could still could have about 3-4 good years left in him. He keeps putting up good numbers on pretty bad Florida Panthers teams having around a .920 save % every season in Florida. He would serve as a good stop gap until a Calvin Pickard would be ready to take the reigns assuming he develops as advertised.

Bryzgalov, although his rights were just acquired by the Flyers yesterday, is a possibility to still be out there come July 1. The Flyers will have to move out some cap space before signing Bryzgalov to a deal. It was rumored that Bryzgalov wanted $25 million over 4 years from Phoenix and the Flyers only would have around $4 million cap space, assuming the cap goes up to $63 million, with just 18 players signed not including Ville Leino who they would like to keep. Even if Bryz is still out there July 1, that price tag is not worth it and the Avs likely wouldn't give out that much coin anyway.

JS Giguere is also out there. Like Vokoun, he is 34 years old but unlike Vokoun, he hasn't maintained consistent numbers. Dwayne Roloson will probably re-sign in Tampa if he decides to play next season given the season they just had with him in net. If not, he's still 41 years old so probably wouldn't be good for more than a year. Josh Harding from Minnesota is an interesting one. He looked like a young promising goalie before missing most of last season with an injury. It may have been playing in Jacques Lemaire's defensive system that made him look better but I could see the Avs giving him a chance like they did with Craig Anderson. He's only 26 still too so just going into his prime.

Hearing Joe Sakic and Greg Sherman talk about goaltending being a big focus makes me feel a little optimistic that they might actually fork out some money to fix that hole. Would they go over $6 million for Bryzgalov? Probably not. But a guy like Vokoun for $4-5 million I could see them doing. Goalie is the one position you can't go cheap on as Philly found out this season so it'll be interesting to see how the Avs handle this one.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

4 For Rome

Very rarely does a league suspension ever strike me as too long but that is exactly how I feel about the Aaron Rome suspension. The hit was a good hockey hit that just happened a little late. Had the hit happened a second sooner, there wouldn't be anyone even talking about a suspension.

This suspension could last into next season if the series doesn't go to 7 games. Ridiculous for a hit that was only a second from being a legal hit.

As for the game, I loved seeing the Bruins come out in the 2nd and 3rd and rally for their fallen teammate, who by the way will miss the rest of the season. More feel good stuff, in a game where 7 different Bruins scored a goal, it was the ageless Mark Recchi who potted 2.  Truly a great story there. Right now all the momentum is in the B's favor.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Draft Thoughts

Due to the building not being available, we're forced to wait an extra day between game 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. So what else is happening in the hockey world today? The scouting combine. With the draft less than a month away, the top prospects are going through rigorous fitness tests and interviews with NHL teams.

This is going to be an important draft for the Avs since they have 2 1st rounders. Joe Sakic, Greg Sherman and the Avs scouting staff more than likely know who they're taking with the picks already.

I know the Avs will probably just go the best player available route and I fully support that philosophy but I just hope they get 1 forward and 1 defenseman with those 2 picks. If I were the Avs, I'd look to Adam Larsson with the 2nd pick then Mika Zibanejad or Joel Arnia with the 11th pick. If Larsson goes 1st then the Avs would have a choice of some other great players. In that case, I'd be happy with Jonathan Huberdeau or Gabriel Landeskog at 2 then grabbing the giant Jamie Oleksiak at 11. Whatever happens, the Avs will have 2 great players in the near future.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What a Game

Game 1 last night had just about everything a hockey fan could want in a Stanley Cup Finals game. Brilliant plays made by both teams, exciting back and forth action, a lot of shots (70) and hits (61), a dive by Henrik Sedin who fell to the ice like he had just been shot after being touched by a Bruins player, and Alex Burrows biting someone.

I wrote yesterday that this is one of the best goaltending matchups in the Finals since 01 and game 1 showed why. If 1-0 games are supposed to be boring, well Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo didn't get the message. Luongo stopped all 36 shots he faced while Thomas stopped 33 of 34. These 2 set the tone for what should be an exciting series.

Just about everyone is picking Vancouver to win this series, myself included. Many also have said that it will probably be an easy series for the Canucks. Last night showed that wont be the case. I think Boston showed that they are capable of hanging with Vancouver and still stand by that 7 game prediction I made.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What Thrashers leaving means to Avs; SCF predictions

So unless you're living under a rock, you should've heard that the Atlanta Thrashers are relocating to Winnipeg next season giving Jets fans a team to cheer for again. According to Gary Bettman, the new Winnipeg team (which is yet to be named) will play next season in the Southeast division before moving to the Northwest division in the 2012-13 season.

The Northwest makes the most sense for the team to play in as they would be grouped with the other western Canadian teams. Obviously some western conference team would be forced to move east. There have been rumblings that Nashville would be moved to the east and play in the SE. I have also heard come people say that Columbus or Detroit could be moved east. That would also mean that one of the Wild or Avs would be booted out of the NW. Here's how I think the divisions should be realigned (teams in bold are the changes):

NW - Cgy, Col, Edm, Van, Wpg
Pacific - Ana, Dal, LA, Pho, SJ
Central - Chi, Clb, Det, Min, Stl
SE - Car, Fla, Nsh, TB, Wsh
NE - Bos, Buf, Mtl, Ott, Tor
Atlantic - NJ, NYI, NYR, Phi, Pit


Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals is tonight and if there is one team I'd hate to see win the Cup, it is Vancouver. I do believe that Vancouver has the edge in offense, defense and special teams however, I think the most even category in this series is between the pipes. This is probably the best goalie matchup that the Finals has produced since Roy and Brodeur went head to head in 01. This season's Vezina favorite, Tim Thomas, is very capable of stealing games and even series.

I would love to see Thomas, Chara and the B's hoist Lord Stanley's Cup, however, I believe that it will be Vancover in 7.

Should be a great series.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Return of the King

Peter Forsberg has finished all of his immigration stuff and joined the team in Columbus yesterday. He took part in this mornings skate and then announced that he will be in the lineup tonight when the Avs play the Blue Jackets. He will play on a line with Milan Hejduk and Matt Duchene.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Time to worry?

Ok so it is well known now that this Avs team is starting to sink and a top draft pick is starting to look like a reality. The defense has been terrible (why did we trade Hannan again?) and the goaltending has been a little sub-par (being very generous). They have only seen 5 victories in the 13 games since the new year started. This slide has taken the Avs all the way down to 12th place in the still tight Western Conference. While this is starting to look all doom and gloom, I'm here to offer a some sunshine on the whole situation.

The Standings

At first glance, the Avs look like they're out of it being in 12th place and all. However, the Avs sit just 3 points behind 8th place Phoenix. Wait, it gets better, the Avs also have 2 games in hand over both the 7th place Wild and the 8th place Coyotes.

Injured players returning

David Jones left last Wednesday's game against the Coyotes after suffering a shoulder injury. It was later reported he would be out indefinitely. Well apparently indefinitely means a little over a week as Jones is set to play tomorrow afternoon against the Ducks. He will add some much needed size and hopefully some scoring.

Ryan O'Reilly who hasn't played since January 14 against the Wild after that scary crash into the boards won't be suiting up tomorrow like Jones but he will be back in the next few games. He's been practicing with the team all week. He'll be a huge upgrade on the defensive end and penalty kill.

While probably a ways off, Peter Mueller has been skating with the team finally. This has been his first time on ice since his latest concussion suffered in the preseason. He is probably still anywhere from a few weeks to a few months away from returning but his presence on the ice alone should give the team and the fans a little more excitement.

The Foppa factor

By now, everyone is aware that former Avs star Peter Forsberg has been practicing with the team in hopes that he can return to the NHL this season. His foot appears to be feeling much better and he should be making his decision pretty soon. I'd have to agree with Dater that we will be getting a decision before the team leaves for the next road trip on Sunday.

With the loss of Tomas Fleischmann and not having Mueller all season, the Avs have become short at left wing. Forsberg would be a huge upgrade at the position even if he isn't at 100%. He's a guy who is nearly impossible to take off the puck. His vision can only be rivaled by guys like Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton or Henrik Sedin. And the main thing Foppa will bring (other than ticket sales) is veteran leadership for the young guys.

Trade Deadline

While the Avs look like they'd be in a position to sell off pieces, the standings are too tight right now and they're still in alright position to make the playoffs. The biggest need for this team right now is defense and goaltending. Upgrading the defense would probably help in the goaltending department as Anderson and Budaj are being peppered with high percentage shots every night. Some players the Avs should consider to help on the back end include Boston's Mark Stuart who is rumored to be on the block as well as Edmonton's Kurtis Foster. Another possibility is Chris Phillips from Ottawa who could just need a change of scenery. The Avs need to get bigger on the back end and these guys would help in that department.

While it is looking like there may be little hope that the Avs will make the playoffs, with the right moves made by the players and management, there is still a lot of reason to believe that this team can do it. It needs to start happening now though before it is too late. Already feels like playoff hockey.