The Colorado Avalanche is my pick to be the worst team in the Northwest Division this year. Shoddy goaltending is a glaring weakness on this team, which still possesses a legitimate defensive group and some good young forwards.
In: F – Darcy Tucker, F – Brian Willsie, F – Nathan Smith, F – Per Ledin, D – Daniel Tjarnqvist, G – Andrew Raycroft, Coach – Tony Granato
Out: F – Peter Forsberg, F – Andrew Brunette, F – Jaroslav Hlinka, F – Brad Richardson, F – Wyatt Smith, D – Kurt Sauer, D – Jeff Finger, D – Jeff Jillson, D – Johnny Boychuk G – Jose Theodore, Coach – Joe Quenneville
Pierre Lacroix was the General Manager of the Avalanche for eleven seasons before turning over the GM duties to Francois Giguere. For the vast majority of the time Lacroix was at the helm, the Avalanche consistently contended for the Stanley Cup. Times, however, have changed. Giguere has a nice looking resume, with a degree in administration, a certificate in law, and a license in accounting. He started out as a controller for the Québec Nordiques, and spent eleven years as an assistant general manager with both the Avalanche and the Dallas Stars.
Despite the resume, Giguere has had some difficulty as the team’s GM. They missed the playoffs in 2006–07 and then got knocked out in the first round in 2007–08. Along the way, Giguere dealt Alex Tanguay to Calgary for injury-prone Jordan Leopold, and failed to address one of the worst goaltending tandems in the NHL. This summer, he downgraded the goaltending and axed head coach Joel Quenneville, who had done an excellent job getting an Avalanche team devastated by injuries into the playoffs. His replacement, Tony Granato, spent one season previously as the head coach before being demoted in favour of Quenneville. Granato is a question mark as a coach at this point.
The biggest question mark up front is an extremely weak third line, a weakness that is minimized to some degree by the strength of the first two lines. Both Stastny and Sakic are capable of centering solid two-way lines, although injuries have to be a major concern, given that four of the top-six forwards either have a history of injury trouble or missed major time last season (or both).
Here’s who they have, as well as departed players, ranked by quality of competition. Note that bolded players are additions to the team, while italicized players are players who have left the team in the off-season. Minimum ten games played (all numbers taken from Behindthenet.ca)
Brad Richardson: 1.18 PTS/60, 2.36 GFON/60, 3.07 GAON/60
Joe Sakic: 1.99 PTS/60, 3.18 GFON/60, 3.48 GAON/60
Paul Stastny: 3.12 PTS/60, 4.15 GFON/60, 2.49 GAON/60
Milan Hejduk: 2.18 PTS/60, 3.16 GFON/60, 2.47 GAON/60
Ryan Smyth: 2.01 PTS/60, 2.90 GFON/60, 3.42 GAON/60
Jaroslav Hlinka: 2.28 PTS/60, 2.95 GFON/60, 2.28 GAON/60
Andrew Brunette: 2.56 PTS/60, 3.57 GFON/60, 2.86 GAON/60
Ian Laperriere: 1.48 PTS/60, 1.79 GFON/60, 2.10 GAON/60
Wojtek Wolski: 2.54 PTS/60, 3.03 GFON/60, 2.24 GAON/60
Ben Guite: 1.42 PTS/60, 2.02 GFON/60, 2.09 GAON/60
Darcy Tucker: 1.44 PTS/60, 2.09 GFON/60, 2.48 GAON/60
Wyatt Smith: 0.26 PTS/60, 0.79 GFON/60, 2.36 GAON/60
Marek Svatos: 2.59 PTS/60, 2.95 GFON/60, 1.87 GAON/60
Brian Willsie: 1.35 PTS/60, 2.14 GFON/60, 2.93 GAON/60
David Jones: 0.84 PTS/60, 1.26 GFON/60, 2.53 GAON/60
Nathan Smith: 0.00 PTS/60, 0.64 GFON/60, 0.64 GAON/60
Tyler Arnason: 1.45 PTS/60, 2.01 GFON/60, 2.08 GAON/60
Cody McLeod: 1.14 PTS/60, 1.52 GFON/60, 2.15 GAON/60
TJ Hensick: 0.97 PTS/60, 1.56 GFON/60, 2.14 GAON/60
Cody McCormick: 0.58 PTS/60, 1.59 GFON/60, 0.87 GAON/60
Scott Parker: 0.00 PTS/60, 0.00 GFON/60, 0.00 GAON/60
PTS/60 – average number of points recorded for every 60 minutes of even-strength ice-time
GFON/60 – average number of goals scored for every 60 minutes that the player is on the ice
GAON/60 – average number of goals scored against for every 60 minutes that the player is on the ice
What does it all mean? Well, the Avalanche have clearly downgraded to some extent up front, despite Sakic’s return. Hlinka and Brunette were both strong support players, things that are difficult to say about Tucker and Willsie.
Likely, the Avalanche will run with the following lines:
- Smyth – Stastny – Hejduk
- Wolski – Sakic – Svatos
- Hensick – Arnason – Tucker
- Ledin – Guite – Laperriere
It’s not an awful lineup; the first line is a legitimate force and is probably the best in the division, while Stastny has a low profile for what a high quality player he is. Of course, both Smyth and Hejduk have major injury concerns, and there isn’t much depth in the system to replace them. Looking at these lines, Tony Granato will almost certainly be forced to play the Stastny line power-vs-power. With Sakic back, the Avalanche also have a difference-making second line, although injuries always seem to be a concern with Marek Svatos as well. The third line is brutal, with Darcy Tucker supplying a bit of grit and not much else, Arnason only scoring against the Oilers, and TJ Hensick still too young to be relied upon in a major way. Guite and Laperriere form the core of one of the leagues top 4th lines, and will be relied upon to play against difficult match-ups. The biggest concern up front is the lack of depth. The addition of Swedish agitator Per Ledin (52GP, 16-17-33, 137 PIM) should help.
Avalanche Defence, Goaltending, Special Teams and Overall Outlook.
The OilersNation Research Department™ has been hard at work getting ready for the new season. As 2008-09 draws upon us, we’ve analyzed what the Northwest Division will look like. Check out the Canucks preview here and here. We’ll be posting two parts for each team every weekend in the lead-up to the season. Enjoy!
—Jonathan Willis is the force behind Copper & Blue, a blog dedicated to all things Oil, and a frequent contributor to OilersNation.com.