September's finally here. And given how slowly teams are coming together, we decided to put off the previews until September this time. We go in alphabetical order because hey, why not? We'll be doing this until September ends. With that said here we go.
And now, the Colorado Avalanche.
Team M.O.: Last season at this time, I thought the team lacked identity. The truth: They were silently rebuilding after having up-and-down success in the post-lockout NHL. No more are the Avalanche now a two-way team that effectively used the trap as they did in the old NHL; they were now an offensively brilliant run-and-gun team that used offense over defense as a means to win. GM Greg Sherman was able to get goalie Craig Anderson to an affordable contract with the promise of playing time and after that, things kinda fell into place from there.
Last Season: The team finished eighth in the Western Conference and were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks during the Conference Quarterfinals in six games. This was a stark improvement from 2009, when the team finished last in the Conference and selected third overall at the draft (oh, and that worked out for them by the way.)
Offense: Matt Duchene went from being the third-overall pick going to a moribund team to being one of the spark plugs that got the team back up and running; no doubt he'll be expected to do great things this season. Paul Stastny just keeps getting better and while he would probably like to net more than 20 goals this upcoming season, he's still going to be close or at a point-per-game basis this season. Power forward Chris Stewart just re-signed with the team after putting up a career season with 64 points; no doubt will he be expected to play a top-six forward role for the team. The usually-healthy Milan Hejduk missed some time with the club last season but still broke the 40 point barrier in 56 appearances and gives the kids on the team a reliable veteran leader who can both guide them and play to their abilities. Peter Mueller came over from the Phoenix Coyotes and made a splash until he was injured with a concussion; he has the talent and ability to be an effective scoring forward in the league but has suffered from issues relating to concussions and immaturity to the point where he could be the next Krys Kolanos. T.J. Galiardi took a significant step forward with his offensive production last season and shown he could be relied on to provide offense for the team. Brandon Yip will likely round out the offensive forwards for the team; he'll get a better chance to showcase his skills if he can avoid the injury bug.
Going further down the depth chart, Ryan O'Reilly managed to have a nice rookie year himself and makes for a solid third-line center who might be able to muster enough offense to produce 40 points. Dan Winnik comes over from the Phoenix Coyotes and while he won't score a slew of goals, he'll be spectacular in a defensive role for the team that needs it. Cody McLeod provides the crashing-and-banging along with agitation while David Koci enforces for the team when called upon. Kevin Porter (the third player formerly from the Phoenix Coyotes so far) will likely have a better shot than ever of getting to audition for an NHL gig. Though he's a versatile forward who's primarily used in a defensive role, he could have a breakout year in terms of scoring under the right conditions. David Jones suffered an ACL tear and missed most of the season last year and given his injury concerns, might be limited to part time status despite his potential. Philippe Dupuis, Ben Walter, Greg Mauldin, and David Van Der Gulik will likely be battling for jobs in camp.
In my opinion, they could stand to add another veteran checking forward. Maybe a training camp invite for one would do well to ensure the best guy gets the job.
Defense: Scott Hannan and Adam Foote are both excellent leaders and defense-first style of players; that's something that's significant to have with the type of system the team plays in. Kyle Cumiskey is another player who had a breakout season last year and will likely be assigned top-pairing minutes in an offensive role this season. Kyle Quincey continues to thrive at all aspects of the game, which makes Detroit Red Wings fans wonder why he was waived instead of Derek Meech. John-Michael Liles wasn't a regular for the team last season but he still managed to put up 31 points in 59 games. Ryan Wilson got his audition last season and looks poised to fulfill the "nasty defensive role" that's wonderful to have at Number 6.
As much as I would love to see a "Shattenkirk" jersey, the team would do better to get a legitimate depth defender like Andreas Lilja as opposed to having one of their current prospect/minor league players playing that role. The team isn't necessarily injury free and depth could be a significant factor for them this season.
Goaltending: Craig Anderson made well on his change of scenery, going from minor-league assignments to starting in the NHL. He thrives with the more shots he faces which affords the opportunity for the team to play the type of game they do. Peter Budaj was used largely in a backup role last season but still put up excellent individual numbers; it would be nice to see him challenge Anderson for more playing time. The team has John Grahame and Jason Bacashihua in the minors to round out the depth.
Management: Though Sherman inherited a good team, he still made the right moves to ensure they'll remain competitive in the league. Joe Sacco's first year in the NHL was so successful that he probably would have won the Jack Adams Trophy if it weren't for Dave Tippett's Phoenix Coyotes. I trust that these guys know what their doing even if I'm not overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the team on paper.
Prediction: Third in the Northwest Division and on the playoff bubble.
These guys are better equipped than the Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild. While the Vancouver Canucks will likely win the division again this season, the Calgary Flames's success will ultimately depend on how well they can work with injuries (they're damned if they do because they miss people, they're damned if they don't because of the salary cap.) On paper, I think the Flames have more experience and that the Avalanche could be prone to a few sophomore slumps. If the management can make the right moves and/or if the players can take the right steps forward then the team could conceivably overtake the Flames in the division.