Chicago, IL — The second team this blog looks at in the Central Division aims the spotlight on the division champs of the 2013-14 season. Hard to believe but this team of young up and comers actually won the tough Central but stumbled in the first round of the playoffs to the Minnesota Wild.
All year-long it seemed the Blackhawks and the Avs would meet in the playoffs but that never came to fruition and may not again this year either. Still there is a good rivalry building between these two franchises. Let us not forget also Chicago Blackhawks’ coach Joel Quenneville coached Avalanche current coach Patrick Roy in the later days of his career in Colorado.
So to say these two are familiar with each other is an understatement. There also is a respect factor Roy has for Quenneville that was obviously missing when the Avs faced the Anaheim Ducks last year. Who can forget the ticking time bomb temper of Roy when it exploded against Ducks’ coach Bruce Boudreau.
Surprisingly Roy contained that infamous temper with his team and somehow channeled them in a good way last year. Let’s see if that continues. The Colorado Avalanche is the little brothers of the Blackhawks. They admittedly view the Hawks as the team they want to pattern themselves after and who can blame them.
This team has speed to burn and young skilled talent that can give any team fits and in many ways similar to the Hawks. The difference however is vast in experience and the Chicago Blackhawks have much better blue liners.
The Colorado Avalanche did actually hand the Blackhawks a fairly good thumping in the regular season last year winning the series games four out of five. The Question is can this group of very young skilled talents possess enough know how to traverse the playoff grind?
Even under the tutelage of HOF goalie legend Patrick Roy, it remains to be seen how much this young group learned in last year’s first round playoff dismissal and has this team actually improved, stayed the same or declined in the off-season. Was last year’s success in the regular season just a one year fluke?
The Colorado Avalanche no question can skate with anyone and put pucks in the net with offensive forward talents like Matt Duchene, captain Gabriel Landeskog and last year’s rookie sensation Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon. Matt Duchene is just exciting to watch like Patrick Kane you never know what this kid will pull off with a puck. Even given all that talent though, is there enough veteran know how to lead this talented group on the ice.
Apparently recently inducted HOF and Jonathan Toews idol, Joe Sakic knew the young Avalanche needed some veteran presence on the team to balance out all of the youth. He brought in Bruins and Calgary Flame legend Jerome Iginla and Montreal Canadiens’ Daniel Briere to the fold to provide experience.
In the process however the Avalanche lost a terrific Center in Paul Stastny to the St. Louis Blues and skilled winger P.A. Parenteau left in the Briere switch due to salary cap issues the Avs just could not keep them. The departure of Stastny is really going to hurt and put a tremendous amount of pressure on Nathan MacKinnon to step up and develop even more and take on more responsibilities. MacKinnon is no doubt up to the task but one never knows about youth development and maturity. One day MacKinnon could very well be the leagues’ next Sidney Crosby but he is not there yet.
It also remains to be seen how much lost speed with the Stastny and Parenteau departures will affect the Avalanche. There is some serious doubts as to if Jerome Iginla can keep up with the blazing speed of MacKinnon or Matt Duchene. For these reasons I actually thing the Avalanche took a step back since so much of their game was built on team speed but we shall see.
Jerome Iginla is a great character power forward that brings instant credibility I’m just not so sure he is best suited to this team or in fact to the Western Conference. He was a better fit on the Bruins but perphas the youth on this team will invigorate him and Briere to relive their youthful days. If that happens the Avalanche will be a force again.
The weakness of this team is their defense which barring more moves was really not addressed in the offseason. The Avalanche also has minimal cap room as they are only 1.7 mil under the cap. Not much room to pick up a quality defenseman. Their Blue liners are headed up by Erik Johnson and aged Jan Hajda.
Last year this team was a Corsi/Fenwick nightmare meaning they very seldom had puck possession or dictated the pace of games. How were they able to win then? They relied almost solely on their Russian netminder Semyon Varlamov but can Varlamov have another outstanding year? Is it wise to place all your defensive responsibilities on the goalie? Probably not and this probably explains the team’s quick departure in the playoffs.
The Avalanche had an even worse regular season penalty kill than the Blackhawks and their shots against were one of the worse in the leagues which really does not lend itself to winning formulas. The Avalanche depended mightily on take aways or the other team making mistakes. This again explains their quick departure in the playoffs because at that level teams do not generally make many mistakes so rely on that is probably not a good thing.
Every team in the Central just about got better the Hawks, Blues, Wild & Stars all improved, some significantly. With these teams improving and the Avalanche not improving on the defensive side I don’t see this team leading the division again let alone even making the playoffs. Sorry Colorado I’m not a believer yet. One day maybe but not yet.
Last year their teams motto was “Why not us”? Well for many reasons it probably won’t be you the greatest of which is on ice leadership and know how under pressure. Unless all of their forwards can somehow turn themselves into Toewes, Getzlafs or Bergerons,Kopitars or Hossas Colorado is still lacking champion components on the defense and winning know how regardless of how great a legend their coach Patrick Roy was but they are fun to watch.