At long last, the Colorado Avalanche are back in town and preparing for the 2015-2016 season. This summer has felt like an eternity, but soon enough the Avalanche will be back on our TVs 3-4 times a week.
I didn’t cover much over the summer, although a couple big things happened. Here is a recap of the big things (for those of you who did something with your summers besides stare longingly at the NHL homepage, refreshing in the bleak hope that meaningful or interesting news pertaining to the Avs would pop up) and my take on things:
- Ryan O’Reilly. The big “Factdaddy” was traded away to Buffalo, along with Jamie McGinn in exchange for Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov. Some other names were in there, but these are the big four involved. O’Reilly has had two contract disputes with the Avalanche, and this summer it came out that he was asking for $7 million a year (which would give him a higher salary than Matt Duchene, Erik Johnson, Semyon Varlamov, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon). Joe Sakic, understanding that this was a ridiculous salary to give a player who has reached the 20 goal threshold only once (and who is certainly not more important to the team than any of the aforementioned players) made a pretty good deal for him. Zadorov is a big, left-handed defenseman who shows a lot of promise. If he can reach his potential, the left side of the Avalanche defense (especially with upcoming players like Duncan Siemens and Chris Bigras) could really be set for the next set for the next little while. (Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie are pretty solid on the right for a good chunk of the future.) Frankly, I’m a little bit salty at Ryan O’Reilly, for claiming he wanted to be here, but making such ludicrous demands. So, unlike a number of Avs fans, I’ll be cheering for former center Paul Stastny but not O’Reilly (insert your boos here).
- The Avalanche switched AHL affiliate teams, from the Lake Erie Monsters to the San Antonio Rampage. Essentially all of the personnel under Avalanche contract have just been shifted over to the Rampage-this includes head coach Dean Chynoweth and a number of players.
- Mikko Rantanen and a few other players were drafted. Rantanen is the only one who will likely be in the conversation for the next couple of years. He is oddly reminiscent of Landeskog-tall, wide, blonde, physical winger who grew up idolizing Peter Forsberg. Other than the fact he’s a right winger and Finnish, they’re practically twins! (I dream of a future line that has Landeskog on one wing and Rantanen on the other, and the two of them fly down the wings like male Valkyries.)
- The big free agency signings this summer were Francois Beauchemin and Blake Comeau. Carl Soderberg was traded to the Avs when the Bruins realized they couldn’t afford to sign him, and the Avs signed him, so he was sort of a pseudo-free agency signing. Beauchemin is an older player, the whole Brad Stuart thing was a terrible decision (and a similar scenario), and I have gigantic soft spots for Jan Hejda and Ryan Wilson so I hope you will all excuse me if I don’t hold my breath for him to be the second coming. Comeau and Soderberg seem to be good players, but I feel like they simply added depth to the forward chart in places where it wasn’t really needed.
Now, let’s take a look at the lineup of players preparing for training camp tomorrow…
Obviously, Landeskog and Tangs are the top left wingers. Comeau, McLeod, and Bordeleau will be the other three left wingers on this team. There’s not really a ton up for debate here. Alexis Pepin will likely be sent back to junior, and Agozzino, Martinsen, and Cheek will all be headed to San Antonio. If there are any injuries on this side though, I’d love to see Agozzino be given a real shot. He had a fantastic year for the Monsters last season, and he might be ready to make the jump.
This is absolutely the weakest side of the Avalanche attack, which feels blasphemous to write considering the fact this is where we have Jarome-Freakin’-Iginla. Iginla is the absolute top winger here, no contest. Dennis Everberg probably has his spot secure still after how well he played last year, but he’s going to need to step up the scoring if he wants that second line role. Mikko Rantanen, Borna Rendulic, and Jack Skille are the players to pay attention to here (Magyar is 19 and will likely be sent down). If Rantanen plays well enough in camp, Patrick Roy has said he will keep him, but otherwise the Avs are fine letting him mature and develop another year in Finland. Borna Rendulic had a nice run for a stretch of games last season, but broke his leg. He didn’t make the team out of training camp last year, and I’m curious to see what management will want to do with him, as they consider his play last year and how he looks at camp this year. Jack Skille is coming in on a try-out basis, which means the Avs are under no obligation to sign him if they aren’t impressed with his performance. Skille was a high draft pick, but has never really lived up to his potential, and has thus floated around the past couple years. He might fit in at a third or fourth line role, but I’m not really seeing it right now. There’s a strong chance this position will be filled by a couple of centers, considering the Avs have 8 million centers* to spare.
*This is an exaggeration.
What did I tell you? 8 million centers*. Here’s what I want you to do: ignore everyone listed after Conner Bleakley. Those are all centers that will be sent back to junior or sent to San Antonio, guaranteed**. Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Carl Soderberg, and John Mitchell are all absolutely on this team. Marc-Andre Cliche has been on the team for the past two years (much to my chagrin last year) but I think he will have a tough time beating out Mikhail Grigorenko and Jesse Winchester. Grigorenko is better, and Winchester is a player that everyone was excited to see play last year until he was concussed. Joey Hishon has been pushing to make the team these past couple of years, and Freddie Hamilton also spent some time up with the team, so either of them could be possible fill-ins, especially on that right wing (although Hamilton is the one with a right-handed shot, the Avs have been pretty okay with putting players wherever regardless of shooting hand). I’m also curious to see how Conner Bleakley does this year. He was the Avs first pick in 2014, but last year his training camp was a bit disappointing, so I’m interested to see his improvements. This is absolutely the Avalanche’s strongest position.
*Still an exaggeration
**Okay, I can’t really guarantee it. But if they aren’t, I will eat my Gabriel Landeskog signed puck.
Francois Beauchemin Erik Johnson
Nick Holden Tyson Barrie
Brad Stuart Nate Guenin
Nikita Zadorov Zach Redmond
Brandon Gormley Maxim Noreau
Chris Bigras Mat Clark
Gabriel Beaupre Nicolas Meloche
Holy defenseman Batman! There are a lot of dudes here, and not necessarily a lot of certainty. Everyone below the dotted line is out of the running, but I’d say everyone above has a chance of making the team. Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, and Francois Beauchemin are the only guarantees here. Nate Guenin, Zach Redmond, Nick Holden, and Brad Stuart were all on the defense last year. Guenin is a good player but could possibly be switched out if several other players make an impression, Redmond had a good year but is more offensively minded (which isn’t really the problem for the Avalanche defense), Holden is looking to play better than he did last year, as is Stuart. Nikita Zadorov was the big gain from the Ryan O’Reilly trade, so I think it’s extraordinarily likely he will be in the top 8 (remember, Roy likes to keep 8 defensemen). Brandon Gormley was just recently acquired in exchange for the rights to Stefan Elliott, who at one point was the future for the blueline, so I think the team intends to give him a careful look. Chris Bigras is young but has constantly impressed at his two previous training camps, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get some time with the team at some point during the year. Duncan Siemens was a high draft pick and played fairly well in one game for the Avs last year, so there’s a chance with a big camp he could make the team. It’s more likely he’ll be used for call-ups though. I don’t know much about Mat Clark and Maxim Noreau, but they have each seen some NHL time. Ideally they’ll be in San Antonio and used as call-ups, but with a killer camp, who knows? Andrej Meszaros is another player on a tryout contract. He’s going to have to play really well to earn a contract and a way into the top 8, but he has played in over 600 NHL games, so he’s perfectly capable of making the team.
Varlamov is number one, as in it’s his number and he’s the starting goaltender. Berra and Pickard are the really interesting players to watch here. Pickard played much better last year than Berra did which puts the Avs in a difficult position. They want Pickard to be the goalie of the future, and they want him playing a lot (which won’t really happen if he’s Varls’ back up) but he’s just so much better than Berra. Berra earned a couple of wins late in the season, but I just don’t know if he has what it takes to be a consistent, reliable back up. If he has a poor showing at camp, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Avs decide to buy him out. Roman Will and Spencer Martin both show a lot of promise as future goalies, but they’re unlikely to see time in the Avs net unless all hell breaks loose. Maximilian Pajpach is the youngest goalie, still just a teenager, so he’ll be sent back to his junior team after camp.
As excited as I am for this season, there are still a lot of question marks on the roster. There could be plenty of turnover…or the team could wind up looking very similar to last year. It’s going to be up to Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy to build this team and to do a good job of it. A lot of people have been using the #NextChapter to describe this season. (I’m assuming this comes from a Matt Duchene quote back on April 11 “It’s kind of chapter 2 of this new era here. It wasn’t as nice as chapter 1, but we’re going to make chapter 3 really good.” Also I should be congratulated for pulling that out of the wormhole that is my twitter favorites.) I’m ready, how about you guys?