Fantasy Puck Preview: Colorado Avalanche

Scott Cullen
9/10/2008 11:06:07 AM
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The times are changing in Colorado which means that, while the Avalanche still have some desirable fantasy players, they're not necessarily the same old names we've grown used to over the years.

For years, the Avalanche were good for a couple of first-rounders with Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, but the NHL days are nearing an end for the Future Hall of Famers.

Taking the torch from Sakic is third-year pro Paul Stastny, who has scored 149 points in 148 career games. The 22-year-old playmaker is still on his carer ascent so his production should continue to climb.

Sakic is coming off an injury-marred season, during which he put up a career-low 40 points. On the plus side, it was only in 44 games, so it still seems reasonable to think that Burnaby Joe is still good for at least 70 points if he's relatively healthy.

Ryan Smyth is another veteran coming off a tough season, as injuries limited him to 55 games and his 37 points was Smyth's lowest total since 1998-1999. If healthy, a bounceback is fair to expect from the 32-year-old, but don't overrate him -- he's never topped 70 points.

Veteran winger Milan Hejduk has run hot and cold in recent seasons (75, 58, 70 and 54 have been his point totals over the last four years), which would suggest that this year is time for a 70-point season, but it's probably safer to expect a little less.

22-year-old Wojtek Wolski actually had his point total decrease from 50 to 48 in his second NHL season, but he could be ready for a jump if only he can secure some power play time. Keep in mind, for leagues that count penalty minutes, Wolski and his 32 career penalty minutes can drop down a bit in the rankings.

Marek Svatos is another of the new generation Avalanche snipers, but the injury-plagued winger has yet to play more than 66 games in a season and is among the league's Cy Young leaders (26 goals, 11 assists last season). He's worth a pick, just not until the later rounds.

One veteran who may be looked to for a comeback season would be 33-year-old Darcy Tucker. While Tucker's effectiveness diminished in Toronto, a new challenge could spark his competitive fire. In deep leagues, 40 points and 100 penalty minutes from the wing would definitely provide value.

Though his point totals have declined in the last couple of seasons, John-Michael Liles remains the most valuable Avalanche defenceman for fantasy purposes. Even with only 32 points last season (down from 49 in 2005-2006), Liles still managed 20 power play points, so he'll be useful enough even if his production doesn't improve.

Also consider veteran Ruslan Salei. While he's not flashy, Salei has missed only four games over the last four seasons, has put up 30 points in each of the past two seasons and has also racked up 424 penalty minutes over the last four years; numbers that are solid enough in multiple categories to help in deep leagues.

Goaltending is a significant question mark for the Avalanche.

Peter Budaj shared the starting job with Jose Theodore until around the midway point of the 2007-2008 season before he was shuffled to the bench, getting just five starts after the All-Star break. Budaj should get first crack at the starting job again, but will likely have a short leash, making him a risky fantasy pick.

Budaj's competition, Andrew Raycroft, is coming off a disastrous season in Toronto. It's fair to hope that Raycroft won't be as bad as he was in 2007-2008 (2-9, 3.92 GAA, .876 SVPCT), but only the most optimistic or desperate would feel comfortable taking him on draft day.

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