30 Teams in 30 Days: Hard times for the Avalanche Staff

9/2/2009 12:50:21 PM

Join TSN in a 30 teams in 30 days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Teams will be unveiled in reverse order of the pre-season Power Rankings, and the Colorado Avalanche are up next at No. 29. Get the lowdown on their off-season, the issues they face this season, and Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis. Use the Your Call feature to give us your take on the Avalanche!

2008-09: 32-45-5 (15th in the West – Out of Playoffs)
TSN Pre-season Power Ranking: 29th
General Manager: Greg Sherman (1st Season)
Head Coach: Joe Sacco (1st Season)

What They Did In The Off-Season:

The Avalanche had a rough start to the summer with team president Pierre Lacroix firing general manager Francois Giguere and keeping head coach Tony Granato hanging by a thread as he courted Patrick Roy to go behind the bench. The Hall of Fame goaltender didn't bite (at least not yet) and so Lacroix brought in Greg Sherman and Joe Sacco in the GM and coaching positions, respectively.

Sherman opened the free agent season by signing goalie Craig Anderson to a two-year deal and tough guy David Koci to a one-year contract. Fan favourite Ian Laperriere was allowed to walk away in free agency, as was fan whipping boy Andrew Raycroft.  The club then shed more salary by sending Ryan Smyth to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for defencemen Tom Preissing and Kyle QuinceyJoe Sakic - who will long be remembered as the face of the franchise - announced his retirement, finishing his illustrious career with the team that drafted him. The team also locked up third-overall draft pick Matt Duchene to a three-year entry level contract.

Biggest Issue Facing The Team:

For the first time since they moved from La Belle Province to the Rockies, the Avalanche will open the season with few aspirations of competing in the Western Conference. The loss of their inspirational leader in Sakic, combined with having a first-year tandem in Sacco and Sherman, means it will likely be a very long season ahead. 

It has been a rapid fall from grace for a team that was considered one of the elite in the NHL just two seasons ago. Without Sakic, Smyth and Laperriere, several young and unproven players will be asked to play roles that they are unfamiliar with and possibly unprepared for. In addition, many of the team's veteran players (Milan Hejduk, Adam Foote, Ruslan Salei, Marek Svatos, Brett Clark, Peter Budaj and Darcy Tucker) are all set to become unrestricted free agents following the season - which means all of them are also candidates to be dealt before that. 

To make matters tougher, almost every team in the Northwest Division took measures to improve their fortunes and this could be the most competitive division in the league. In addition, the Avs are no longer the draw they once were in Denver. Not so long ago, they were the hottest ticket in town. Now the Pepsi Centre is seeing more empty seats, a factor that will likely be accelerated by the departure of Sakic.

On a positive note, Paul Stastny is finally healthy and will be given all the ice time he can handle as the young Avs build toward the future. Top pick Matt Duchene could remain with the team out of camp and should be a candidate for rookie of the year. But things are going to be difficult for a while before they get any better in Denver.

Player To Watch:

During the Avalanche's glory years, Milan Hejduk always flew a bit under the radar - despite playing in three All-Star games and winning the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2003.  The focus always seemed to be on Sakic, Peter Forsberg or Patrick Roy - and all the while, Hejduk could be quietly counted on for at least 30 goals and solid two-way hockey. 

He managed 27 goals while playing all 82 games with very little offensive help last season. A 35-40 goal season would be possible with better linemates, but it's something that he certainly won't be getting anytime soon in Colorado. There would be numerous teams lining up for his services should he be made available. 

With unrestricted free-agency on the horizon and a young team perhaps going nowhere for now, it seems likely that the veteran winger's days in the Rockies are numbered. When he finally does leave, it will sever one of the last ties that the franchise has to their glory days.

Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:

Injuries have hampered Paul Stastny in each of the last two seasons, yet he's been a productive playmaker when healthy, so the Colorado Avalanche will have to lean on him heavily this season. Stastny has 185 points in 193 career games, so point-per-game production would seem reasonable, but may be asking a lot given the supporting cast.

Veteran sniper Milan Hejduk is the only returning Avalanche player to have scored more than 42 points last season, so he's going to play a prominent role for as long as he stays in Colorado. Entering the final year of his contract, he could easily be trade bait at some point, if the Avalanche season goes as expected.

Beyond those two, the Avalanche are banking on potential.

Read more of Cullen's Fantasy Analysis and view the Avalanche's Projected Depth Chart