It has definitely been a rough year for the Colorado Avalanche and its fans. The Avalanche finished with a dismal 30-44-8 record and second to last in the Northwest Division and Western Conference.
Following a early exit in the first round of last year’s playoffs at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, there was an initial feeling that the kids would take in some valuable playoff experience and use the disappointment and frustration as motivation for the next year. It would have been extremely difficult for the Avs to have made a long playoff run because of their youth and inexperience. The thought around the Avalanche organization heading into this season was all about progress. While nothing compares to deeper playoff experience, this first playoff loss was supposed to sting a little bit and ignite the desire and passion in the players to show next year just how far they can really go.
The team took a step back this season before completely falling apart at the end. The offense went dry at times and without goalie Craig Anderson performing like he did the year before, the opposing team was usually in control. Anderson was largely responsible for bailing teammates out when they allowed fast breaks with his ability to make the big save. He had trouble regaining that ability once the season started and couldn’t steal games for the Avalanche anymore. He would get beat on very difficult shots that he somehow made the year before, and had some trouble stopping those he should’ve saved.
With goaltending no longer able to cover up the holes in the defense, the Avs fell behind early and often.
Injuries happen to all teams, but those who dismiss the issue for the Avs aren’t looking at the big picture. Colorado was once again near the top of the list in man games lost to injury. Depth proved to be the Avs’ Achilles’ heel as they played most of the season with minor league fill-ins. Top-six forward Peter Mueller and speedy defenseman Kyle Cumiskey were two of the most damaging injuries to the Avs’ playoff hopes.
Trades, trades, trades. General Manager Greg Sherman made a very gutsy, and in my opinion beneficial, blockbuster deal that sent goal-scoring forward Chris Stewart, rookie sensation Kevin Shattenkirk, and a 2nd Round pick to St. Louis for former No. 1 pick Erik Johnson, Jay McClement and a 1st Round pick. Sherman also sent goalie Craig Anderson to Ottawa in a one-for-one deal for goalie Brian Elliott. The new acquisitions played decently well in their first handful of games with the Avs. The trade that brought in minute-munching defenseman Erik Johnson shored up the defense and added another quality forward in Jay McClement. The upgrade from a 2nd to 1st Round pick will obviously benefit the Avs and help to stockpile top-level talent.
Following the excitement around the trade deadline, the Avalanche fell from playoff contention to high draft pick contention. Erik Johnson showed glimpses of the talent that made him the 1st overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft. Along with John-Michael Liles, Johnson will be a cornerstone defenseman. Jay McClement didn’t go on a scoring rampage and single-handedly win over his new fans, but that’s not the type of player he will be. He takes care of his job and does it well. Brian Elliott had a few strong showing in his limited time with the Avs, but didn’t win the starting job by any means.
Some players had very strong individual seasons while some will need to contribute more. Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk and John-Michael Liles had especially strong seasons while Paul Stastny went through a bit of a scoring drought. To be successful next year, the Avs need Stastny to bounce back strong, heal some injuries, and find a solution in goal.
For all of the Avalanche fans out there be patient. Help is on the way.
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