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Features

Avalanche view last season's surprise as springboard

Friday, 08.15.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

Expectations are high for the Colorado Avalanche heading into 2014-15 following a remarkable turnaround that featured a surprising Central Division championship and their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2010.

The season ended with a seven-game loss to the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference First Round, but the postseason experience was viewed as a necessary step in this young team's development.

"I think this is a big turning point for this organization," center Matt Duchene told the NHL Network. "I think you're going to start seeing the Avalanche playing deep into the spring and summer months."

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Top-six slots among five questions facing Avalanche

Friday, 08.15.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent

The Colorado Avalanche improved from the second-worst record in the NHL to third best last season under first-year coach Patrick Roy, won the Central Division and earned a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in four years. But the Avalanche won't surprise teams the way they did last season when they won their first six games and 12 of the first 13 en route to a franchise record-tying 52 wins.

Here are five questions facing the Avalanche:

1. Who will replace Paul Stastny as center on the second line? -- There are plenty of options, but the most likely is to move Calder Trophy-winner Nathan MacKinnon from right wing, where he played most of last season, to his natural center position. MacKinnon had 24 goals and 63 points while spending the majority of the time on a line with left wing Gabriel Landeskog and Stastny, who left as an unrestricted free agent to sign with the St. Louis Blues.

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Defenseman Barrie emerging talent for Avalanche

Friday, 08.15.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent

Which Tyson Barrie was the real deal last season? There was the player who struggled in the first month and was sent to the minors, and then the one who returned to finish with 13 goals, the most by a Colorado Avalanche defenseman since John-Michael Liles scored 14 in 2006-07.

Barrie's emergence as an offensive force and clutch performer -- his five game-winning goals tied him for third among NHL defensemen -- was a major factor in the Avalanche's Central Division title and first Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance in four years.

Barrie, who turned 23 in July, had all of his goals and 22 of his 25 assists in the final 47 games. He averaged 18:32 in ice time for the season and his plus-17 rating was third best on the team.

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Buy-low veterans with hidden fantasy upside

Thursday, 08.14.2014 / 12:00 PM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

Pete Jensen - NHL.com Fantasy Insider

Year after year, fantasy owners who cash in on steals and breakout candidates around the NHL improve their chances of claiming that coveted league crown.

But while emerging young talent is always at the forefront of the offseason conversation, it's important to also keep an eye on veterans looking to prove they have something left in the tank.

We're not talking about elite-level players who have stood the test of time (Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Thornton, Jaromir Jagr, Marian Hossa, etc.) or even middle-round assets (Pascal Dupuis, Dan Boyle, Patrik Elias, Mike Ribeiro, etc.). Fantasy owners need to be wary of hidden gems in the latter stages of their careers who can sneak back into fantasy relevance and boost their teams in the process.

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Blues add center depth to already formidable lineup

Thursday, 08.14.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

There are a lot of great teams in the Western Conference, and it has been that way for much of the salary-cap era.

In the past three seasons, no team in the West has won more regular-season games than the St. Louis Blues. Only the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins have won more in the NHL.

The Blues have famously had very little success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during this time. While either the Los Angeles Kings or Chicago Blackhawks have won the Cup each of the past three seasons, one of those two clubs has also ended hockey season in St. Louis.

Like several other teams in the West, the Blues decided they needed more help at center and acted. Paul Stastny was the best free agent available at the position, and Jori Lehtera was finally convinced to come to North America.

The Blues also lost Vladimir Sobotka to the Kontinental Hockey League, and are going in a different direction in net. Will they finally be able to translate regular-season success into the postseason?

Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Blues:

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Stastny's impact, goalies among Blues' five questions

Thursday, 08.14.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

The St. Louis Blues have had to stand by helplessly and watch the Los Angeles Kings (twice) and Chicago Blackhawks hoist the Stanley Cup the past three seasons.

After consecutive losses to the Kings in 2012 (second round) and 2013 (first round), and to the Blackhawks last spring, the Blues knew they couldn't stand pat. They had to upgrade in positions that the Kings and Blackhawks used as strengths in order to expose the Blues' weaknesses.

Here are five questions facing the Blues as they try to challenge for a Stanley Cup:

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Blues happy to get Lehtera to NHL at last

Thursday, 08.14.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

When the St. Louis Blues selected Jori Lehtera with their third-round pick at the 2008 NHL Draft, an element of the unknown followed the Finnish-born center, one that had nothing to do with his on-ice skills.

The looming question was whether the Blues could get Lehtera to North America.

Lehtera, 26, made impressive strides at the international level as well as playing for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv and Sibir Novosibirsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Ultimately, he turned out to be the wild-card free agent signing that nobody in St. Louis saw coming.

When Blues general manager Doug Armstrong attempted to get Lehtera to the NHL before the 2013-14 season and was turned down, it was viewed as a possible last-gasp attempt to bring him to St. Louis.

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Blues look for answers to playoff struggles

Thursday, 08.14.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

Talking about how and why they lost in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs was bad enough for the St. Louis Blues. Little did they know they would be addressing the same issues as reasons for being ousted one year later.

Those points of emphasis are what the Blues have been dealing with since losing in the first round to the Chicago Blackhawks in April. The six-game loss to the Blackhawks followed the same script as 2013, when the Blues lost to the Los Angeles Kings in six games after they had grabbed a 2-0 series lead.

Amid what seemed like a myriad of issues, one problematic obstacle always seemed to hover as an Achilles' heel: the inability to score the timely goal.

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Goaltender Allen leads Blues' top 10 prospects

Thursday, 08.14.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The St. Louis Blues have two things going for them: they're highly skilled up and down the roster and their top players still have their best years ahead of them.

However, that makes it very difficult for any young player looking to break into the lineup.

"It's a tough situation for a young player coming in," Blues director of player development Tim Taylor told NHL.com. "We can be very easygoing with them and patient with players to develop because we don't need them to step in and be a big part of the team. We let them mature and when they're ready, and we feel they're ready, they can step in."

A few of those players might be ready this season, but the majority will have to bide their time while refining their game at lower levels.

Here's a look at the Blues' top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:

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Thornton loss takes color from Bruins' Merlot Line

Wednesday, 08.13.2014 / 9:21 AM / NHL Insider

NHL.com

Daniel Paille isn't sure when it will sink in that Shawn Thornton isn't his Boston Bruins linemate anymore, but Paille expects it will be more verbal than physical.

"With his absence, you're not going to know until the season starts," Paille told the Boston Herald on Tuesday. "That's when you'll have those moments when you think, 'Jeez, Shawn would have said this.' Or he would have brought something to the table."

Paille saw his friend at Thornton's annual Putts and Punches for Parkinson's charity golf tournament, held in Middleton, Mass. The Bruins chose to let Thornton sign with the Florida Panthers as an unrestricted free agent.

The Panthers visit the Bruins at TD Garden on Nov. 4.

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Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic