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30 in 30

Depth at center strength of Avalanche lineup

Thursday, 08.16.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

There were several bright spots during the 2011-12 season for the Colorado Avalanche, but also some disappointments as general manager Greg Sherman tries to build a consistent winner again in Denver.

Gabriel Landeskog was the League's top rookie, and Ryan O'Reilly took a big step toward stardom. Sherman made a bold move to acquire a young goalie, Semyon Varlamov, and he was able to stay healthy (a big knock against him with the Washington Capitals).

Still, Colorado's more established young talent -- Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny and Erik Johnson -- didn't produce to their potential, and the Avalanche missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons. Sherman landed one of the top free-agent forwards available this offseason and bolstered the team's depth on defense.

Given another year of development for one of the youngest teams in the NHL, it could mean a return to the postseason -- something that was a given not that long ago in the Mile High City.

Youthful Avalanche seek return to playoffs

Thursday, 08.16.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Davis Harper - NHL.com Staff Writer

With three weeks to play in the 2011-12 NHL season, the Colorado Avalanche were in the mix for the final Western Conference playoff spot.

Then, all of a sudden, they weren't.

Six losses in the final seven games meant the Avalanche missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season and fourth time in the past six.

However, an early summer doesn't translate into a lost season. The Avalanche continued to develop a very strong core of young players in 2011-12, finishing with 88 points and a 41-35-6 record, 20 points higher than they finished 2010-11.

Gabriel Landeskog, 19 years old, won the Calder Trophy, and linemate Ryan O'Reilly, 21, led the Avalanche in assists (37) and points (55). Colorado's most productive defenseman, Erik Johnson, and its starting goalie, Semyon Varlamov, are both 24.

Avalanche need Duchene to rebound

Thursday, 08.16.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Davis Harper - NHL.com Staff Writer

Matt Duchene
Center - COL
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 28
SOG: 132 | +/-: -11
Of all the personnel questions facing the Colorado Avalanche heading into this season, the biggest is Matt Duchene.

Yes, there are concerns about a slow, sluggish defense. There is a No. 1 goalie (Semyon Varlamov) whose stamina and ability remain unproven. And there is a Calder Trophy winner (Gabriel Landeskog) in danger of a sophomore slump.

But none of those anxieties is as pressing as Duchene. Can he stay healthy? Can he relocate his confidence? Can he buckle down and find his scoring touch within a more potent offense?

Four goalies among Colorado's top prospects

Thursday, 08.16.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Davis Harper - NHL.com Staff Writer

In recent seasons, the Colorado Avalanche have drafted and developed a talented stable of forwards, including Ryan O'Reilly, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, all of whom are key players heading into the 2012-13 season.

These days, Colorado's pipeline is packed with goalie prospects. Within the past year, the Avalanche have signed four goaltenders with hopes of developing them into NHL-caliber stoppers. Kent Patterson and Kieran Millan were cornerstones of their college teams at Minnesota and Boston University, respectively, and Sami Aittokallio represented Finland at the 2012 World Junior Championships.

Calvin Pickard might be the pick of the bunch, however. The former Seattle Thunderbirds goaltender set a Western Hockey League record for career saves and possesses the most NHL upside.

Varlamov among key questions facing Avalanche

Thursday, 08.16.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Davis Harper - NHL.com Staff Writer

After an offseason spent extending contracts and re-signing key free agents, the Colorado Avalanche will enter 2012-13 looking very similar to the team that narrowly missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season: very young, very raw -- and very talented.

Will another year of experience for the young core be enough to put Colorado over the top? Can they survive a grueling season in the Western Conference? Can goaltending, defense and offense put it all together and return the Avalanche to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons?

Here are six questions facing the Avalanche heading into this season:

1. Did the Avalanche do enough this offseason?

It was a relatively quiet offseason for Colorado in terms of trades and free agency, and some fans are undoubtedly concerned that not enough was done to improve the Avs' 11th-place finish in the West. Upon closer inspection, the organization took a few steps – albeit small ones – toward a return to the postseason.

Two trade deadline deals injected a vital boost into a tiring offense. Steve Downie joined from the Tampa Bay Lightning and scored seven points in his first four games, tying Theo Fleury for the best start in team history. Colorado then picked up Jamie McGinn from the San Jose Sharks, and his 13 points from March 1 to season's end were tied for the team lead (with Paul Stastny).

Healthy Helm makes Red Wings a dangerous club

Wednesday, 08.15.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock calls Darren Helm "an everydayer," meaning he always gives maximum effort and has winning on his mind. With last season as proof, the Red Wings need Helm to show up every day in order to win enough games to maintain their Stanley Cup contender status.

"The interesting stat is what was our record last year with Helm in the lineup and what was our record without him?" Babcock said. "You're going to be shocked. That right there writes your whole article."

The answer is Detroit was 42-22-4 with Helm in the lineup last season; just 6-6-2 without him.

Several Wings must improve production to fill holes

Wednesday, 08.15.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

For the first time in a long time, the Detroit Red Wings are a team at a crossroads.

The Red Wings, who have made the playoffs a NHL-record 21 straight seasons, appear to have enough talent to still be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. However, for the first time in 20 seasons they do not have Nicklas Lidstrom, the guy coach Mike Babcock referred to as "a security blanket, a guy that just makes you feel good."

They've got high-end talent, a good core of players still in their mid-to-late 20s, and a solid prospect pool. However, there are more questions about the Red Wings entering this season than there have been in a long time.

Here are six that need to be answered for Detroit to stay a dominant team in 2012-13:

1. What can the Red Wings do to fill the void left by Nicklas Lidstrom?

Lidstrom is a once-in-a-generation player. Teams don't replace those guys. Teams can't replace those guys. They leave a void and, really, the rest of the team just has to deal with it and move on.

The Red Wings already had to do this when Steve Yzerman retired. They won another Stanley Cup.

Lidstrom gave Detroit and the NHL pure genius on the ice for 20 seasons, but just because he's gone doesn't mean Detroit has to change its system or its style. The Red Wings may never have someone as responsible and reliable as Lidstrom, and it's simply unfair to ask anyone to even try to be like him. Instead, guys like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall have to step up and fill the leadership void.

Red Wings relying on Smith, forward prospects

Wednesday, 08.15.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Developing a solid prospect pool isn't easy when a franchise is constantly drawing low draft picks after successful seasons. The Detroit Red Wings, though, have always managed to find a way to pull gems out of the draft that no other team sees.

Pavel Datsyuk was a sixth-round pick in the 1998 NHL Draft. Detroit nabbed Henrik Zetterberg in the seventh-round a year later. Darren Helm was a fifth-round pick in 2005. Jonathan Ericsson was the final pick, No. 291, in 2002. Even Nicklas Lidstrom, the now-retired, future Hall of Fame defenseman, waited for 52 other players to be picked in 1989 before the Red Wings made him one of the best second-round picks of all time.

There may very well be a Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Helm, or Ericsson in Detroit's current crop of prospects. It's impossible to say that there will ever be another Lidstrom.

New era begins in Motown without Lidstrom

Wednesday, 08.15.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has spent the summer doing what he always does -- jotting down line combinations and defense pairings on napkins while enjoying time with his family at their lake house in Saskatchewan. And, as always, Babcock's stomach churns with nervous energy and excitement when he thinks about the upcoming NHL season.

"I'm scared to death," he told NHL.com. "I'm always scared to death in the summer."

He has more reason to be scared this summer than any other since he took over in Detroit. For the first time in seven years, Babcock can't write down the name Nicklas Lidstrom on his array of napkins.

Lidstrom announced his retirement early in the offseason, ending a decorated playing career that includes winning the Stanley Cup four times and the Norris Trophy seven times. Lidstrom, who is now a scout for the Red Wings, leaves a considerable hole on Babcock's lineup card, one the coach knows is impossible to fill.

Red Wings thin on defense, but deep at forward

Wednesday, 08.15.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

After being two years removed from back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final, the Detroit Red Wings looked primed for one more prolonged playoff run as the 2011-12 regular season came to a close. A combination of age, injury and an upstart foe in the Nashville Predators led to an early exit from the postseason after just five games.

The offseason was not kind to the Red Wings, either. An icon, Nicklas Lidstrom, retired. Another key member of the defense, Brad Stuart, wanted to be back on the West Coast. Tomas Holmstrom, another long-time pillar of the franchise, has not been re-signed. The Red Wings were considered favorites to land one of the top defensemen on the market, most notably Ryan Suter, but they all signed elsewhere.

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