From 1996 to 2006 the Colorado Avalanche were one of the NHL's model franchises, but recently that has not been the case.
After another disappointing season in 2012-13 there was a serious overhaul, even if there weren't a lot of notable changes in the dressing room. Former captain Milan Hejduk was not retained, but he was slipping to the fringes of the roster after being a key cog for years. One player who was around for Hejduk's prime, forward Alex Tanguay, is back after a trade with the Calgary Flames.
The biggest addition on the ice will be center Nathan MacKinnon, and the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft probably won't need long to work his way into an important role. The biggest move of the offseason was hiring Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy to be the coach, and he's already stated he wants to start MacKinnon on the third line and let him earn his way up the lineup.
Replacing Greg Zanon and Shane O'Brien with Cory Sarich (arrived in the same trade as Tanguay) and a couple of fringe NHL players signed to low-cost free-agent contacts is probably not going to be enough to improve what was a porous defense.
Maybe the Avalanche, with MacKinnon, Tanguay and full seasons from Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly, will score their way into Stanley Cup Playoff contention. It does look like the final two playoff spots in the Central Division (behind the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues) could be up for grabs, though the Minnesota Wild's young players should improve and the Nashville Predators could be much better in 2013-14.
Here is the projected 2013-14 lineup for the Avalanche:
Gabriel Landeskog - Matt Duchene - Ryan O'Reilly
Alex Tanguay - Paul Stastny - PA Parenteau
Jamie McGinn - Nathan MacKinnon - Steve Downie
Cody McLeod - John Mitchell - Mark Olver
Jan Hejda - Tyson Barrie
Ryan Wilson - Erik Johnson
Matt Hunwick - Cory Sarich
NOTES: O'Reilly is one of the best defensive forwards in the League, but the Avalanche said he could be the player who shifts to wing to make room at center for MacKinnon. It would make a lot of sense to put O'Reilly on a line with MacKinnon to help the rookie out in his own end of the ice, so don't be surprised if they end up spending a lot of time together. O'Reilly and Stastny are in the final year of contracts, and if the Avalanche are not in playoff contention, expect to see those names in a lot of possible trade-target stories.
Colorado needs a bounce-back season from Johnson on defense, but the development of 22-year-olds Barrie and Stefan Elliott could make the Avalanche a lot better on the blue line. There are a lot of defensemen under contract, but if Elliott has a strong camp it would be hard to keep him off the roster.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Varlamov in his first year with Francois Allaire as his goalie coach. Allaire has a great relationship with Giguere, and the veteran could help bring the two together. If Varlamov improves his technical consistency, he could be an elite player at the position.
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: AVALANCHE
Under-valued: PA Parenteau - He's been extremely underrated for three straight years. Don't make the same mistake this year. Parenteau found immediate chemistry with Matt Duchene and you can expect close to 70 points with a healthy amount of penalty minutes as a nice bonus this season.
Over-valued: Paul Stastny - Last season's .60 points-per-game were a new low for Stastny. Add in the fact that he's never eclipsed 200 shots on goal and isn't a "PIMS guy," and you're staring at a borderline undraftable fantasy forward. Hope for a bounce-back season, but cut ties quickly if he struggles out of the gate.
Sleeper: Tyson Barrie - Nathan MacKinnon will likely be a household name going into fantasy drafts (and deservedly so), but Barrie has the potential to be Colorado's No. 1 offensive defenseman. With more PP ice time (2:38 per game last year) and more experience, he's worth selecting as a bench D-man.
Follow Matt Cubeta on Twitter: @NHLQubes
Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer