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Avalanche Offseason Review

by Ryan Boulding / Colorado Avalanche
The 2014-15 NHL campaign is just around the corner, and there is plenty to be excited about as training camp rapidly appears on the horizon. After a season of success under the new direction of first-year head coach Patrick Roy and executive vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic, the offseason was nearly as busy as the flurry of games (playoffs!) that preceded it.

Catch up on a number of big storylines from the summer months:

Lightning strikes thrice in Vegas

Four members of the Colorado Avalanche went down to Las Vegas to attend the 2014 NHL Awards, each having been honored with a separate trophy nomination. All of them were considered heavy contenders and, when the lights went down and the extravaganza concluded, three walked away with some hardware.

Freshman sensation Nathan MacKinnon easily skated off with the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year, garnering 1,347 votes—including 130 first-place tallies—to beat out Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson for the prestigious award. MacKinnon certainly earned the right to be the youngest Calder winner ever after he led all NHL rookies in goals (24-tied), assists (39), points (63), power-play goals (8), game-winning goals (5-tied), shots (241) and games played (82-tied).

MacKinnon was also named to the 2013-14 NHL All-Rookie Team.
Two-way forward Ryan O’Reilly shared in the spoils of the Avalanche-centric evening when he was named the 2014 recipient of the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. Given “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability,” O’Reilly was an easy frontrunner for the honor after completing an 80-game season with just one minor penalty to his name. He also led the Avalanche in goals (28), power-play goals (9), game-winning goals (6-tied) and the entire NHL in takeaways (83).

Patrick Roy capped off the event when he was awarded the Jack Adams Trophy as the 2013-14 coach of the year. Roy helped the Avalanche to an incredible turnaround season that saw the club go 52-22-8—tying a franchise record for wins—on the way to a Central Division title and home-ice advantage in the postseason. Colorado defeated every team in the NHL at least once during the 82-game campaign and had the best road record in the league (26-11-4), speaking to the impact of Roy calling the shots.

Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov finished as the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy for outstanding goaltending during the course of the season, behind only Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins. A 13-point margin narrowly separated Rask and the 26-year-old Russian, who was named to the NHL Second All-Star Team.

Varlamov had an outstanding year that saw him lead the league in shots faced (2,013), saves made (1,867) and wins (41)—a franchise record. He finished third in the league in save percentage (.927)—another franchise high—and posted a 41-14-6 record through 63 games.

Avs draft seven in Philly

The future of the Avalanche got a little bigger during the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia as the organization selected seven players sized 6-foot or taller. Colorado’s picks kicked off with the addition of prospective forward and Red Deer Rebels (WHL) captain Conner Bleackley (23rd) and continued with defenseman Kyle Wood (84th), wingers Nick Magyar (93rd) and Alexis Pepin (114th), rear guard Anton Lindholm (144th), goaltender Maximillian Pajpach (174th) and forward Julien Nantel (204th).

"I think it was a successful weekend as we accomplished our goals and followed our draft plan," said Avalanche director of amateur scouting Rick Pracey following the event. "Addressing our overall depth and bringing in increased size at all positions were two important factors for us, and I think we did that.”

Veteran leadership, depth added over the summer

The Colorado Avalanche also got a little older and wiser during the usually dormant months of the offseason, bringing in a handful of veterans to complement the mixture of youth and experience currently on the roster.

Daniel Briere was the first addition, coming by way of a trade with the Montreal Canadiens for Avalanche forward PA Parenteau and a fifth-round pick at the 2015 NHL Draft. The 36-year-old Briere brings with him a legacy of production on the ice, including during the postseason. Just last year he had three goals and seven points in 16 playoff contests with the Canadiens, bringing his career totals to 53 goals and 63 assists through 124 games.

His creativity and eyes for the game make him a welcome asset among the offensive unit.

Brad Stuart came next, also via a trade, bringing grit and a Stanley Cup ring to the blue line. The 34-year-old rear guard saw time in 61 contests with the San Jose Sharks last year, accruing 114 blocked shots and 122 hits. He’s played in 985 career regular-season games, putting away 77 goals and 245 assists and has another 10 goals and 40 points through 142 playoff matches.

He won the Stanley Cup in 2008 with the Detroit Red Wings and will help with Colorado’s defensive experience in the postseason.
Perhaps the biggest acquisition of the offseason was the free-agent signing of former Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who hit the market after spending the 2013-14 season with the Boston Bruins. Iginla posted 30 goals with the Bruins—his 12th year with 30 or more—and added 31 assists for 61 points through 78 games. He put up another five tallies and two helpers in the postseason as well.

The 37-year-old winger has been nothing but consistent during his time in the NHL. He has amassed 560 goals and 607 assists through 1,310 regular-season games and looks to continue that unrelenting pace in Denver.

“We are excited about Jarome Iginla becoming a member of the Avalanche,” said Sakic. “Jarome’s track record speaks for itself. He is one of the top goal scorers of all time, as well as a great leader. His addition will bolster our offense.”

The Avalanche also added some depth during the free agency period, snatching up forwards Jesse Winchester and Ben Street and defensemen Zach Redmond and Bruno Gervais.

New team in the mix

Looking to expand the developmental system, the Avalanche—in conjunction with the Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)—partnered with the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL to provide an additional affiliate for prospects to play for and grow with.

“I feel with the director of player personnel David Oliver and assistant Avalanche general manager Craig Billington, we have found the right partners,” said Fort Wayne general manager David Franke of the agreement. “Those gentleman, along with Josh Kroenke, Joe Sakic and head coach Patrick Roy, are focused on winning and developing from within the entire organization.”

“This will provide our players a direct line to the AHL. There will be player movement during the season between Fort Wayne and Lake Erie. That is what the ECHL is all about, developing players so they can reach the highest level possible.”

Familiar faces return for more

After adding size at the draft and depth and experience through trades and free agency, the Avalanche set to work bringing back the key players that helped the club to such success during the 2013-14 season.

Ryan O’Reilly, Tyson Barrie, Jamie McGinn and Nick Holden were all signed to new contracts during the slow months of the summer, a reward for their efforts out on the ice.

Barrie had a breakout campaign with the Avalanche, providing extra offense and speed from the back end. The 23-year-old rear guard paced the blue line with 13 goals, notched 38 points (eight on the team) and finished plus-17 (third) through 64 contests, his longest season with the Avs. He also played a key role in Colorado’s late-season push to take first place in the Central Division.

McGinn posted a career year with the Avalanche in 2013-14, his fifth full season in the league. He finished the campaign with 19 goals and assists and 140 hits after 79 games and added two goals and five points in the playoffs. His 38 points, 19 helpers and three game-winning goals were all personal bests and his ability to fill in on any line made him a valuable asset to retain.

Holden managed to create space for himself on the blue line to start the year, turning heads as another offensive defensman in the Avalanche arsenal. Holden’s success on the power-play spoke to his ability to handle the puck and he managed to shutdown opponents such as Alexander Ovechkin and Patrick Kane when called upon.

The 27-year-old rear guard finished his first full NHL season with 10 goals and 15 assists after 54 matches. He added three tallies and one helper in seven playoff games as well.

Giguere calls it a career

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, a former Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup-winning goaltender, decided to hang up the skates after 16 seasons in the top league in the world. Giguere served primarily as a backup to Semyon Varlamov during his three seasons with Colorado, providing wisdom and support to the young Russian. He also stepped in when needed and got the job done, as evidenced by his big games—both shutouts—early last season against the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road.

The 37-year-old netminder concluded his career with a 262-216-50 record, a .913 save percentage, a 2.53 goals-against average, 38 shutouts (37th) and 25 ties through 597 regular-season games played. He finished 33-17 in the postseason with a .925 save percentage and a 2.08 goals-against average as well.

Giguere also housed Avalanche rookie sensation Nathan MacKinnon during the then 18-year-old’s first year in the NHL, providing a stable home life for the youngster.

Giguere was the last remaining active player from the Hartford Whalers franchise.
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