Things are going to be different this year for the Colorado Avalanche. Sure, they were different last season, but they’re still going to be different this season as well.
The Avalanche went out and got bigger, tougher and more experienced after that stinging first-round exit at the hands of the Minnesota Wild. Depth was an issue then, and it shouldn’t be now.
The Avalanche team you know and love will be the same, but also not the same.
Guys like Nathan MacKinnon added muscle over the summer while executive vice president Joe Sakic and head coach Patrick Roy filled in the roster gaps with veterans and role players. Guys with extensive playoff experience and skaters with specific skills are now in the mix.
“I’m very excited about this year. I think Joe did a really good job putting this team together,” said Roy at a press conference prior to the start of NHL training camp on Friday. “As a coach’s perspective, I look forward to this camp. I think we have a good mix of veteran players and younger guys, and I think our veterans will help (out) our younger guys and I think that will serve us well.”
The sentiment was echoed by Sakic as well, who used last year as a building block for the direction he wanted to grow the team.
“I’m excited about this year for sure. We came out of the Minnesota series and we had a couple injuries. You can’t use those as excuses but we needed to work on our depth and team toughness and I think we did a pretty good job trying to fill those needs in the offseason,” Sakic said. “We feel we’re as deep, depth-wise in our organization as we’ve ever been and that was one of the main goals.”
Sakic brought in players like Jarome Iginla, Daniel Briere, Brad Stuart and Jesse Winchester to help bolster the lineup. Each player brings with him a specific aptitude that will take the team to the next level.
“Joe did a really good job bringing in depth players. This is where a guy like Winchester is going to help us,” said Roy of the additions. “Jarome is a big guy. I think he’s going to help us in the playoffs. Briere, I think he could play center as well. He could play down the wing. He’s been a really good playoff performer.
“We believe that (this is) going to help our depth and help our lineup down from the first line to the fourth line.”
“There’s no question, it’s an intangible. The more leaders you have in the dressing room, the better off you’re going to be,” said Sakic. “This year, our nucleus, our core guys are still fairly young but they’re leaders. And to bring in some guys that have won, leaders—you add Iginla, you add Stuart, you add Briere, who is a proven playoff player. You add these guys to your lineup and (if) you go through adverse times, they’re going to help everybody out.”
Just like last year, there is a wealth of talent comprising not just the top-six but even the top-nine roster spots for the Avalanche, making Colorado—yet again—a difficult club for opponents to match up against.
According to Roy, the top-three lines for the coming season are going to be stacked. His vision is to have Matt Duchene centering Ryan O'Reilly and Jarome Iginla while Nathan MacKinnon plays between Gabriel Landeskog and Alex Tanguay.
Giving MacKinnon control of his own line could be a big task for the second-year player but it’s all part of the long-term plan for the 19-year-old.
“Joe and I believe that, the day we’re going to (be) winning the Stanley Cup, we think Nathan MacKinnon will be our center. Might as well do it right now and see how it goes,” Roy said. “We want to be patient with him. Lots of people talking right now about the sophomore jinx, and I think Nate’s going to do a really good job this year despite the way people can think about the second-year player.”
The offensive pairings aren’t the only place that the Avalanche has made adjustments. Experienced defenseman Brad Stuart was also brought in to provide leadership and grit on the back end.
“We’re pretty excited about our blue line, the addition of Brad stuart. I expect to see Brad playing with (Erik Johnson) on defense a lot of nights against top lines,” said Roy. “I think he’s going to bring some great experience. I think Jan (Hejda) might play with Tyson (Barrie). I think that’s going to help Tyson as well.”
In all, the Avalanche added seven new players to mix, which is no bargain when it comes to the salary cap. The Avs now have the highest payroll in club history, which speaks to the desire to win the greatest trophy in all of sports.
“Our ownership, they’ve been incredible. Both Stan and Josh (Kroenke) are very supportive of us, right from day one,” said Sakic. “This is their team and no one wants to see this team win a championship more than both Stan and Josh. They’re committed to us. They’ve always been committed to us.
“We’re a cap team now despite last year. Last year, we were in the bottom five in the league in ticket revenue. Even knowing that, they want to win a championship and they’ve given us the green light to do whatever we can to make this team win.
“You’re always looking to try and get better and add wherever you think you need from the previous season. We definitely lacked some depth when we had injuries in the playoffs and by adding these leaders, veterans—leaders that can help everybody out—you get your leadership and depth purposes. We really like our lineup right now.”
From here, Roy is looking ahead to training camp and seeing what his new-yet-familiar team can show him. He already has plans for the coming year and it includes keeping where the Avs are at in perspective.
“I think the next step for us, coaching staff and players, is to remain very humble. We’re playing in a conference (where) it’s pretty easy to be humble,” said Roy. “There’s so many good teams in this conference and we’re going to have to play the same type of hockey. But, on the same token, the thing that we want to continue to do is having our fans (be) proud of ourselves. Our fans are extremely important for us.”
Training camp opens with the first day of on-ice activity on Friday at Family Sports Center. The first group of players will take the ice at 9:30 a.m., while the rest of the players will hit the ice after that.
All practices during the Avalanche's training camp are free and open to the public.