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30 in 30: Young talent, Roy lead Colorado revival

by Brian Hunter

Out with the old, in with the new.

Since the end of the 2012-13 NHL season, the Colorado Avalanche fired their coach, Joe Sacco, and replaced him with their former goaltender, Hockey Hall of Fame member Patrick Roy.

They said goodbye to one of the top offensive players in team history, veteran Milan Hejduk, and chose 18-year-old Nathan MacKinnon with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, adding him to an exciting young nucleus of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly.

And they bid farewell to the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks as division rivals, moving into the realigned Central Division where they will have to battle the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.

Coming off a shortened season that featured little besides disappointment -- the Avalanche finished last in the Western Conference for the second time in five years -- Colorado fans seemingly have a lot to be intrigued by heading into 2013-14.

"We still have good, quality players there that obviously are going through some growing pains now, but we really believe in them," said Joe Sakic, who has taken on a new role of his own, promoted in May to executive vice president of hockey operations.

"I was a player that went through that kind of situation as well. We were a young team, you think you're there and you have a setback, and that's what happened [in 2012-13]. You have those bumps. But one thing our group has to learn is to be more consistent and not to let the lows get too low."

Sakic experienced those bumps as a member of the Quebec Nordiques, but once the franchise moved to Colorado and traded for Roy during the 1995-96 season, it took off, winning the Stanley Cup twice by 2001.

Now Sakic and Roy are in management positions, tasked with restoring a once elite organization to its former glory.

"I know there's a lot of talent on this team and I think it'll be fun to work with them," Roy said at his introductory press conference. "My objective is really to give the team back to our fans. I certainly want to see our players very, very close to our fans and have the fans come to the rink and say, 'That's my team.'"

One new face with the potential to bring fans at Pepsi Center out of their seats immediately is former Halifax Mooseheads center MacKinnon, whom Colorado selected at the June 30 draft over defense prospect Seth Jones, who spent part of his childhood in the Denver area.

A stud scorer in juniors, putting up 43 goals and 108 points in 44 regular-season games and 17 playoff contests, MacKinnon won't feel pressure to spearhead the Avalanche attack. He's expected to begin his NHL career on a third line with Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie, a rugged forward who's recovered from a knee injury that cost him all but two games last season.

"We're going to have to be patient at the start, give him a chance to adapt," Roy said of MacKinnon. "I'm not going to compare junior [hockey] to the NHL. Just give him time to feel good."

The Avalanche also hope to have added to their offensive depth by reacquiring forward Alex Tanguay, who scored a pair of goals in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to punctuate their 2001 championship.

Tanguay, who came over with veteran defenseman Cory Sarich in a June 27 trade with the Calgary Flames for forward David Jones and defenseman Shane O'Brien, still packs some punch at age 33; he had 11 goals and 27 points last season and is a noted shootout specialist.

"I haven't had my best year yet in the NHL, I really feel that," Tanguay told the Denver Post. "I have a big chip on my shoulder about that, I realize. I feel I can still perform, and I'm so happy to be back in Denver where I have so many great memories."

In addition to Jones, whose production had nosedived, and O'Brien, a third-pair defenseman, the most notable offseason departure was Hejduk, who at 37 no longer fit into Colorado's top-six up front and was given the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere. A former captain, Hejduk played 1,020 games for the Avalanche, with 375 goals and 805 points. He was limited to 29 games and 11 points last season.


Tanguay and 30-year-old PA Parenteau are now the "old men" up front, with Duchene, Landeskog, O'Reilly and Paul Stastny joining them on the top two lines to shoulder the load offensively. Duchene, whose 43 points last season tied Parenteau for the team lead, was signed to a five-year contract extension in July.

"So excited to be part of the Avs' future! Love this franchise, team and city, couldn't be happier!" Duchene tweeted following the deal.

Colorado does have questions on the back end, with the biggest offseason upgrades being 34-year-old Sarich, who has more than 900 games of experience, and Andre Benoit, who at 29 saw his first regular NHL action last season with the Ottawa Senators.

The Avalanche could use healthy, bounce-back seasons from Erik Johnson and Ryan Wilson as well as continued development from young Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott in order to make life a bit easier on goaltenders Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

If all the pieces fall into place, and Varlamov can replicate the numbers from his first season with Colorado in 2011-12 (26 wins, 2.59 goals-against average, .913 save percentage), the Avalanche could find themselves in contention for a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Any expectations beyond that are probably unrealistic for a club still rebuilding, but Roy won't use that as an excuse for not being competitive.

"One thing I know," he said upon taking the coaching job, "we're going to have a Stanley Cup attitude. I believe that's going to carry us a long way."

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