In an effort to make certain his Colorado Avalanche
would not miss all the fun of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season, General Manager Francois Giguere reeled in a couple of fan favorites at the trade deadline.
He hoped the acquisitions would bring some enthusiasm to the franchise, both on and off the ice. It is clear that it has worked.
A season ago, the Avalanche went 15-2-2 down the stretch, but fell one point short of a playoff berth. This season, an 0-4-1 slump in mid-February left the team dangerously close to missing the playoffs again. That’s when Giguere added the ever-popular Peter Forsberg
, 34, before acquiring defenseman Adam Foote
, 36, from Columbus the next day.
The second-year GM also acquired defenseman Ruslan Salei
from Florida in exchange for defenseman Karlis Skrastins
and a third-round draft pick this June.
The moves appeared to do the trick as the Avs won eight of nine and even briefly supplanted Minnesota atop the Northwest Division standings before finally gaining a playoff berth with a game to spare.
It was not all roses, though, as both Forsberg (groin) and Foote (hip) were in and out of the lineup with nagging injuries.
One reason Giguere courted Forsberg, despite the fact the Swede had been sidelined for 10 months with a bum ankle, was to instill some energy into a sagging Avalanche power play that failed to finish among the League’s top 10 for the first time since the club moved to Colorado. Forsberg isn’t the player he once was, but he sure does attract a lot of attention when he’s on the ice, opening space for his teammates.
``He gets a lot of attention, draws a lot of coverage,’’ coach Joel Quenneville
told the Rocky Mountain News. ``It’s a tough battle, and (Peter) hadn’t played in a while. It’s not an easy game to come back into. You have to commend him for competing the way he does and for the danger that he presents.’’
In dealing with the injuries, Quenneville has done his best to juggle his offensive lines to find the right chemistry.
``It seems like when we get on a roll, something happens,” Colorado winger Andrew Brunette
said. “We get an injury or lose a guy, and it’s back to square one, trying to find chemistry. For me, the biggest thing has just been chemistry. Through injuries, through different things, we can’t seem to all get together on the same page when we’re out there.’’
Still, the team has persevered down the stretch in earning its postseason opportunity.
The club certainly has a unique blend of talent, combining the aforementioned vets with some quality young players.
One such young gun is 22-year-old center Paul Stastny, who led the team in points, assists and plus/minus rating this season, despite missing 20 games. Stastny, the third-youngest player on the roster, was successful on 50 percent of his faceoffs while averaging more than 21 minutes and 25 shifts a game.
Wojtek Wolski, 22, who has played on the top line with Joe Sakic, David Jones, 23, and Cody McLeod, 23, has seen significant playing time this season.
Sakic missed 38 games following a groin injury and subsequent sports hernia surgery. But he returned to the lineup Feb. 24 and has been the stabilizing presence that Colorado has come to expect.
Andrew Brunette, Milan Hejduk, Ryan Smyth, Tyler Arnason, Ben Guite, Ian Laperriere and Jaroslav Hlinka have also contributed up front.
But the club took a big hit earlier last month when it learned winger Marek Svatos would be sidelined the remainder of the season after sustaining a torn ACL in his left knee. At the time of the injury, the 25-year-old Slovakian was leading the team in goals with 26 in 62 games.
Defensively, a healthy Foote has proven to be a boost along the blue line, joining John-Michael Liles, Brett Clark, Scott Hannan, Jordan Leopold, Jeff Finger, Kurt Sauer and Salei, who led the team in hits and was among the top five in blocked shots.
The team has also handled some goaltending controversy in its quest for the postseason. In 2006-07, former Hart Trophy winner Jose Theodore lost his starting job to Peter Budaj, who almost single-handedly propeled the Avs into the playoffs.
This year, however, Budaj struggled and Theodore has since taken over the reins as starter.