-- The bar has been raised for the Colorado Avalanche
heading into the 2010-11 season following a surprisingly successful campaign that saw the team improve from 69 points to 95 and give top-seed San Jose a competitive first-round playoff series.
But apparently not everyone expects even better things from this group.
"It's funny, just seeing some of the media clips, people are still expecting us to not make the playoffs this year," Matt Duchene
The 19-year-old center, a Calder Trophy finalist last season, was among the 56 veterans and prospects who reported Friday for the start of Avalanche training camp with medicals and physical testing at the Pepsi Center.
"We had such a great start last year and didn't even play our best hockey down the stretch and we made it," Duchene said. "We want to make the playoffs again, that's our goal. We're still a little bit of the underdogs again, so hopefully we can use the energy from that kind of negative outlook on our team and use it as a chip on our shoulder like we did last year.
"I wouldn't say it's insulting; it's definitely motivating, though. That's how we have to use it."
The Avalanche's first official on-ice workouts began Saturday at the club's practice facility in suburban Centennial, Colo. The Avalanche also will scrimmage there Sunday, play its annual Burgundy and White intrasquad game Monday night at 1st Bank Center in Broomfield, Colo., and kick off a seven-game preseason schedule Tuesday in St. Louis.
The Avs open regular-season play Oct. 7 at home against the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks
following a pregame ceremony to honor Colorado's 1995-96 Cup team.
Captain Adam Foote
, who turned 39 in July and is embarking on his 19th NHL season, warned that the Avalanche can't take the progress they made last season for granted and must guard against complacency from the very start.
"The expectations are to do what we did last year, to get better," Foote said. "Don't take it lightly, don't get ahead of ourselves. We were fortunate to have a great group to do what we did last year. The biggest thing is not to feel too good about ourselves early. That's when you get caught sleeping, and we'll make sure that's not lingering in the room. You have to put the team first and do the little things right."
Unlike previous offseasons, the Avalanche didn't make any major personnel changes, other than electing not to re-sign a number of veteran free agents -- Brett Clark
, Ruslan Salei
, Marek Svatos
, Darcy Tucker
and Stephane Yelle
"We basically have the same group of guys as we did last year, so we know what to expect," said center Paul Stastny
, who led the Avalanche in scoring with 79 points. "We have a lot of chemistry in this locker room, and that's an important factor."
Ten regulars age 25 or younger return, along with 11-year right wing Milan Hejduk
, 34, and Craig Anderson
, 29, who is coming off a career season in which he played in 71 games and posted 38 wins, seven shutouts and a 2.63 goals-against average in his first crack at being a No. 1 goalie.
Anderson knows last season doesn't matter now.
"What you did last year was last year," Anderson said. "We have to go forward and continue that success and build on it. Every year you want to get better. You don't want to get settled in and be happy where you're at. You have to set the goal higher and reach above it. We're young, but we've got a great bunch of guys and talented players. We believe we can do something special."
The Avalanche is expected to begin the season with a roster similar to the one they ended with in last year's six-game playoff loss to the Sharks, with the addition of forwards David Jones
and Peter Mueller
, who have fully recovered from knee and head injuries, respectively.
"We want to make the playoffs again, that’s our goal. We’re still a little bit of the underdogs again, so hopefully we can use the energy from that kind of negative outlook on our team and use it as a chip on our shoulder like we did last year."
-- Matt Duchene
"Expectations will be different," said coach Joe Sacco, a Jack Adams
Trophy finalist last season, his first behind an NHL bench. "I don't think that this year we are going to sneak up on anybody like we did last year. But that's a good thing. That's what you want from your team. Moving forward, we know that expectations will be different for us, but it's good for us.
"For me, it starts Day 1 in training camp, setting the tone again and getting off to a good start. You do that by having a good training camp, having a strong preseason and following it up in the regular season."
Only a few roster spots are available, with the most intriguing competition looming on defense. Serious candidates there include two former Boston University teammates in Kevin Shattenkirk
, the Avs' first-round pick (No. 14) in the 2007 Entry Draft) and Colby Cohen
(second round, No. 45, in 2007, and Cameron Gaunce
(second round, No. 50, in 2008 ).
"It's a small window, an opportunity for certain players to show us what they can do in a short time," Sacco said. "First impressions are very critical when you have such a short training camp."