Plenty of fresh faces helped turn the Colorado Avalanche
this season -- everyone from free-agent goaltender Craig Anderson
to 2009 first-round draft pick Matt Duchene
to first-year coach Joe Sacco.
But if you want to start from the top, another guy new to his position deserves a lot of credit: Greg Sherman, Colorado's first-year general manager.
Soon after the franchise relocated from Quebec for the 1995-96 season, Sherman was hired "on the finance side" and eventually became an assistant to General Manager Pierre Lacroix
. He was named to his current position this past June.
Appearing as a guest on Thursday's "NHL Hour With Gary Bettman" just two days after the Avalanche clinched their first playoff berth since the 2007-08 season, Sherman was immediately asked by the commissioner about all the prognosticators who didn't see his team being anywhere near the top eight after it finished the previous season dead last in the Western Conference.
"Fortunately for us, we came into camp with a real energized outlook for the season, with a clear-cut plan in place, with a new coaching staff," Sherman said. "I think the tone was set early on in camp, with our coaching staff and the players that were at camp, that the No. 1 goal was we wanted to get this franchise back on track and regain our identity."
A Stanley Cup champion in its first season in Colorado in 1996 and again in 2001, the team has bounced back from its rare poor showing to post a 43-29-8 record for 94 points, with two regular-season games still remaining.
One of the key reasons for the turnaround has been Anderson, who has more wins this season (38) than he had in his entire seven-year career prior with the Blackhawks and Panthers (36).
has been an outstanding addition to our club," Sherman said. "He fit what we were looking to do as we moved forward in terms of his age -- at the time that we signed him on July 1, he was 28 years old. For a goalie, that's a very strong situation, where he was at in his career.
"Essentially what had happened, we had identified him during last season that in the event he was a player that would reach free agency, he could be a player that could come in and compete for the No. 1 job with our team. The whole discussion I had with Craig on July 1 was, look, we are a situation where you clearly have the opportunity here. We're going in a direction where we're building from within, and this is a clear-cut opportunity for you to come in and earn a No. 1 starting job."
Duchene, the No. 3 pick in the 2009 Entry Draft after John Tavares
went to the Islanders and Victor Hedman
to the Lightning, made the Colorado roster as an 18-year-old (he turned 19 on Jan. 16) and leads all rookies with 24 goals and 55 points while playing all 80 games to this point. He scored the winning shootout goal in Vancouver on Tuesday to vault the Avalanche back into the postseason.
"When Joe (Sakic) ultimately decided to retire, it certainly laid out more of our blueprint as to how we were going to move forward," Sherman said. "And what was clear was that Matt was certainly going to get every opportunity to make this lineup coming into camp.
"There's a lot of variables that go into that when you're dealing with an 18-year-old young man -- not only the physical nature of the game but also the mental makeup, the maturity level, can he handle the day-in, day-out grind of an NHL season? And you're out there with men, so you have to really weigh the pros and cons of putting an 18-year-old player in that situation.
"Now with all that out there, I think as camp evolved and he was put in all types of situations, not only during camp but during the preseason games, it became quite clear that we did in fact have a very special talent on our hands."
Leading the resurgence from his perch behind the Colorado bench has been Sacco, a 13-year NHL veteran as a player whom Sherman became familiar with during Sacco's tenure as coach of the franchise's AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters.
"His ability to communicate not only with our young players but also our veteran players has been very positive throughout the season," Sherman said. "It's a testament to him and his entire staff. He's led his coaching staff very well, and a lot of credit goes to him and his staff for our success this year."