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Disappointment looms in Denver

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Not long ago the Colorado Avalanche were a prime destination for elite NHL players. The franchise was known for augmenting its already strong lineup by trading for stars such as Ray Bourque, Rob Blake and Theo Fleury or signing marquee free agents like Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya (the original, more accomplished version of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter).

Unfortunately for Avs fans, those days are no more.

Now, under GM Greg Sherman and an ownership in no mood to spend anywhere close to the salary cap ceiling, Colorado routinely puts together a middle-of-the-pack attack that nobody seriously envisions as a Stanley Cup threat.

This summer was no different: while some teams threw money at Matt Carle, Dennis Wideman and Ray Whitney, the Avalanche came away with winger P-A Parenteau from the Isles, long-time Wild defenseman Greg Zanon and ex-Rangers fringe forward John Mitchell.

(I’ll pause here while everyone recovers from being bowled over.)

I have absolutely nothing against those three players. Parenteau earned himself a great payday after emerging as a scoring threat on Long Island, while Zanon is one of the NHL’s better shot-blockers. They’ll help in their own way, but my question is, will it be enough? And my first answer is, it certainly will not. Just like last season, when I looked at what Sherman did – acquiring Semyon Varlamov from Washington for Colorado’s 2012 first-round draft pick and adding defensemen Jan Hejda and Shane O’Brien – I’m less than impressed with the current state of the Avs and I expect them to miss the playoffs for the third straight season and fourth in the past five years.

This team was 25th in goals per game (2.43) and 15th in goals-against (2.66) and you’re telling me it will be discernably better in either regard in 2012-13 with Sherman’s alterations? That’s a stretch even the world’s most flexible yoga practitioner wouldn’t dare make.

Some Avalanche fans will read that and counter by saying I’m not factoring in a bounce-back season from star center Matt Duchene, continued improvement from rookie of the year Gabriel Landeskog and three-year veteran Ryan O’Reilly, and slow-but-sure development from 2006 No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson on the blueline. I do take that into account, but I also know there are few teams lucky enough to have everything go right for them in a season. And even if everything does come up roses for Colorado, I see the significant improvements made by other teams in their division (let alone the entire vicious Western Conference) and I’m skeptical the Avs can even improve on last season’s 11th-place finish.

Will Colorado be better than the Minnesota Wild and their fresh injection of top-end talent? Can the Avs hold off the increasingly desperate Calgary Flames and their ever-growing collection of veterans or the up-and-coming Edmonton Oilers and their new additions (including No. 1 draft pick Nail Yakupov and prized collegiate free agent Justin Schultz)? Maybe one of those things will come to pass for the Avalanche, but not all of them will – especially when Varlamov (26-24-3, 2.59 GAA and .914 save percentage in his first year with Colorado) has yet to establish himself as a consistent goaltending menace for a full season.

Of course, much stranger things have happened than the Avalanche gelling in 2012-13 and proving the doubters wrong. But considering how lofty the aspirations of this organization used to be – how bright a competitive beacon it once was – this current era of the franchise lacks serious luster.

Invest your faith and emotion in the Avs if you want, but understand why some of us would rather wait for the proof.

This article first appeared in the August issue of THN magazine.

Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to His Power Rankings appear Mondays during the regular season, his column appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature Fridays.

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