All 30 NHL teams go into the season with the goal of winning. For some, it’s winning the Stanley Cup. With others, it’s simply winning enough games to be respectable and grow as a squadron in the process.
But a fresh sheet of ice represents a clean beginning for all and after a disastrous 2008-09 campaign that saw the once-vaunted team drop to the basement of the Western Conference, the Colorado Avalanche aren’t simply going to fold over this year just because they’re rebuilding. In fact, for key component Paul Stastny, he can’t wait to get back on the ice.
“Everyone’s excited,” said the affable center. “It’s a good time to be back.”
No truer a statement could be made by Stastny, especially since last year was a frustrating exercise marked by big injuries that cost the young star nearly half the season. Coupled with the herniated disc and broken fingers that kept the now-retired Joe Sakic out of the lineup for big chunks of time and it’s no surprise the Avs floundered.
“You lose your top two centers – or your middle two centers, it doesn’t matter – from there it kept piling on,” Stastny said.
The end result? Colorado lost 12 of its last 13 games and finished dead last in the Western Conference. Now, with Sakic gone, Stastny officially takes the reins as the team’s top center and most lethal offensive threat. But Burnaby Joe was more than just a sniper; he was also the most respected man in the NHL and his unique affect on players will naturally be missed in Denver. So did Stastny get enough Sakic while he had the chance?
“I think so,” Stastny laughed. “He’s done enough for this game. I’ve been around him for three years on the ice, in the dressing room, on the road.”
And with one talented center on his way out, another, almost perfectly, is ready to step in. Thanks to the folly of ’08-09, the Avs were afforded the luxury of selecting young Matt Duchene out of the Ontario League’s Brampton Battalion with the third overall pick in the draft. Known for his speed and excellent two-way play, Duchene will get a long look from management in training camp and would be a perfect fit behind Stastny, something the Denver Pioneers product is intrigued by.
“He’s impressed me,” Stastny said. “He’s a lot bigger than I thought. He sees the game so well; obviously that’s one of his attributes. To have a goal-scorer like him bodes well for the future.”
And it is all about the future in Denver. Colorado will be in tough to even escape the basement of the Northwest this year, let alone vie for a playoff position. There are still a couple Avs left from the halcyon Stanley Cup days – Adam Foote and Milan Hejduk – but it’s the younger generation that will really need to make its mark – and soon. Along with Stastny and Duchene, forwards such as Marek Svatos, Wojtek Wolski and prospect Ryan Stoa will be important, as will new defenseman Kyle Quincey, who was a revelation in Los Angeles last season and a peculiar piece of trade bait for new King Ryan Smyth.
Foote, for the record, has been named the captain in Sakic’s stead, but make no mistake: this is now Paul Stastny’s team. Fortunately for Colorado, the young man has the right attitude going forward.
“I think we have the potential to surprise teams,” Stastny said. “We have a nothing-to-lose attitude.”
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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