I’ve gotten some gloomy texts from Avalanche fans of late, who seem to be already throwing in the towel for the 2017-18 season.
“AD, give me some reason for hope with this team because right now I’m just not seeing any”, can accurately sum up the gist of many messages in my inbox.
You need optimism? You need someone to help look on the sunny side of life? Need a glass-is-half-full outlook instead of vice-versa?
Well, of course, you’ve come to the right place. OK, so my nickname for many years to former Avs TV play-by-play man John Kelly was “Doom and Gloom.” OK, so that was during the time when the Avs were actual Stanley Cup champions a couple of times.
But that was THEN.
I’m a new man now, and I can definitely make a case as to why the Avalanche will be a much better team this coming season and, yes I’M GOING THERE: Maybe even a playoff team.
Your honor, my case for the Avs being possibly a good team for 2017-18 is as follows:
NO, THE DEFENSE ISN’T GREAT STILL, BUT IT WILL BE BETTER
Look, I’m not gonna get silly here. The defense, on paper now and probably on the ice soon enough, is nothing to get too excited about. The Avs definitely still need better personnel on the back end, and while they did draft two kids last month (Cale Makar and Conor Timmins) who will definitely help that happen, we’re still talking a couple more years here, at the minimum.
But the defense should be better. Why? For one thing, Erik Johnson will be back, fully healthy again. Don’t forget, the Avs were a .500 team when Johnson went down last season, a quarter of the way through. He’s the Avs’ No. 1 defenseman, and he’s back. So that’s big.
Assuming Nikita Zadorov re-signs (which he will), he should be Johnson’s D partner. His game was looking much better before he, too, went down to injury. Tyson Barrie is a nice guy to have in the 3-4 rotation. Newcomer Andrei Mironov is young, has pro experience in the KHL and should be an upgrade over guys like Patrick Wiercioch and Fedor Tyutin and Francois Beauchemin and some of the other pylons the team had last year. Mark Barberio did a lot of good things after coming over from Montreal late last season, and he’s coming back.
And, we still might be surprised by a Chris Bigras or a Duncan Siemens in training camp.
So, no, the defense isn’t going to remind people of the days of Ray Bourque, Adam Foote and Rob Blake probably. But it should be better.
THE GOALIE IS HEALTHY AGAIN
It was just three years ago that Semyon Varlamov was in Las Vegas, as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. No, he hasn’t been close to a Vezina guy since, but let’s keep last season in perspective.
Fact is, he was hurt most of the year, before being shut down for good. He tried to play through it, but couldn’t. But he’s had surgery and, by all accounts, feels much better. We’ve seen he has the talent to make an average team into a playoff team. That happened in 2013-14. So, to quote that team’s motto from the season, “Why Not Us” again?
Why can’t Varly take this team on his shoulders and carry it forward again? I say, he can.
Jonathan Bernier is a nice addition as a backup too. The goaltending position should be better, and in hockey, that’s just “Yuuuuge.”
WITH MATT DUCHENE, THE AVS HAVE A DANGEROUS TOP TWO LINES. WITHOUT DUCHENE, THEIR DEFENSE SHOULD BE MUCH BETTER, SO EITHER WAY THERE IS REASON FOR OPTIMISM
Let’s say Matt Duchene ends up coming back. After what we assume would be some intense group therapy to work things out between him, management and his teammates, I’ve got a former all-star center-winger and Canadian gold medalist who comes into the season mad and wanting to tell all his critics to go pound sand.
I’ve got a guy with obvious talent who is playing for his reputation again. I have a very motivated player, and I don’t care if his motivation is to make all Avs fans, media and management feel terrible for ever doubting him. Fine, get mad at us, take it all out on us. If that’s what it took to get him back to being an A-list player again, fine.
And if Duchene doesn’t come back? Well, then I can rest assured that I got a top-four D-man in return for him, along with a prospect/draft pick or two. So now my D is better, and I’ve also got a dressing room that is free of the Duchene Distraction Factor. Win and win.
Even without Duchene up front, I’m still OK. I’ve got Nathan MacKinnon, who is becoming more of a locker-room leader and who is still just a kid with immense talent. I’ve got a young captain still in Gabe Landeskog, who learned a lot of lessons last year about leadership and commitment and is dying to show he’s an all-star in this league. I’ve got a very gifted kid in Mikko Rantanen, my only 20-goal-scorer, who I say gets me 30 this year, at least.
I’ve got a very promising Tyson Jost getting more ice time this year, I’ve got another potential Chris Drury-type in J.T. Compher. I’ve got a veteran, still only 27, in Colin Wilson who wants to prove he’s a real player again too, who just played on a Cup Finals team in Nashville.
I’ve also got a former No. 1 overall pick in Nail Yakupov, who is playing for his life now. It’s either prove-it-in-the-NHL or go back to Mother Russia and play in front of friends and family in the KHL. I’ve got some young guys like Sven Andrighetto, Rocco Grimaldi and Matt Nieto who can at least skate and do something with a puck once in a while. I don’t have old guys anymore like Cody McLeod and John Mitchell and Rene Bourque and Jarome Iginla out there, just taking up space. (Hey, I luv ya, Highlander).
Yeah, I still have Carl Soderberg and Joe Colborne but … hey, they can’t be any worse than last year, can they? (Let’s move on quickly…).
SUMMARY: ON PAPER, I HAVE A BETTER TEAM. ON THE ICE? YES (I THINK)
So, chins up people. I’ve got a younger team now, a faster team now, a healthier team now. This ain’t gonna be no stinkin’ 48-point team again.
Be like me. Be positive. Within every problem, there is an opportunity. It’s always darkest before the dawn. Awaken the Giant Within.
(BSN is currently investigating the possibility of Russian hackers having taken over Adrian’s computer. Updates as they develop…)