There were about 16 billion question marks concerning the Avalanche going into this season, but the biggest enigmas seemed to be goaltending, novice coaches, and a plentiful crop of youngsters. By now the whole wide hockey world has sung the praises of Mr. Anderson, and rightly so (story coming soon via Derek). But what about the other big question marks: the bunch of brash brats banging on the NHL door (alliteration = 6,000 points), and the other pack of AV newbies: the coaching staff?
These 3 big question marks have become the answers to why the AVS are sitting pretty at #1 in the NW.
This will be a two-part story. This is Part one: Young Guns. (Part Two: Coaches!: The Musical coming soon....). And yes, I'm horrible at photoshop - although Galiardi looks pretty good up there.
The biggest key to the Avalanche's success this season has been the remarkable play of their young guns. Nobody saw it coming. Their energy, speed, versatility, commitment to both ends of the ice, ability to unselfishly fit into specific roles, and their all around skill level, have propelled the Avalanche in the standings and turned the team game into a hard fore-checking, quick transitioning, ball of energy and awesomeness. Breakdown and Calder Trophy analysis after the jump, bullet point style:
The Kids Are Alright
- The Avalanche have played 10 or 12 rookies this year (depending on how you look at Durno and Hendricks).
- Five of those rookies currently sit in the top 25 in rookie scoring (Duchene, Galiardi, O'Reilly, Wilson, Yip)
- Interestingly, Dutchie, Radar, and Galiardi all average almost identical ice time despite playing VERY different roles on the team: 16:59, 16:56, and 16:47 respectively. It's SO close that O'Reilly has played only 3 shifts more than Duchene. Among Rookies, only Tavares and some Defensmen average more ice time than these 3 young AVS.
- Impressively, Radar is 2nd among all rookies in short-handed ice time played, clocking in at 148 minutes and 12 seconds total (Tyler Myers passed Radar on Monday night for 1st place). Galiardi is third in total short-handed ice time played (132:41) despite missing a bunch of games due to injury, and he is 1st in short handed ice time per game among rooks.
- Among ALL NHL forwards, O'Reilly is 7th in short handed ice time played. That's just silly for a rookie to be able to do that. The 6 guys ahead of him are all seasoned veterans with the exception of Jordan Staal.
- Since the invention of the NHL, the average age for a rookie is 22.66 years old. The average age of Avalanche rookies at season's start was: 21.8. Since the lock out the NHL has leaned towards younger and younger players, but two 18 year olds have not debuted on the same team since Shane Doan and Jason Doig did it with the Winnipeg Jets in 95-96.
- 2010 Avalanche average team age: 26 (if you take away Foote and Hejduk who are injured, then the AVS are the youngest team in the NHL). Just two seasons ago, in 2008, we were the fourth OLDEST team in the NHL at 29.5 years old. The times they are a changin'.
- Yip has 6 goals and 11 points in 15 games despite only averaging 12:22 minutes of ice time per game. He has slid into his role on the team very nicely - be it 3rd line checking forward, or 2nd line goal scorer. He has transitioned to the Pro game better than anyone anticipated.
- With all the kids, the AVS have the lowest payroll in the Northwest at 52.3 million. So big $ doesn't necessarily translate to success, much like little $ doesn't necessarily make a horrible team.
- The AVS top line of Stastny, Wolski, and Stewie combine for an average age of 22.3. That's the youngest top line in the league to be certain. It seems like we've been talking and watching these guys forever....
- The second line of Duchene, Galiardi, and Yip average 21 years of age. Again, youngest second line in the league.
(all stats taken before Tuesday night's games)
So what all this translates into is a bunch of young guys having a blast with their friends. The team is a close-knit group, and those off-ice relationships translate into sweet chemistry on the ice. Credit the coaching staff, but these young kids - who were supposed to be a WEAKNESS to the team this season - have really bought into the system and into each other. They work hard every night, and that work ethic makes up for their inexperience.
Rookie of the Year Watch
If the season had ended at the mid-point Matt Duchene would most likely NOT have had a shot for the Calder Trophy, but luckily for Dutchie the season is 82 games. Right now, Duchene leads all rookies in scoring with 34 points (2 ahead of Tavares), and probably holds a slight edge over both Tavares and the Saber's stand out first year defensman Tyler Myers in terms of Calder voting. Simeon Varlamov, James Van Reimsdyk, and Niclas Bergfors are certainly in contention as well. Varlamov would probably have stole rookie of the year hands down if not for injury. Here are his numbers pre-injury: 12-1-2 (yikes) Save% .924 GAA 2.21 and 2 shutouts.
Barring any offensive eruption (keep it clean gentleman) by anybody else, it'll most likely come down to Tavares, Myers, and Duchene for rookie of the year. I have to give a slight edge to Duchene because he took 22 games to get going and has been on a pretty decent tear ever since, so if he continues on that pace he'll be in good shape. But if Varlamov returns with the same kind of WOW that he had at the beginning of the year, then all bets are off. I really think Myers may be the dark horse. I'd rather he win over Tavares at any rate (aside: why does it seem many AVS fans have an undisclosed distaste for Tavares? I hear whispers of it from the boards, but no one ever comes out and says it...).