ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 5: Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues looks to keep Erik Johnson #6 of the Colorado Avalanche away from the puck at the Scottrade Center on April 5, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
As many of you know, the Avalanche held a teleconference this morning with season ticket holders to discuss the plan for the 2011-2012 season. This was the first time the Avs have done something like this, and I have to say, it was pretty darn cool. Yes, there were a lot of typical, sound-bite answers, as expected, but there were tidbits and gems in there that were very telling on certain subjects. With the exception of brief intro and concluding statements, the forum was all about answering fan questions. Both Sherman and Sakic participated.
Before I get into bulleting some specifics, I want to give my overall impression of what "The Plan" is for next year: continue with the rebuild. If you are going to base your opinion on how committed the Kroenkes are to the team on free agent signings, be prepared to get angry. It seemed pretty clear to me that there is a solid timeframe in mind for the rebuild, and it is truly "build from within." The one area I'm confident they will address through FA in the off-season is goaltending. Repeatedly, both of them indicated that it was their top priority for next year.
Okay, specifics after the jump.
Milan Hejduk was re-signed this morning and will be back next season: 1y, 2.6 + .4 in bonuses. (thanks, Doc!)
The details of the deal were not discussed, but it sounded like a one-yearer.
- To increase interest of the casual fan, both guys pointed to improving the on-ice product. Joe mentioned that they were going to have 2, 3 or 4 new players next year to help with that. Later, he also said that they hope the #2 and #11 picks, as well as Stefan Elliott and Tyson Barrie, will be ready to go next season. Read into that what you will.
- The draft is their focus right now; questions about free agent signings were routinely deflected by saying, "It's too early to speculate on that." My gut feeling is that goaltending will be the sole focus at the start of free agency and that any other additions will depend on the draft picks. Given their clear committment to the rebuild, I would not be surprised if a goalie is the only FA signing (apart from re-signings). Calvin Pickard was a topic of a question about whether or not they expect to play him any time soon. Based on their answers, unless he blows up in training camp, they will be keeping him in Seattle another year. I approve of this decision.
- There were a couple of questions about money and cap spending. Again, there was an emphasis that the priority is to build from within. However, it was also made very clear (by Sakic, who seemed to be more open about his answers) that Stan/Josh will spend the bucks when the time is right. I got the impression that the time is not right yet, but they were adamant that it will happen when it is. Honestly, this didn't sound like a blow off. Sakic was just too real with his answers for me to believe there's a mandate to not spend money. The biggest factor, it appeared, was the CBA. This has been speculated around these parts as a important part of the cap floor love, and I think that speculation is accurate.
- The Stewart trade: Joe said straight up that a player like Johnson doesn't come around very often. He compared him to Rob Blake and expressed the belief that Johnson will be as integral to the future success of the Avs as Blake was in the past. Although a hard decision, the trade was the right - and necessary - one for the future of the franchise.
- Who are they targeting for the draft? Yeah, of course they didn't say. But they did say that the scouts are still doing their due diligence. Currently, they are in Denver finalizing their reports. Next, they're going to visit the players in their homes for interviews to get a sense of who they are. We all know the kinds of players the Avs target in regards to personality, so as you're looking at your draft simulations, keep in mind leadership, work ethic, maturity. They did say that their philosophy is to go for best player available, so whoever that ends up being at the #2 and #11 spots, they will go with him.
- As for the captaincy next season, they have not selected one. It will be Sacco's decision, but they said there are a few candidates in consideration. There isn't a timeline, so they are waiting to see who steps up and shows those leadership qualities still. Don't rule out a young guy.
- There is a marketing campaign in place to start promoting the young stars more. Expect to see their faces around town - on billboards and in events - more next season.
- Although they value veteran presence, they will only add vets to the team if they fit in with the chemistry and plan. In other words, vet FAs will be limited. They mentioned the veteran presence already in the locker room. Sherman brought up Hejduk, O'Byrne and McClement. Liles was not mentioned. Again, read into that what you will.
- Sakic's take on last year's struggle was interesting. He said he believed that many of the guys had such an easy go of it their first year (2009-2010) that they were surprised by the troubles they had last season. Their struggles led to a loss in confidence, which he attributes as the cause of the slide more than anything else. However, he thinks it was actually a good thing as they learned some hard lessons that will only help them in the future. Hmmm, I think I remember hearing that idea somewhere before.
- I brought up how the injuries last season made the lack of depth at left wing apparent. I asked what their plan was to address the holes. The response was "5 season-ending injuries," "try to prepare but can't plan for that," "unexpected and hope it doesn't happen again." At best, that was dodging the question. At worst, it was disconcerting. What really worries me, though, is Sherman's insistence that they believe in the Lake Erie players and feel confident at the depth they provide when injuries necessitate call-ups.
- Updates on Tomas Fleischmann and Peter Mueller: Mueller is progressing positively in recent weeks. He is continuing the concussion protocol program established by the NHL, and if he continues to improve at the rate he currently is, he is expected to be at training camp. Flash is seeing specialists on the East Coast. He has not been cleared to play yet, however. There was no word either way of re-signing him, but they spoke of him as if he was still a part of the team.
- When asked about the timeline for the rebuild, Sherman deferred to Joe as the current Avalanche situation is so similar to what the Nordiques went through. Joe said that the rebuild for the Nords started in 1989; they added a few pieces at a time and then, suddenly, became the powerhouse that was the Avs. Obviously, that was in 1995. So based on that experience, we would expect the rebuild to take about 6 years total, so 4 more years as we are already 2 into it as of now. But Sakic believes the current team is way ahead of the Nords of '89 and expects the leap to success to happen more quickly and sooner rather than later.
- Sherm's final comment was that they all feel very strongly and confident about where the rebuilding process currently is and about the plan they have gowing forward. He also expressed glowing enthusiasm for the returning players and the upcoimng draft.
So there you have it, folks. Honestly, my confidence in the team and the plan for the future is improved after having gone through this. We may have another high draft pick in the next year or two, but this team will be a league leader again. Sakic is dedicated to making the team one which players around the league want to be a part of, the way they were in the last great era. I believe he can do it.