This next season will be a fresh start for our lost and confused Avalanche team. Opening day will bring a golden opportunity to regain confidence as well as renewed hope for the most loyal fans. But so much of the team's future success is dependent on a "wait and see" kind of attitude that the bar again will be set low for the Colorado Avalanche. However, not all hope is lost. With a little luck next season, and improved individual performances from the young team, playoffs may be on the horizon sooner rather than later. Here are three things that may or break next season.
1. The Health and Production From our Top Wingers
Tomas Fleischmann still hasn't been cleared to play by his doctors but is expected to soon. If he can be healthy enough to play next to Matt Duchene for the majority of next season at the same level of production they had demonstrated in their short stint in 2010-2011, we could be looking at a lot of points for out top line. However, he's a Unrestricted Free Agent so the suits will need to sign him first. Also, the magic between these two top players may not be seen as consistently as Sacco and Sherman would like.
It's a similar situation with Peter Mueller. Where does he stand after this series of concussions? This guy could come back next season and put up 70+ points, or perhaps just as easily, announce his early retirement from hockey altogether.
Joey Hishon is still a prospect that has never played in a real NHL game. That alone is enough reason to remain cautious in pursuing that as an option. Not to mention the head injury he received in Owen Sound Attack's bid for the Memorial Cup. But this kid does have a lot of character and could turn out to be a real stud for the Avalanche. I'm thinking he will, just not next season. I'm thinking the organization will let him play some games in the AHL, using him sparingly. Also, you may see a lot of Joey Hishon in situations where the whole team becomes injured for months at a time, but that almost never happens.
T.J. Galiardi may be the guy you see on the left side of Paul Stastny (barring a trade) come opening day at The Can. He had an disappointing sophomore season, but I doubt Sherman and Sacco have lost all faith in the Calgary native, but I also think they'll be watching him closely this season. T.J. Galiardi is a Restricted Free Agent this off season so we'll have to wait and see how that all pans out.
I'm not so worried about David Jones. The RFA is dependable when he's healthy and is usually helping his team when he's on the ice. We also have a pretty good spot in the draft that could influence the situations on the wings. Gabriel Landeskog may prove to be a good Chris Stewart replacement and is said to be NHL-ready by scouts and coaches.
2. Coach Joe Sacco
The man behind the bench is in for a make or break season as an NHL head coach. The former Jack Adams Award finalist will take the hot seat after going to the playoffs with the over-achieving Avalanche in 2009-2010, and then leading his bruised and beaten Avalanche to earn a #2 overall draft pick.
As far as the press in concerned, Sacco has the loyalty of the players. In an interview CBS-4 news, Erik Johnson said that Sacco "was one of the best coaches he's played for" since joining the NHL. He added, "I really wouldn't be saying that if it weren't true." When Adrian Dater asked Ryan O'Byrne off-the-record if the players had any ill feelings toward their head coach, O'Byrne insisted Dater record his response and commented confidently on how Coach Sacco was a great coach and how the lackluster play had not been a result of his coaching style.
Criticism did arise in the midst of the Craig Anderson's final days with the club, but who honestly knows what was going on with that ugly situation. It is always a little more difficult to judge those things when money is involved.
Sacco's systems, specifically the specialty teams and team-defense, have also been a concern to some fans. While he can't take all the blame, the difficult thing to address with the Head Coach is how much of the blame he should receive. It may just come down to whether things are going well at the end of the season or if it turns out that its time to stir things up with the team a little. And how his team performs next season may very well be the deciding factor in whether Joe Sacco becomes a perennial head coach in this league or the next Assistant Coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
(Side note: Anyone notice Deadmarsh next to Sacco at the final game versus Edmonton? Where was Konowalchuk?)
Big "duh" here.
I wouldn't count on seeing Ilya Bryzgalov donning the "A" anytime soon and Tomas Vokoun is 35 years old. I'm not sure anyone is to excited to see Jose Theodore make his return to the Mile High City. With all of the Paul Stastny rumors floating around and John-Micheal Liles entering the final year of his contract, it may turn out that we see Quick, Schneider, or (perhaps the likeliest) Bernier pull goaltender duties for the Avs next season.
At one point in time, I used to care what the name on the back of the jersey was. I wanted someone with a swagger; someone who had proven himself. Now, I just hope they find a guy that can be solid between the pipes for a few seasons. Whether it be through a reasonable trade or through free agency, the Sherman and Sakic need to make this happen. A save percentage over .900 would be nice.
Obviously there are many other factors that will help determine the success of the Colorado Avalanche next season. But these things are certainly on my mind. I like to think its is on the mind of the guys in the corner offices, too, but as I have already said, the whole organization is kind of a "wait and see" situation. Go Avs.