We are nearing the end of July and, for the most part, the summer offseason is over. There are still a few free agents out there, but nothing super special to write home about (or even write here about). This means that we have a good idea what the 2012-2013 Colorado Avalanche will look like..and it's a lot like the 2011-2012 Colorado Avalanche (barring another selfish, short-sighted NHL lockout by the inept NHL owners, of course).
Essentially, the Avalanche "swapped" forwards Peter Mueller and Jay McClement for PA Parentau and John Mitchell while adding defenseman Greg Zanon for some (sarcasm warning) much-needed blueline depth. Parenteau's 67 points last year is 14 more points than Mueller's best season, a clear upgrade. Mitchell seems like a solid 4th liner, but seems like a considerable step down defensively and in the circles than McClement...which makes one wonder if it might have made more sense to spend the extra $400,000 to retain Silent Jay. And Zanon does seem like a nice veteran addition, but joins an already crowded roster of d-men and won't do anything to add offensive pop to a blueline squad that touted Jan Hejda as the top goal scorer (with 5).
Will the changes be enough? Last year's Avs ranked 25th in goals scored (2.43) and 15th in goals against (2.66). Special teams was a plus for this team, with the 9th-best PP and 12th-best PK respectively. Parenteau should help improve the Avs' PP even more, as his 19 power play points last year would have tied him with Paul Stastny for the Avs' team lead (Mueller had 5 PPP). But the PK could take a big hit by losing the player (McClement) who had more than twice the SH ice time of any other Avalanche forward last year. Overall, it seems like the Avalanche made a modest gain offensively and took a significant hit defensively...which doesn't sound like enough to propel the Avalanche into the playoffs.
But looking at full-season stats don't give the proper weight to late-season additions Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie. We will (hopefully) enjoy a full season of both next year, so really we should be looking at the stats towards the end of the year. Over the last 22 games of the season (starting with the acquisition of Downie), the Avalanche averaged 2.6 goals per game and 2.54 against, both slight improvements to the full-season numbers; they would rank the Avs' 16th and 12th respectively if those were over a full 82. The PP struggled over that time though, putting in a 15.5% success rate (good for 23rd) while the PK was on track with a 86.6 kill rate (5th best). Most importantly, though, the Avalanche were playing some of their best hockey of the season at that point and still managed just 25 points in the standings in 22 games...good for just 93 over a full season. That's better...but not quite playoff sponge-worthy.
We knew going in that this was going to be a weak free agent crop, but I still can't help but feel a little let down with the way things shook out. I like the addition of Parenteau and can't quibble too greatly with the other two signings...but we're still basically looking at the same non-playoff team we finished last season with. One can argue that guys like Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Erik Johnson all should have better years next year (and FML, I could have kept going for a while with that list). However, one could also argue that the front office isn't giving those guys many new tools to work with. Incredulously, the Avs are still slightly under the cap floor at this writing, although they will certainly move over that a bit when they finally come to terms with Ryan O'Reilly.
I do believe the Avalanche will be a better team next year. Semyon Varlamov should be better - and more consistent. The top 6 of Stastny, Duchene, Landeskog, O'Reilly, Parenteau, McGinn and Jones or Downie is a good one...but is it postseason good? The defense is arguably a little deeper than it was at the end of the year, but is it better? Are Parenteau, Mitchell and Zanon really the best that Greg Sherman could do? No offense to any of those players, but it all just leaves me with a resounding "is that it?"