An identity. Having one means you've earned league wide respect. Unfortunately, the Colorado Avalanche don't exactly have that. But they can start to earn it by doing one thing: making the playoffs.
The only thing is, Colorado hasn't done that - four failed post-season berths in the past six seasons is not cutting it. The solution to this? Improved individual performances.
So, with a mile high of talent-in-progress, the question posed to MHH is this: For which Avalanche player are your expectations greatest in the upcoming 2012-13 campaign?
Here are the five candidates with the biggest targets on their backs (don't worry, there's always everyone's favorite option, "other"):
Why he'll succeed: Matt has already proven to us that he can flourish when others do not. He amassed 67 points during the lowly 2010-11 campaign. Last year saw his first slump, and if his raw talent is any indication then he's unlikely to falter two years in a row barring injuries. For an athlete of Duchene's abilities, year four might be his time to shine. And Duchene's winger search? P.A. Parenteau notched 67 points last season with John Tavares by his side. The 29-year-old Parenteau gives Duchene the tools he needs to succeed.
Why he won't: Less spinning. Seriously, Dutchy. He has to realize that he's playing with the big boys now, and that his spin cycle on medium with extra detergent is not going to work in every situation. In other words, keep it simple. His style of play isn't entirely favorable in a league where bullying wins you the Cup. He'll have to learn to tweak and evolve so he isn't pushed around by the rising crop of mammoth forwards and mobile defenseman. With a relative absence of veteran leadership, mighty Matt will have to grow up quick.
Why he'll succeed: He's still far and away the best playmaker on the team. When he's on, his vision is rock solid - in 2012 he had a stretch of 32 points in 42 games, 22 of them assists. He's not had a Bobby Ryan threat to work with but at least he's found David Jones and Jamie McGinn. We'll have to see if he ends the season with them. Soon to turn 27, he's one of the elder statesmen of the Avs (sad, I know) and the composure he brings over from the Sakic era is invaluable. He will have to continue to provide the kind of leadership the Avs sorely lack. For faceoffs, he led the team's centers last year with a 55.4% success rate on the dot.
Why he won't: If 25 is the prime age for a hockey player to make his biggest strides, Stats is past it. It doesn't matter how you try to rationalize it - Paul is in no way, shape or form worth $6.6 million a year (keep in mind this is only in regards to Colorado's financial approach). As Adrian Dater has pointed out time and time again, he doesn't show up to the big games the way he should.
Why he'll succeed: What grows on trees? Leaves. What doesn't? 20-goal scorers in the National Hockey League. Agree with his $16 million contract or not, today's market says he's earned it. He's solid in his own end and he's clutch at the other (5 game-winning goals in 2011-12). If Joe Sacco allows for some stability for the Doctor then expect an anecdote of consistency.
Why he won't: "David Jones is so electrifying!" Let's be real here, when was the last time you heard someone say that? He's always going to be the type of player that could be more than he is. He's like that flirtatious girl at a club with whom you have a pleasant conversation with but can't get to follow you home. It's time to accept the fact that he is what he is. As for his physicality, it just doesn't come naturally to Jonesy. Huh, and I thought size mattered.
Why he'll succeed: To all the young Avs fans out there: there is something called a well-rounded defensemen and, yes, Colorado used to have them. Not since Rob Blake have we seen an athlete of EJ's size and mobility, though he's only showcased the true potential of his talent in flashes. Expect even more of those flashes this season. He is a Jaws for Colorado's defensive corps, being able to eat up 20+ minutes each game. He can play in any situation imaginable without hurting the team. The importance of having this kind of consistent force cannot be stressed enough.
Why he won't: Einstein himself can't explain some of Erik's dreadful decision-making last season. He'll grow out of it, but I'd get some popcorn ready if I were you. Last year he trended downward, finishing with 4 goals and 26 points, his lowest single-season total to date. Colorado lacks any defensive partner worth pairing with EJ meaning unless he turns it around big-time, another hot and cold season is very possible.
Why he'll succeed: What's the best way to keep a young netminder consistent? There's no one answer, but for the Colorado Avalanche there is certainly one name: Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Indeed, J.S. Giguere replaced Varly anytime he experienced bouts of inconsistency. The typical result? Varly bouncing back knowing that the #1 spot was still his. Another year of Giggy, another year of stability. Varlamov is the shootout king, posting an 8-0 record allowing only 2 goals on 24 attempts. Ridiculous. His hot-streak towards the end of the season all but silenced the last of the critics from the Washington trade.
Why he won't: He needs to learn how to harness the very explosiveness that makes him exciting to watch in the first place - he allows far too many rebounds. He could learn how to be a better 3rd defenseman in situations where he decides to play outside the crease. Not a long-term issue by any stretch of the imagination, but worth mentioning. Lastly, and most importantly, we'll have to see if he can stay mostly injury-free for a second season in a row. Only then can I truly stop holding my breath with this Russian dynamo.
UPDATE: The poll used to read "For which star do your expectations shine brightest?" before I changed it to what it's supposed to read. Those who read the first version answered both questions, so feel free to do the same.