Avalanche Happenings Update

Tom Szczerbowski

Now that Avalanche Hockey is back, here's a look at what you may have missed since last April.

Well, it was a long and rocky road, but the lockout is finally over and it's time to play some hockey. Unfortunately, it's been almost 4 months since we've had a chance to really talk about our team. Quite a bit happened since the Avs last took the ice, so here's a refresher on what's new for this season.

1. Gabriel Landeskog is Captain

Who would have guessed? LandesCalder was promoted to LandesCaptain on September 4th, only days before the lockout started. At 19 years, 286 days, Landy became the youngest player chosen as a permanent Captain in NHL history, beating out Sid the Kid by 11 days. Milan Hejduk decided to turn over the Captaincy because he felt his role on the team had changed, and Sacco and Sherman made the final call on giving the C to the up-and-coming Swede. Here is the press conference in case you missed it.

2. UFA Signings

July 1st was a busy day for the Avalanche. Right off the bat, Sherman and Co. inked John Mitchell to a 2-year, $2.2 million contract. The 27-year-old Mitchell, a center who played with the Rangers last season, is expected to become our 4th line pivot. Here's the send off that Blue Shirt Banter gave him. According to their comments, Mitchell is a "solid bottom-six player, who deployed the Rangers philosophy of an aggressive forecheck". He also had the highest RCorsi on the team last year and managed 16 points in 53GP despite averaging only 7 minutes of ice-time a night. By the looks of it, he's a more natural fit on our 4th line than McClement was and will most likely play between McLeod and Kobasew this year.

The next player to join the Avalanche family was Greg Zanon, a defenseman formerly of the Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild. The 32-year-old is known as a physical force and is much more of the stay-at-home type despite his 5'-11" frame. Unfortunately, he didn't have such a great season last year - here's what Boston fans had to say about him, and it's not exactly positive. He was brought in to block shots and act as a 2nd pairing guy, and he ended up leaving them very disappointed. However, he'll bring 6 years of experience to our young blueline and, with any luck, will rebound from his less than outstanding year. If nothing else, he allows players like Cameron Gaunce the chance to develop with the Monsters for a little while longer. Zanon signed a 2-year, $4.5 million deal.

Even if it was a slightly underwhelming start, we didn't have to wait long for it to get interesting. Only a few hours later, P.A. Parenteau, a right-wing formerly of the Islanders, signed a 4-year $16 mil contract with the Avs. Parenteau is a 6'-0" 193lb winger that has spent the past few years playing with another high 2009 draft pick, John Tavares. He was a bit of a late bloomer and didn't stick in the NHL until 2010 after his 22 game stint with the Rangers. The Islanders took a chance on the 27-year-old free-agent that summer, and over the past two seasons, he's posted 53 and 67 points, including 49 assists last year alone. There's hope that he will fit in on Duchene's wing this season.

3. UFA Departures

A number of familiar faces won't be at training camp in the coming week. Jay McClement, acquired in the Johnson Blockbuster trade, is now with Liles in Toronto. Kevin Porter signed with Buffalo and is currently serving as the Captain of their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans. Washington took a chance on Ryan Stoa, as did Florida on Peter Mueller. Cedrick Desjardins is also now with Montreal.

4. Ryan O`Reilly Still Doesn't Have a NHL Contract

Our leading scorer from last season is still an RFA. There was a disagreement over his next contract that wasn't resolved before the NHL went into lockdown, so he's still technically a free-agent. However, he did sign a 2-year KHL deal with Metallurg Magnitogorsk (his brother's team) this winter. Luckily, he can get out of it, but the Avs must outbid the Russians for his services. Eurolanche very recently posted an outstanding interview with him, and in the video segment, he said that he would like to be with Colorado for the long term. However, given the Avs track record with players that disagree with them over salaries, that may or may not happen. Expect a signing here within the next few days - the Avs aren't going to part with him for nothing and will want him at camp - but we'll have to wait an see whether his "core" status with the Avs has been revoked.

5. Lockout Play

There were a slew of Avalanche players overseas, but the stand-out star by far has been Semyon Varlamov. He returned to his home club of Yarosalvl Lokomotiv and has posted an 8-4 record with an outstanding .946 Sv% and 1.74GAA, both the best in the league. He's had a few injuries, but he seems to be better now. There's no word yet on when he'll be returning Stateside, but chances are good it will be very, very soon.

The Captain also returned to his hometown and suited up for Djurgardens of Hockey Allsvenskan (SEL second division). In 17 games, he posed 6 goals, 8 assists, 1 fight, 2 cuts to the face (puck to the head in practice, evil goalie attack), and one very angry outburst that lead to him smashing through a pane of glass Thor-style. Man, I've missed that kid. Anyway, he left Sweden due to tax reasons about a month ago, and has been training with his Juniors coaches in Kitchner (in these awesome socks) since.

Matt Duchene also had a stint in Sweden. In 19 games with Frolunda, he scored 4G/10A, but he also had some issues with the refs and his teammate's motivation. When his contract came due in early December, he chose to give Switzerland a shot instead. Ambri-Piotta picked him up, and he managed 5 points (2G/3A) in 4 games. News broke that he was returning to the US earlier this weekend, and he didn't play yesterday. Also, during his time with Ambri-Piotta, he played in the Spengler Cup, a very old tournament held in Switzerland every year. He scored 2G/1A in the semifinals game, and was named to the All-Star team as the center, the only member of the Cup Winning Team Canada team to have that honor. He finished with 2G/3A in 4 games.

Stastny also traveled overseas during the lockout, suiting up for Red Bull Munich in Germany. He took some time to come home to Denver for the holidays, but he posted 7G/11A in 13GP.

After a brief coaching stint with a Juniors team in Victoria, BC, Ryan O'Byrne signed with the ECHL Florida Everblades. He scored 1G/1A in his first game, and has added to that total since, racking up 2G/9A in 15GP.

O'Reilly also decided to try his hand at coaching kids as well, signing up with the Clinton Radars (Yes, a kid from Clinton called Radar coached kids from Clinton called the Radars). However, he and now injured brother, Cal, traded placed around a month ago and O'Reilly signed with the KHL as mentioned above. In his 7 games as Malkin's teammate, he's posted 4G/2A.

A number of Avs who didn't go overseas decided to participate in charity events instead. Erik Johnson helped out US Armed Service Members's kids afford hockey gear by playing in the Defending the Blueline Charity Game on October 28th. He mostly played with the Wild players (including newbies Parise and Suter), and had a good showing despite the non-competitive atmosphere. Steve Downie was involved in the Hurricane Sandy charity game (Operation Hat Trick) as well, playing on the "Philly Team" with ex-teammate, Steven Stamkos.

Pre-lockout, Landy participated in a game put on by Niklas Kronwall in Sweden to help raise money for a local hockey team. Sandie also covered Logan Couture's charity game in August (part 1) (part 2), one that O'Reilly, Jamie McGinn, and Ryan Wilson skated in. Jan Hejda and J.S. Giguere didn't skate in a game, but they did help out with the KSE's sports equipment charity drive to benefit kids impacted by the summer wildfires. The event, held in honor of Jessica Ghawi, was held on September 8th.

6. Joey Hishon Cleared for Practice

The Avs top pick from 2010, 5'-10 Center Joey Hishon, has recently been cleared to start skating with the Lake Erie Monsters after a nasty concussion sustained during the 2011 Memorial Cup Tournament. He's not cleared for contact and it's unclear when (or even if) he'll be back in the lineup, but there is now at least a slim chance that he could be ready to go by the next Avs training camp.

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