"Tepid Avalanche Surprise the Hockey World"
For a franchise named after a natural phenomenon involving a large snow mass, and for a sport that is played on a sheet of ice, all the talking heads still can't help but use the old sports cliche**, "Off to a hot start" in respects to Colorado's 8-1-0 record. The same writers who picked the Avalanche to finish 29th in the league before opening day are now, themselves, raving about the stellar play of the goaltending tandem of Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere, praising Matt Duchene's exceptional ability to skate past defenders, and lying through their teeth as they claim they were behind Patrick Roy since they first announced his new position in the franchise. It's been a long time since the Avalanche fan base has had a winning streak to hang their hat on, and it feels so refreshing.
The Avalanche has a long way to go, yet. With just under 90-percent of the season remaining, a perennial Avs fan may remain only cautiously optimistic, for they have been conditioned by the seasons prior to understand that, despite the "hot start," the Avalanche haven't seen playoff action since Craig Anderson carried us through six games against San Jose in April of 2010. Questions linger in regards to the defensive core which has only been moderately reformed since an abysmal performance last season, as well as the consistency of Semyon Varlamov through an 82 games schedule.
[**that's pronounced "CLEESH"]
Anyone that follows hockey understands that fewer names end up in the rumor mill quite as often as Paul Stastny's does. Joe Sakic and Roy tip-toe around the subject of trading Stastny. While logic (Asset Management) suggest that the Avalanche may want to trade him away in an effort to shore up the team's questionable blue line. Incidentally, I wouldn't be surprised if he just played out the season. Is this a mistake on the part of Sakic and Roy? That's up for debate, as are most subjects surrounding Paul Stastny**. What would surprise me most, especially given this article from Mr. Adrian Dater, is if the front office signed him to an extension.
In a way, this almost certainly Stastny's last hurrah with the club. I can't wait till we all start saying nice things about him after we've moved on. For what it is worth, I think Paul drew the short end of the stick when it came to playing for the Avalanche. I hope the people give him a fond farewell in his imminent departure.
[** And his ice time, And his contract, And his production, And his father, and... people love to talk about Pauly Walnuts, me included, evidently.]
Most seem to believe that Ryan O'Reilly will remain with the Avalanche as part of the core, but no official confirmation has come from the front office either. Anxiety may occur from the day that Ryan O'Reilly is trade eligible on February 28th, to the 2014 Trade Deadline on March 5th. That six day window will open the door for plenty of speculation unless the Avalanche publicly state the center is here to stay. Sometimes a contract extension helps to hush the crowds.
With the Duchene and Landeskog's big extensions kicking in next season, I wouldn't be surprised if the Avalanche finally make a move or two in order to address the club's (currently mild, but historically porous) defensive situation. With the UFA picking pretty slim on the defensive side. Think middle of the road guys like Andrei Meszaros, Dion Phaneuf assuming that he doesn't sign with Toronto, and the infamous Kyle Quincey, although the Front Office may have burned that bridge.
Names of young D-men on the trading block are abundant: Micheal Del Zotto, Dmitry Kulikov, Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson, etc. Del Zotto and Gardiner's offensive upside could better contribute to Roy's offensive systems and Franson has shown promise with an all-around game suited for the playoffs, but maybe only the young Russian Kulikov could truly develop into a big minute defenseman.
Kulikov has a raw defensive game that continues to develop, like that of one Tyson Barrie, but could eventually have a great offensive upside. He has some size at 6'1''/205 lbs. and is only 22 years old. Plus, he is a Russian teammate to help Varlamov feel more comfortable, and his English is very good.
The only other defenseman that could be of service is Keith Yandle (6'1''/190). Yandle is certainly a more established NHL defenseman than Kulikov, and would have more of an immediate impact. Unfortunately, he may only be available if Phoenix decides that Oliver Ekman-Larsson makes him expendable. This guy is an all star and perhaps among the more underrated NHLers.
Neither Kulikov, nor Yandle, will likely end up in Colorado. Good defensemen don't usually get traded away from playoff teams and young defensemen don't get traded away from teams that are rebuilding. They especially don't get traded to a team only giving up a struggling forward in Paul Stastny, with added sweeteners. This initiates a more complicated debate over the value of Ryan O'Reilly.