I feel the need to solidify some of my opinions regarding the past season and the upcoming one for future snarky linkage when I'm proven right. I wrote this before Andi's piece and after reading that and some of the comments, I feel it is even more prescient. First up is a quick breakdown of where the team currently is in my humble opinion.
Depth at wing is still woefully thin and/or unproven. Landeskog and Paranteau are good and fill their perceived roles (gritty power forward and Duchene complimentary piece, respectively). McGinn of 2013 may be closer to what we get out of him going forward than post-trade-deadline McGinn was but his shooting percentage from this year has room to grow back to pre-2013 levels (color me shocked when I noticed he had 11 goals on the season. That's at least 8 more than I thought he had). Jones had his worst year as a pro. At age 28. Chances and statistics say he'll bounce back to some degree next season (16.3% career S% before this season, 4.8% this year). However, none of those four "Top 6" guys are what I'd call "Elite" or "Star-caliber" at this point. Maybe Pappy proves me wrong. Maybe Landy turns a corner, but who knows. After those four dudes you have Downie, a retiring Duke, and a smorgasbord of 4th line/one-dimensional players. We largely know what we have with most of those guys (outside of Vincour maybe?). Maybe Hishon can play. Maybe Sgarbossa emerges as St. Looey v2.0. Both feel like reaches at this point. I'm not saying we have to roll 4 lines of scoring but more than one would be nice. I'd also like some definable aspect of the team to emerge. Are we fast? Are we grinding? Are we hard in the corners/tough on the boards? How about as a minimum they give a consistent effort? At this point I'd settle for consistently terrible because at least it would be a change of pace from the last two seasons of cock-teasing on-again, off-again ineptitude. Next Big Thing one night. AA Midget Travel Hockey the next.
The center position is its own hot mess. Duchene appears to have "emerged" after last season's injury-filled disappointment. After that? Who knows? Stastny didn't approach his career numbers on offense due largely to his usage on defense due largely to O'Reilly saving all those character bucks for the first third of the season due largely to Jay Feaster. Plus he was dragging Jones up/down the ice too. Speaking of captain Character, he emerged from his cash igloo to grace the Avs with 20 points in 29 games. So he basically WAS worth Stastny money after all!! The issue is that after Duchene, how do you split the ice time between the other two? You're saddled with Radar until trade deadline 2014 as a minimum and then you have to PAY THE MAN HIZ MONEE. Again. Stazzer is now another year closer to a hoped-for hometown discount or fresh start in another market depending on which side of that ridiculous argument you fall on. Ohh, and Mitchell is no McClement. Shocking revelation there.
Now let's talk about the D!!! We really need to because it'll be the same incredible crew next season. Honestly, if you think a #1 draft pick or coulda-been-a-Blue Duncan will suddenly improve this team next season I think you need to take a long hard look in the mirror. The stone. cold. fact is that this entire corps(e) is signed for next season. Nobody is gonna take O'Brien off of our hands out of the goodness of their hearts. They won't get value for Elliott or Zanon. Therefore the 2014 Avs defense will look a hellava lot like the 2013 Avs defense. The Monsters may be a metric shit-ton better, but if any of Jones, Elliott, or Siemens see significant NHL minutes next year, it's likely due to another snoozer of a season. It doesn't look much better way down the road in 2015 either. EJ, Hejda, Wilson are still under contract and I assume one (if not both) of Elliott and Barrie will still be here. That's 4-5 spots taken right there. Where are the supposed saviors in Siemens or Seth gonna see minutes? The defense will only get better with an implementation of a system that plays to the individual players' strengths and is executed at a high level. I don't think I'm skeptical to think that is a tenuous proposition at best. You add a new system to this bevy of bleh and you better believe that it'll be half a season before it bears fruit. That's half a season of getting our teeth kicked in by Minny, Chicago, St. Louis, and probably Dallas. I don't know if you know this or not, but that isn't a recipe for eeking into the playoffs. That's the recipe for mediocre mid-round picks in next year's draft and the silent cries of battered sandwiches.
Then comes the netminders. Varly is inconsistent, young, inconsistent, streaky, and inconsistent. If you didn't notice, I think there's a consistency problem with Varly. Next year is his RFA season. Will the Avs square peg a round hole if he doesn't perform and try and re-sign him so they can give the trade more time to bear fruit? Or do they cut bait and move on to one of the prospects in the system? Jiggy is on the last hitch of his three-year deal, and he'll be 36 this time next year. Not saying he won't re-sign or that he will. However, any deal over 2 years would be a reach, especially considering the guys in the system. Plus, last time I checked, no goalie leads the team in scoring. If they don't get goal support and they get consistently haphazard play in front of them (due to either a continuation of the WTF we've witnessed over the most recent season or growing pains from a new system) neither are elite enough to carry this team on their back to a playoff birth. An injury, trade or buy-out to either of Varly or Jiggy forces Pickard or Aittokallio into service. Both are unknowns at the NHL level. No amount of coaching will turn any of them into Rookie of the Year Steve Mason if the team is craptastic in front of 'em.
So to recap: Duchene, Pappy, Jiggy = good. Everybody else = needs to get much better pretty quickly or 2014 will only look about 1 or 2 standings positions better. What I mean is, if we don't see a high tide raise all boats, there likely isn't a whole lot to talk about for next season's eventual outcome. Another 11-14 finish would be about right. Add in the fact that you'd have burned yet another year from everybody's contracts for no appreciable gain in performance and then you have to go to the RFA negotiating table with Landy, Dutchy, Radar, McGinn, Barrie, Elliott, and Varly.
That brings me to the chatter about the upcoming season. A new coach could provide the impetus for change, especially for guys like Jones, McGinn, Johnson, O'Brien, and Varly. A new defensive zone system and match-up utilization could see a marked improvement in own-zone play. Maybe EJ impresses us all with his minute-munching skill. Maybe Barrie's hands and Hunwick's legs lead to more than 4 goals for the D. Maybe Stastny plays for a new deal and gets back to a 0.75 PPG pace or better. Maybe Landy starts punishing more opposing players as opposed to his own noggin. Perhaps Radar stretches his pace out over 82 games and locks down a 2C spot. Maybe Duchene goes apeshit and spends the season popping water bottles at a Rocket Richard pace. Could Varly turn in to a Russian Rinne? Sure all of that COULD happen. But the chances of more than one or two of those things coming to fruition are pretty thin. Like anorexic. Looked -for-saviors from the prospect cupboard won't help either. Joey "He's the Cute One" Hishon could make the team as a dynamic winger but we could also see him die during a hockey game the first time he gets Kronwall'd. The pieces we have in the system are largely similar skill sets to guys already on the team, so other than a salary savings, I'm not sure that it would generate a net positive to see Heard or Walker with the big club.
I'm not here to tell anybody how to root for your team. That's Rear Admiral Douche of the Douche Navy level of Douchery. What I'm asking for is realistic, thoughtful consideration of what you're really into for next year. Without drastic changes to the roster (turnover of at least 4 players, 2 of which need to be defensemen) there doesn't appear to be much in the way of light at the end of the tunnel. And I don't mean dipping your fingers into other rosters with cool ways to get 2-4 other GM's to radically overpay to get some of our spare parts for bonified studs. I also don't mean expecting what has operated as a budget team for 4 years to suddenly open the coffers and just breeze through a FA signing day by signing the exact five guys that would turn us into a contender overnight. The upcoming salary crunch will see a bunch of dudes bought out, and the FA market will be flush with talent, right? Wrong. Why do you think they got bought out? Because they were expendable on a team that is probably having roster issues of their own, that's why. That means, by definition, they are 3rd or 4th options on their respective teams. How are they going to drastically improve the Avs? Trick question: They won't. No amount of passing drills or goaltender coaching will replace a lack of talent compared to the rest of the teams in the league.
I want to enjoy an Avalanche season again. I want to root for wins again. I can't do that when we degrade to the level of analysis and horse-buggery-cum-necrophilia consistent with the comments at the Denver Post or HFBoards. But I've been repeatedly told I'm an asshole, so you guys do whatever you feel like. Just don't expect me to bite my tongue when the radioactive levels of stupid cause my ears to bleed and my testicles to shrink.
This team, even with the "revamp" of the front office, will still operate like a budget team next season. They will do so largely with the same grab bag of dysfunctional 'talent' that currently make up the roster. They may not make significant roster changes until the deadline next year and I GUARANTEE that those changes won't be in the vein of "missing pieces for a cup run". They'll be in the context of "Am I bid two bits for the once great Paul Stastny? No? How about if I throw in an O'Brien?" Maximizing ROI will be the new tagline next season. Duchene and others will be playing for a payday. They'll want to get SOMETHING for Stastny or Radar. Hell, nobody will be untouchable next year. This doesn't feel like year 3 of a five or six-year effort. It feels like year 6 of a four-year rebuild. You know it as The Columbus Special. This team is stepping out onto the precipice of being blown up, IMO. Sakic and Co. will revamp and try to keep Duchene, Landy and ... probably just Duchene and Landy. Maybe Pappy.
For grins, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Shane O'Brien buyout from CapGeek.com
Greg Zanon buyout from CapGeek.com
David Jones buyout from CapGeek.com
Total Avalanche Salary Cap hit for next season: ~$56 million (22 players).
Projected Cap Room: ~$11 million.