John Buccigross has resumed his popular column at ESPN.com this week, and his first series of posts is a Western Conference preview. In the first post, teams 15-11 were ranked, with the Avalanche nowhere in sight. That was a good sign. Then, yesterday, he posted his 10-6 teams.
This time, the Avalanche has appeared, and in 7th place, no less. In it's entirety, here is Bucci's commentary on the Avalanche:
Boy, did this team put the lotion in the basket last season -- 272 goals. No one in the West scored more and only Nashville had as many. The problem was defense -- 251 goals allowed. Can the Avs improve that? That is a major question.
Colorado's overall team speed isn't exactly lightning quick. The Avs make some speed sacrifices in exchange for offensive acumen among aging players. The blue-line corps is nothing to e-mail home about and the goalie situation is still a bit strange with Jose Theodore (and his $5.5-million salary) and Peter Budaj trying to share the net. Theodore still is coming back from knee surgery. If he is not ready, Tyler Weiman would be the backup to Budaj at season's start, which might be the best thing for everyone. But with Theodore playing for a contract, maybe he will find his old form out of desperation and give the Avs two good goalies ... or one good piece of trade bait for an East team.
The Avs will have two high scoring lines. The Joe Sakic-Andrew Brunette-Ryan Smyth line has struggled a bit in the preseason, but should be sound. Brunette will get the puck to Smyth at the right spots and Sakic's all-time release should produce some juicy rebounds. I see a big season for Smyth, who signed a five-year, $31.25-million contract in July. Earlier this month, Joe Sakic said, "We love our team."
Milan Hejduk was better than a point-per-game in the second half last season, and if he continues that kind of production, the Avs will be tough to defend and once again have a potent power play that was 21 percent in 2006-07. Paul Stastny, Wojtek Wolski and Marek Svatos give the Avs plenty of skill to go against the opposing team's Nos. 3, 4 and 5 defensemen all year long.
Jordan Leopold had a lost season last year, playing only 15 games. The Avs have solid performers in Brett Clark, Karlis Skrastins and Scott Hannan on defense. They need Leopold and John-Michael Liles to be dynamic. It's time for Leopold to step up, show some desperation and prove he can be a valuable defenseman. Liles had eight power-play goals. He needs to find his comfort zone with the team, shoot a little more and set himself up in a contract year. He only had 128 shots on goal last season. His goal should be 150.
Any time you are in that No. 7-10 prediction area and attempting to forecast teams' success, all you see are zits. But the Avs have a lot going for them -- they have plenty of offense, great coaching and veteran leadership that should provide the necessary benzoyl peroxide to cover up these flaws and build a fortress around its fan base's heart.
Is it an accurate portrayal of the team? Yeah, probably. I'm a little surprised he didn't mention Jaroslav Hlinka and TJ Hensick, but you can't expect the guy to follow every team's training camp reports.
One thing about his preview/predictions, though. He wrote a blurb about the size of Colorado's for every team except the Flames. For the Flames, he wrote almost a separate column (in which he takes former Av Alex Tanguay to task for being "gutless," no joke). I guess Mike Keenan has that effect on people.