The Avs cut Chris Stewart on Saturday, bringing the Avalanche roster down to 27 (the NHL max is 23). The
Stewart move wasn't unexpected; he's had a good camp and preseason, but there are simply still too many people ahead of him on the depth chart. The final four cuts are going to be difficult. While I'm not 100% sure what Tony Granato is going to end up with, I do know how the Avalanche roster would look on Thursday if I was making the call.
- Paul Stastny, Ryan Smyth, Milan Hejduk - As doc pointed out recently, Paul Stastny seems to be able to play with anyone, but I can't see any reason to break up the RPM line. I've mentioned before that I think Smyth is going to have a BIG year, and this line could really put up some great numbers.
- Joe Sakic, Wojtek Wolski, David Jones - It sounds like Sakic will be playing with Darcy Tucker to start the season, but I'm putting him with a couple of promising youngsters. Both players have had some success playing with Sakic in the past. It wouldn't hurt to have some of Jones' physicality rub off on Wolski, but Double Dub has enough skill to play with Sakic regardless of how hard (or often) he hits people.
- Tyler Arnason, Darcy Tucker, Marek Svatos - I won't get on my pro-T&A tirade soapbox again - you folks know I'm in favor of giving him another chance. It's a small line - all three guys are under 6 feet - and provides no defense. Offensively, though, I think this line could cause problems for the opposing defense, especially if they are facing the 5th and 6th defensemen of the other team.
- Ben Guite, Per Ledin, Ian Laperriere - I have yet to see Ledin in action, so I am totally flying blind here. I know that Guite and Lappy are tough, physical players with solid defensive ability. Ledin - who has reportedly become good friends with Guite off the ice - gets a chance here to cause trouble on our 4th line.
Press Box - Brian Willsie and Cody McCormick. Willsie is another guy I haven't seen in action yet in an Avalanche uniform, but I like his versatility. I think he can fill a lot of different roles on the team in a pinch, so he makes my team. I picked McCormick over Cody McLeod because I think McCormick is a bit better in the defensive game AND he's less selective in his fighting. I dig Scott Parker, but there just doesn't seem to be a place for him (and Granato obviously doesn't think he can play any more than Joel Quenneville did - his ice time this pre-season has been 6:34, 9:01 and 2:46). TJ Hensick doesn't make my team, mostly because I don't have anywhere for him to play. If I'm in charge, he starts the season in Cleveland, but is the first guy recalled when there's an injury to one of the top 6.
- Adam Foote, Brett Clark
- Scott Hannan, John-Michael Liles
- Ruslan Salei, Jordan Leopold
The above is probably the pairings I'd start the season with. Daniel Tjarnqvist is my 7th defenseman over Kyle Cumisky. Like Willsie, Tjarnqvist has some versatility and if one of the top 6 is out of the lineup, he seems like he can step in and play minutes at even strength, the powerplay or the kill. I'm not quite ready to through Cumiskey into every situation, plus, like Hensick, I want him playing every day. So, it's on to Cleveland for Cumiskey...for now, anyway.
So, there's my team. Up front, there's some grit on all four lines and good scoring punch from the first three. I think the D is evenly distributed as well - there's an offensive guy on each pairing (Clark, Liles and Leopold) as well as a good defender (Foote, Hannan and Salei). Of course, Peter Budaj is my starting goalie, with Andrew Raycroft working to find his game again in a backup role. On paper, I think the Avs can be one of the better offensive teams, and I think a full season of Foote and Salei (instead of Skrastins, Sauer and Finger) will be a big boost. I think our deep defense will help Budaj more than most pundits think, and that's why I'm picking the Avalanche to win the Northwest division and to go deep in the playoffs next spring.