So Super Joe is back, a year older and $6 million richer. Even at 39, he's a formidable top line center, an inspiring veteran presence, and his wrister is still plenty twisted.
I have contended that the most vulnerable part of the Colorado Avalanche this season will be the offense and I'm still contending that. Not the defense, and not the goaltending. With Peter Forsberg's fate ever unknown (and his advancing age and declining skills still a factor, healthy or not), the Avalanche offense is still lacking an extra punch. Son of Stastny is money, sure, but can Wolski and Svatos really step up their games? Can Milan Hejduk not crumble to pieces (or even just score on a regular basis)? Can Ryan Smyth keep his mullet all in one piece? And will Tony Granato avoid the pitfalls of frequent line changes and punitive benchings?
Those are the real questions facing the Avs this year, at least as far as I'm concerned. Everyone, media and otherwise, seems to agree that the defense is in pretty good shape. Hopefully male model John-Michael Liles will regain his scoring touch that eluded him last year and hopefully Jordan Leopold can pretend that his body isn't 90 years old. Adam Foote, Ruslan Salei, Brett Clark and Scott Hannan are solid and should do well.
Ah, but what about the goaltending? It appears as though Mile High Hockey is the only "NHL circle" that is confident in the abilities of apparent starter Peter Budaj. Everybody else seems to be operating under the delusion that Boots will have to compete with Andrew Raycroft for the top spot. I'd argue that the only thing they'll be fighting for is the window seat on the team plane.
Terry Frei still labors under a delusion, though:
The captain returns to an enigmatic team, partially because of its unsettled goaltending situation in the wake of Jose Theodore's departure. If Jeff Hackett, now known as the "goalie whisperer" in Denver after his work with Theodore, can coax a similar recovery from another former teammate, Andrew Raycroft, and Raycroft takes over the No. 1 job from Peter Budaj, that would help.
Help what? Raycroft improving his game would automatically be better than Peter Budaj? Why? How? Huh?
How is the goaltending situation unsettled? Is there really any question who the starting goalie will be? Really? Maybe I'm mistaken, but Tony Granato has watched Peter Budaj play for his entire career, and there are copious amounts of video available of Raycroft failing to stop beach balls. Pending a complete and total bed-crapping by Budaj in training camp, he will be the starter. And we've already established that Boots is a fine goalie, and at his age has nowhere to go but up. Despite the fact that Joel Quenneville---the only coach Budaj has had to this point---did his very best to stifle and punish the young netminder, and only relied on him when Jose Theodore was just too bad to even consider (late 2006-07), nobody seems to remember how well Budaj did under the circumstances. If given consistent starts, he's a consistent game winner.
I'm starting to think anything less than a Vezina and a Stanley Cup will fail to convince his numerous doubters.
Hopefully Budaj takes this opportunity and runs with it, and makes us all look really smart in the process. Because that's all that really matters, right?