You can accuse me of wearing burgundy-tinted glasses if you wish, but I think the Avs will greatly exceed the low expectations most pundits have for them. Health will again be a concern; but the Avalanche have a significant number of players who have had difficulty staying healthy. But they showed last April that they are capable of playing with just about any team.
With a healthy Brett Clark and a full season from Adam Foote and Ruslan Salei, the Avalanche should have their best - and deepest - corps of blueliners since the last Cup win. Up front the team looks to have a versatile blend of skill, grit, youth and experience. And, yes, I do believe that Peter Budaj is going to be an upgrade over Jose Theodore in net. If Tony Granato can find a way to get the most out of this talented team - and that's a big "if" in my book - and if the team doesn't repeat it's stint as a walking M*A*S*H* unit - another big one - I feel there's no reason we can't win the division and go deep in the playoffs. Yes, really.
The above idiot, of course, was yours truly during last fall's Avalanche Blogger Roundtable. I've been thinking a bit about why I was so off. Yes, the injury bug bit us. Again. And Granato did not do well, as we are well aware. But that "talented team" I mentioned? Eh... Budaj being an upgrade? Well, he was, but it was a very slight upgrade. That deep defensive squad? I don't even want to go there.
But I think there may be another factor, one that I wasn't really counting on. And it took this youtube video to remind me: Peter Forsberg. To be fair, I fully expected Forsberg to return last year. That didn't happen, of course, and his absence might have had a bigger impact than we thought.
Honestly, I think we've taken Forsberg for granted a bit in recent years. Well, I know that I have. When he's not around, you forget just how dynamic a player he is on the ice, even when he's got some electric motor in his pants making his feet work. When he returned to the Avalanche at the 2008 deadline, he changed the entire team. The guys who played with him - Stastny and Hejduk especially - were better players with him on the ice. Even the guys who didn't play with him benefited from the added focus opposing teams placed on Foppa. Remember the success that Sakic, Wolski and Brunette had in Forsberg's games? The whole team just seemed more...creative.
With Forsberg in the lineup last spring, they were 8-1-0. Without him, just 36-30-7 - a pace for 89 points (Nashville was the #8 seed with 91 points). Check out some of the wins - 3-1 win over Dallas: two points for Forsberg. 2-0 shutout of Calgary: Forsberg assisted on the winning goal. 6-3 win against Vancouver: 3 helpers. 5-4 shootout win: 3 assists, including the game-tying goal with 6 seconds left. 4-2 win against Vanouver: 2 points. 4-3 win against Minnesota: 3 more points. Forsberg was crucial to the Avs' playoff run. Without Foppa, the Avs probably don't make the playoffs.
And, of course, the Avs were 4-3 in the postseason when Forsberg was able to play, and 0-3 when he could not. The depleted Minnesota Wild defense had to focus so much energy on Forsberg that, in the end, the Avalanche were able to prevail. Without Foppa, that's a different series.
The Avalanche have spent 3 full seasons without Forsberg since he left via free agency. We have one postseason appearance and one series win in those three years. Had he not dug his superman costume out of storage in '08, the Avs would likely be in the middle of a three year playoff drought. As it was, his heroics were enough to put us over the top one last time. Sadly, until we find another superhero, that may remain our most sucessful season for quite some time.