So I struggled with a good way to talk about the subject of today's post. So I figured I'd just throw up another Open Thread for tonight's Western Conference Final Game 3 in Chi-town between the Sharks and Blackhawks. But I realized that's a cop-out. So I guess I'll just have to bite the proverbial bullet and lay it all out there. What I want to talk about is patience for the Avalanche. Why so esoteric a subject for your Friday MHH reading? Because I think with the impending summer RFA and UFA markets will provide some tempting opportunities for both management and fans to skew their perceptions of the team. What I mean is that a deft signing or two coupled with a little bit of luck could see some promising improvements for the squad but there isn't a magic pill out there that will turn the 2010-2011 version of the Avalanche into perennial Cup contenders. Let me be perfectly clear: I love this team and hope for the best every season, but they aren't a missing piece away from being dominant. In fact, I think we're much more likely to be disappointed in the team's overall performance next year than we are to be celebrating a Cup win or even deep run.
I'm basically proposing taking the long-term view for the team for a variety of reasons.
Those reasons are varied and include things that can and can't be controlled by team management, the players, or fans.
Just for some talking points, here's a few:
- Signing/acquiring one stud d-man in the offseason will not "fix" all of the issues with the defense. Paul Martin, Anton Volchenkov, Dan Hamhuis, etc. will improve the D, but that's only ~17% of the defense corps. He can't play 60 minutes to cover up the lack of physicality by some of our smaller defensemen or shut down the opposing teams top two lines himself. We'll still have 3 or 4 blueliners that struggle to clear the puck and give up way too many shots. We'll still have guys running the point on the PP who didn't click for REALLY long stretches of the last two-to-three seasons. We'll still have some guys who aren't exactly the fleetest of foot (Hannan, Foote). The blueline rebuild is just getting started with the infusion of bottom 4 guys like Cumiskey and Wilson. The effort must continue with hopeful emergence of Shattenkirk or other prospects PLUS a good signing.
- As fun as it was to watch this last season, we can't expect such a large impact from younger/rookie players again in 2010-2011. Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly excelled, but the jury is still out on whether they or T.J. Galiardi, Chris Stewart, David Jones, and others can maintain the level of play they provided this last season. Some of those guys have had a shot or two and only came up during this somewhat magical season where everything fell just right. For instance, everybody talks about Stewart's emergence, but it didn't start when he got back from Lake Erie, it started after Jones went down and Stewart saw top line duty out of necessity. Now did he get good all of a sudden, or was it a result of his linemates? Avs fans have been tickled pink with stellar debuts in the past only to be haunted for seasons of disappointment thereafter (Hello T.J. Hensick!). Duchene especially has all the ear-marks of an elite player, but at only 19-20 years old next season, the likelihood of a sophomore slump or setback is MUCH higher than seeing a large step in his growth toward that end. I'm not saying it won't happen, just that it PROBABLY won't happen.
- Fans who go into the summer with Craig Anderson's playoff showing as the default setting for Avalanche goaltending next season will likely be slapped hard about the face and neck by the cold hand of reality. More likely sooner rather than later in the season. There were plenty of aberrations to last season and anybody who expects Anderson handle that many games and shots with a similiar outcome is mildly-to-profusely delusional.
- One thing myself and other's have throw out there as a "need" for the Avalanche this offseason is a top 6 winger to play on Paul Stastny's line. I think we're right, but I think there are likely 29 other teams looking for the exact same player. Now a wide open salary cap in Colorado could go a long way to giving the edge at the bargaining table, but I don't want to see the team's management go "all-in" on an Ilya Kovalchuk this season and not be flexible in 2011 and beyond. Mainly because I don't think Kovalchuk fits with what Colorado is building from a team standpoint and doesn't address the more glaring need (IMO) at the back end.
- The lack of depth at certain positions within the organization is something that needs to be addressed. No top flight wingers and absolutely ZERO legit NHL goaltenders (at last report) is something that needs to be looked at hard this offseason. Craig Anderson's contract runs out after next season. Now, he may re-up sooner rather than later, but he's not a 22-year-old phenom and the organization has absolutely zero heirs in the wings. Similarly, Milan Hejduk isn't getting any younger and the jury is still out on some of the guys I mentioned above. The Monsters aren't exactly filled with snipers either.
I guess at the end of the day, I'm just wanting to keep our summer discussions in the realm of reality. As much as I love the idea of Zach Parise-Paul Stastny Wondertwin activation, I don't think there's much of a chance. Hell, as much as I've pimped the acquisition of Patrick Sharp, I'm not sure the organization is willing to give up what it will likely take to get it. I think the team's moves at this last trade deadline bear this out. They seem to be taking the long view and aren't going to mortgage the short-term or the long-term for a shot in the dark. The pieces are coming together, but there is still a LOT of work left to do. So I'm proposing putting our burgundy-colored glassed down and get our hands dirty rooting for and supporting the team just as hard this summer and not proclaiming any saviors or demons just yet.
Ohh, and the Sharks head to the Windy City and try and get back in the series having blown their home ice advantage to the Blackhawks. Remember, we're all rooting for the Blackhawks in this one just so we can see if Hossa's curse will be in effect for three straight years.