PSYCH! You thought it would take me the entire summer to finish this. (Sup, Joe?) For part one, click here.
Reasons 11-19 to be happy about the season:
11. Improvement - Sure, it would have been pretty hard to not improve from the 2010-2011 season. However, that doesn't mean we can't recognize and celebrate how much of an improvement we saw. First and foremost, the team earned 20 more points than last season, putting it at 16th in the league, up from 29th last season. The Avs had 11 more wins and 11 fewer losses. The penalty kill improved by 7% and the goals against average dropped from 3.5 to 2.66. Yes, last year was horrid, but the 2009-2010 season saw the team make the playoffs. This year's team did better than that one in goals against average, penalty kill, power play, average shots against per game and face off wins. What was the difference between getting 95 points then and only 88 now? Two ROWs and 3 OT losses. A couple of bounces the other way and things could be a lot different right now.
12. Special Teams - The Avalanche did not fall below 10th in the league for power play success. The team ended the season at 9th with an 18.4% success rate. The penalty kill wasn't far behind at 12th in the league at 83%. The team only gave up 4 short-handed goals, tying it for 6th best in the league, while scoring 5 shorties, putting the Avs right in the middle of the pack. Although not limited to special teams, it's also relevant to note that Colorado ranked third in takeaways and tied for fourth in face off wins.
13. Joe Sacco - Absolutely Joe Sacco should make you happy about this season. Why? One reason is because he got better. In his third year as head coach of the Avalanche, he improved with his line match ups, he learned how to successfully adjust his strategy mid-game, and he helped the team find ways to win more games than last season. Another reason is that Sacco is a straight-shooter. There is no guessing about what you will get with him. He expects you to play your best, give your fullest, and if you don't, you won't play. If you want to get ice time under Sacco's rule, you leave everything on the ice. A third positive of Sacco's performance this season was his decision for setting lines. A lot of people hated his decisions, like putting Matt Duchene on the wing. But at least Sacco tried it. People questioned his decision to put what seemed like third- and fourth-line grinders on the top two lines. However, look at what Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie accomplished on those lines. Finally, the team improved this season in areas that Sacco directly influenced. See #11. Love him or hate him, you should be honest and objective and recognize that Joe Sacco did some good in 2011-2012.
14. Greg Sherman - Who's laughing now, right? This season showed that Greg Sherman knows this team. He sold high on Chris Stewart and T.J. Galiardi and saw risks like the Semyon Varlamov trade pan out. He went after a solid veteran goaltender in Jean-Sebastien Giguere to guide, mentor, and support the young Varlamov, as well as veteran defenseman Jan Hejda to stabilize the back end. He recognized the guys in the locker room that needed to go and replaced them with players that fit into his system of character, leadership and dedication. He made some choices that didn't work—in particular, Joakim Lindstrom—but at least he took the chance. Joke all you want about an accountant manning the helm of the Avalanche organization, but Sherman found a way to ice a skilled team that fit into its identity while having one of the lowest payrolls in the league. Greg Sherman made something out of almost nothing.
15. Extra Time - When games went past regulation, the Avalanche had every reason to be confident that a win was on its way. Out of 22 OT/Shootout games, the Avs only lost 6 of them. The team really shined in the shootout, however, winning 9 of 11. Even more impressive was Semyon Varlamov. Despite the fact he openly admitted he hates the shootout, he is one of the best with them. Out of 24 shots against, Varly only missed two. His save percentage topped the league at an amazing .917. To put this in perspective, the league average was .626.
16. East Coast Dominance - The team's performance against the Northwest Division was dismal, and the reasons for it left a lot of people--fans and team included--scratching their heads. On the other side of this coin, though, was the stellar record against the Eastern Conference. The Avs faced East Coast foes 18 times during the season and won 13 of them. 11 contests were against teams currently fighting for the Eastern Conference Championship title (two games apiece against New Jersey and Pittsburgh). The Avs won eight of those games.
17. Attendance - After years of record-setting attendance, we saw the numbers in the Pepsi Center plummet, bottoming out at an average of 13,947 during the 2009-2010 season. It wasn't unusual, in fact, to see numbers in the 12,000 range. However, the bodies are coming back, and this year's average was 15,498. There were five sell outs and five games that went above 17,000 people. It's certainly not where we want it to be, but it's getting better. Moreover, the building was loud, even during the games that weren't sold out, something the players themselves commented on frequently.
18. We're not Edmonton. - If you feel like the Oilers have been rebuilding forever, you aren't alone. Since the lockout, Edmonton ended the regular season in the bottom five of the league four times, and the team has not cracked higher than 18 since the 2002-2003 season. This year marks the third in a row that the Oilers will have the first overall pick in the draft, something that hasn't happened since the Nordique years. And while Edmonton is acquiring some of the most exciting young talent in the league, the general manager is not addressing the gaping holes in the roster, making relevancy for this team a distant proposition. On the other hand, the Avalanche--after a horrible, era-ending season in 2008-2009--has deliberately rebuilt the team over a three-year period and is now only a piece or two away from being a contender.
19. Future - No matter what you think about the Avalanche organization and its intentions during the off-season, you can't deny that this team has young talent that gives it a very bright future. The more experience they get, the better they are going to be. And these players have talent oozing out of their pores. Once they believe and understand the ins and outs of an NHL season, they will be a threat. Yes, the future is so bright, you better grab some shades.