As an avid Avalanche fan, I've gone through many offseasons with a wishlist for the Avs. I've scavenged my way through the long list of available free agents and found the ones in which I feel best fit the Avalanche's needs. I watch highlights of those players, imagining them donning an avalanche sweater. I fill my computer with excel sheets of imaginary line-ups and trades. I pour hours upon hours of my precious time into the personnel moves of a team I have no control over and come July 1st, I sit at my computer and await the news of who will be wearing an Avalanche sweater in the year to come. Every year I have a wishlist and every year I hope it is fulfilled.
In recent years, I often see that list ignored and I am left scratching my head over decisions and signings and wondering what they mean for the future of the team. This offseason though was different. This offseason that wishlist became a checklist.
As the draft approached, it was becoming evident that Ryan O'Reilly's puzzle piece was just not going to fit in the Avs' puzzle. So, did they wait like they did with Paul Stastny, hoping that maybe he'd find that he really liked it here and didn't want to leave? No, they were proactive. First, they acquired and signed one of the biggest names on the free agency market in Carl Soderberg. Then, they moved O'Reilly and got a decent return for him that included a big left-handed 20-year old defenseman with more than 50 NHL games already under his belt. In the process, the Avs shaved some cap and set themselves up well for free agency this year and years beyond.
When it was their turn to draft at number ten, the Avs had an easy choice with Europe's top-rated skater still sitting on the board. In Mikko Rantenen, the Avs drafted a big talented winger who has a great chance at making the Avs roster out of camp and providing depth. And in two years time, the Avs will already have top-six talent replacement for the future-hall-of-famer Jarome Iginla signed and developed.
Now we come to July 1st. Up north this day is known as Canada Day, but in hockey circles it's just known as free agency day. The Avs had two holes to address: a left-handed top pair defenseman and a depth forward.
A lot of wishlists out there had Andrej Sekera slotted in to fill that first hole. Admittedly so did I, but the two just didn't seem to match each other as well as we all wanted them to match. Instead, the Avs procured the next best option: Francois Beauchemin. Though older, Beauchemin still has some real good hockey in him and may reflect the Avs needs more than Sekera would have. Beauchemin bring a more solid defensive game, proven time in the past and recently being a top pair minute eating defenseman, and perhaps most of all, nearly 100 games of playoff experience, including a Stanley Cup ring. Compare that to Sekera's eight games of playoff experience, and it stands out. Some may say that just makes Beauchemin old, but the man is coming off his best offensive year as far as goal scoring and was a top pairing defenseman for a team that just cruised their way to the conference finals before being knocked out in seven by the eventual Stanley Cup champions. Not a bad pick up in my eyes. Some will argue the three year term. Is it a lot for a 35-year-old? Yes, but that's what it takes to sign a veteran these days. We saw it last year with Iginla. That extra year gets a veteran to sign, so you offer it to get the guy you want and set up your team to have replacement prospects in place like the Avs have done with both those players.
The second hole was a depth forward. The Avs filled that void with Blake Comeau. At 29-years-old, Comeau is not old by any means and he has the ability and defensive prowess to slot in as a solid second or third line winger. He showed in Pittsburgh that he has strong enough offensive skills to play with the talent. We'll see where he fits in with the Avalanche, but I don't have any problem with a guy like Comeau getting some ice time with Duchene and Iginla as well as some time on the third line and penalty kill.
As the dust settles from the O'Reilly saga in Colorado, the Avs are not looking as damaged as one first imagined. The moves and additions the front office made to prepare for the loss of one of the league's brightest young centers has left the Avs looking much more balanced. Just look at one of the possible line-ups for next season:
Trust me when I say I more than filled an excel sheet with the possible line combinations the Avs could display with their new line-up (with or without Rantanen as a rookie). With the depth and balance the Avs now have, the combinations are nearly endless.
It definitely hurts to loose a core player such as O'Reilly, but now the rest of the machine is looking strong enough to operate. Though it may not have happened as fairy tale like as most of us imagined, the Avs have shed their O'Reilly woes and have turned their roster into a balanced and prepared team posed for playoff contention.
Start the countdown for October...