It’s officially gameday. For the first time in the calendar year, the Colorado Avalanche will play meaningful and inspired hockey.
It’s been a crazy offseason. Not a whole lot happened, and yet, everything happened.
The Avalanche turnover from a year ago is astounding. Carl Soderberg and his $4.75 million are a healthy scratch. Joe Colborne, his $2.5 million, and last year’s opening night hat trick are headed to the AHL. There’s no Francois Beauchemin, Cody McLeod, or Jarome Iginla. Nine players from last year’s opening night roster against Dallas aren’t in the league anymore.
But Matt Duchene is still on the roster.
Yes, despite reports of “a trade is imminent” dating all the way back to June, Duchene will center Nail Yakupov and Alexander Kerfoot tonight. He’s on the team, he may not be happy, but I suspect he’ll play his heart out. It’s in his and team’s best interest to do so.
Kerfoot and Yakupov are just two of a handful of newcomers up front. Colin Wilson comes over from Nashville. JT Compher, Tyson Jost, Sven Andrighetto, and Matt Nieto all spent time with the organization last season, but arrived when things were already beyond repair.
The talent up front doesn’t look overwhelmingly scary. We’re all still waiting for Nathan MacKinnon to be an impact player on a shift-to-shift basis. Gabriel Landeskog has a lot to prove. Mikko Rantanen could hit a sophomore slump. Blake Comeau may actually shoot on a breakaway.
But there’s intrigue in this group. They’re young, quick, and skilled. Our opinion on tonight’s forwards may change in four months, but right now, no one sticks out in a bad way except maybe Comeau. Last year, the two Bourque’s and Ben Smith were clear anchors on a team trying to get faster under new coach Jared Bednar.
Of course, the forward group has always had talent up front. It’s the defense that has been troubling.
Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, and Nikita Zadorov are back from last year’s opening night. Mark Barberio returns from last year’s club. The other two slots will be Patrik Nemeth, Chris Bigras, or Andrei Mironov.
Maybe not the most fearsome six in the league, and certainly lacking that no doubt #1 guy, but it’s a solid group that isn’t weighed down by Beauchemin or Fedor Tyutin.
Semyon Varlamov returns in goal and here’s hoping he stays healthy.
Maybe I’ve just missed hockey, but I’m cautiously optimistic about this group. That’s not to say that I believe they’ll make the playoffs, but I do believe that they’ll be a fun group. Last year was the worst because the team was historically bad and you could tell the players were miserable.
This could all change in a week. The Avs open with a three-game road trip out east against two playoff teams. If they go 0-3, the miserable feeling will be back. Duchene face will prevalent.
But for right now. Just hours before the puck drop on game one. I’m just excited to watch Avalanche hockey again.