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Morning Flurries: Avalanche open camp with lethal line combos

NHL: JUL 15 Avalanche Training Camp Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hockey is finally back — and if all goes well, it’s back for good.

The NHL saw teams kick off their shortened training camps on Sunday, January 3rd, as all 31 clubs prepare for a sudden kick-off to the 115-day, 56-game season set to begin on January 13th.

The Avalanche are one of the teams who managed to escape an off-season full of injuries and flat cap crises with a relatively unscathed roster, something that was on full display when their roster was revealed ahead of the start of camp. And hoo boy, does that returning roster look pretty lethal when you stack it up against the rest of the league:

Fantasy lineup aggregation site Daily Faceoff revealed what Colorado’s line combinations are projected to look like through training camp, complete with the fantasy rankings for each player and how that leaves each line stacking up around the league.

Typically, teams that have strong top-end presence struggle to fill out their bottom six roster to compensate for the elite talent up front, and the teams that boast strong depth offense struggle when it comes to star power. But for Colorado, they have a top-ten ranked line set to roll out for every face-off this year; from their second-best league-wide first line to their seventh-best league-wide bottom three, they have the edge no matter where you look in their forward lineup.

The defense is a bit weaker, but not by much; while they only have the eighth-best top defensive pairing in the league at the moment, they gain an edge with the second-best third pairing and round out the top ten with all three pairings at that position, too.

The season is set to be unpredictable and it’s hard to really figure out what’s going to happen. But as training camps get under way, it’s pretty easy to get excited with what Colorado is bringing back to the table.

Speaking of things to get excited about, the Canadian division has an extremely fun top line being debuted at training camp in Toronto this week:

The Leafs brought in Jumbo Joe this summer as a free agent, in the former Sharks captain’s first move away from San Jose since he was traded there by the Boston Bruins in 2005. He’s started to show his age a bit during his last few seasons in San Jose (he’ll turn 42 sometime during this year’s playoffs), but he’s still one of the hardest forwards in the game to knock off the puck and an elite playmaker. To think about him lining up in training camp with an up-and-coming elite centreman like Auston Matthews and a high-flying winger like Mitch Marner is a bit terrifying — but exciting for Avalanche fans who want to see more fun offense, just not within their own division.

In goalie news, the Vegas Golden Knights have brought an intriguing name into the mix at the AHL level:

The team hired former New York Islanders goaltending coach Fred Brathwaite to head their AHL goaltending coaching this year, following an offseason overhaul of the team’s goaltending department. NHL coach Dave Prior was ousted in favor of team scout and development coach Mike Rosati, and now they’ll bring in even more new blood to work with the team’s up-and-comers.

Brathwaite made his first foray into the NHL coaching world in 2017, when he was hired to work as the Islanders goaltending coach thanks to an impressive four-year resumé working with Hockey Canada for their U18 Men’s National Team. At the time, he was one of just three visible minorities working as a goaltending coach in the league — and there was only one black coach working behind an NHL bench at the time.

The Islanders struggled during his lone season working with Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss, and he was quickly ousted by general manager Lou Lamoriello in favor of Piero Greco, a goaltending coach Lamoriello had worked with before. Now, he’ll get a chance to work his way back up through the AHL, where he’ll help Vegas with their prospects this season — a not-insignificant step for the league in giving minority coaches a longer shot to thrive before letting them fade out of the picture.

Finally, in news that isn’t hockey-related, but still damn cool:

For our non-football-savvy readers, the Washington Football Team secured their first NFC East Title since 2015 on Sunday night when they triumphed over the Philadelphia Eagles.

It’s a cool enough story for a team that spent the season mascot-less following the long-overdue tossing of the team’s racist ‘Redskins’ former moniker, proving that you can still be a the best team in your division even without a controversial name emblazoned on all your gear. It’s an even cooler story for head coach Ron Rivera, who was tasked with handling a circus this year all while undergoing treatment for cancer. But it’s an especially cool story for quarterback Alex Smith, who underwent a whopping 17 surgeries and nearly lost his leg following a gruesome injury in 2018. Smith, who quarterbacked five of the team’s seven cumulative victories this year, was one of the biggest comeback stories of the entire year — and to honor all that he overcame, his wife posted that incredible picture of the external fixator brace he’d had to wear for so long, re-sculped into the Lombardi trophy.

Was it a good game? Absolutely not. The Redskins were a passable team in a terrible division, winning more by virtue of an absolute travesty of a competitive field boasting the honor of being the only division that didn’t have a single team reach double-digit wins. But it was still a great story for Smith, Rivera and company.