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Despite three straight seasons of exactly 95 points, the Colorado Avalanche finds itself in a transition phase. The team has plenty of young, talented and still developing offensive players, some key veterans who are mulling their futures, a defense corps that’s not particularly strong and goaltending that will likely continue to be suspect.
Depending on what happens with Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, this team will either backslide (possibly quite a bit) or perhaps break even, but I’m not sure we’ll see them crack the 95-point barrier that’s become the Avalanche’s recent glass ceiling.
The key here is Sakic, who if healthy, still brings 70+ point potential to the table even at his advanced age. If Sakic decides to end his glorious 19-year career, 2008-09 will truly be a season of transition for the Avalanche. On the plus side, it could have a legitimate chance of falling far enough to put itself in the John Tavares sweepstakes.
My belief is that Sakic will return. In an interview with a Denver sports radio show Monday, he said he still hasn’t made up his mind yet, but will decide one way or the other “pretty soon.” The fact that he’s talking about when training camp is coming up suggests to me he’s leaning towards lacing ‘em up for season number 20.
There’s certainly cap room for him to come back; after signing Marek Svatos to a two-year $4.1 million deal (just $1.75 million of which is for next season), Colorado remains $8.2 million under the cap.
As for Forsberg, it will likely be a repeat of last season, when he opted to return to play a partial season. He only played in nine games last year, yet racked up 14 points. Because of his ongoing foot issues, Foppa won’t be joining any NHL clubs until Christmas at the very earliest, but his doctor is bullish about Forsberg’s chances of resuming his career. The fact that last week he potted three goals in an exhibition game in Sweden suggest that Forsberg isn’t that far away. Of course, as a fantasy owner, you’ve got to assess how much time you’ll get from him when deciding where he should be slotted. If you get a half-season from Forsberg, that’s probably a best-case scenario.
Now if Sakic does decide to skate off into the sunset, players like Svatos and T.J. Hensick will see an increase in their roles. Svatos enjoyed a fine comeback season, potting 26 goals despite missing the final 16 games after tearing ligaments in his knee. I’m expecting him to surpass his 32-goal rookie season if he remains healthy and is given a bigger role without Sakic. At age 26, there’s definite upside here.
Hensick, just 22, is expected to make the team and, after averaging almost a point per game in the AHL and holding his own in 31 games in Colorado, this former NCAA scoring stud is a serious sleeper.
Of course, as far as young talented scorers go, we’re just scratching the surface with Paul Stastny, who averaged better than a point per game in his sophomore season. If he can stay healthy, I’m expecting at least 30 goals and 85 points out of this budding star.
Finally, although Wojtek Wolski more or less showed little progress last year, this 22-year-old has tremendous potential to break out this season. I’m expecting 25 goals and continued development of his playmaking skills from him this year.
Okay, so now the downside. This team’s defense corps is fairly weak. John-Michael Liles, despite regressing last season to the worst numbers of his career, remains a solid fantasy option and he’s certainly young enough to bounce back. Other than him, however, no one jumps out as a true must-own fantasy defenseman on the ‘Lanche.
And if Colorado’s defense is middling, its goaltending is downright suspect. Jose Theodore parlayed a fine comeback season into a two-year deal from Washington, leaving unproven Peter Budaj as the No. 1 man between the pipes in the mountains. Budaj did enjoy a fine year in 2006-07 as the starter, and showed some improvements as a backup last year, but he’s far from a sure bet. But not to worry, the Avalanche also added Leaf castoff Andrew Raycroft to the mix. After a decent first year in Toronto, Raycroft won all of two games last season. Colorado seems to think this 28-year-old can bounce back. Well, it can’t get any worse, that’s for sure.
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