Paying the Price for Winning
Since their move to Colorado from Quebec, the Avalanche have been one of the leagues most successful franchises. They have won all but one division title, 2 stanley cups and sell out every game as fans flock to see a team filled with several star players.
But now, the Avs are starting to pay the price as they are a team filled with aging stars and a franchise void of many if any top prospects.
Their only position of strength for the future is in goal. David Aebischer should be around for several more years as the team’s number 1. His development allowed the Avs to move out Marc Denis. 2 other youngsters, Peter Budaj and Phil Sauve are around to battle for backup duty. Their stock has fallen and those two simply may never be good enough to be full time starters. This kind of depth though is something they dont have with other positions. Even though these 3 may have solid NHL careers, none will make the kind of impact that Patrick Roy did.
On Defence, the Avs have 3 solid players in Liles, Vaananen and Sauer to at least provide the team something to build on for the future. Liles has emerged as a decent offensive defenceman that allowed the Avs to move Derek Morris. Vaananen and Sauer gives the Avs two big rugged blueliners to take care of their own end. However the cupboard is bare after these 3. Johnny Boychuk has struggled in his first pro season down in Hershey. Tomas Slovak has been slow to develop as well as he has not been the offensive minded blueliner they thought he would be and Tommi Kalteva is still years away. though all 3 have some talent, they may end up being no better than fringe defencemen at best. This is something the Avs are going to need to improve on going forward. Blake and Foote will still lead the defence but really for how much longer? Boughner and Skrastins are solid but getting up there in age too and will likely not be brought back when hockey returns. Not sure what the Avs can do without much quality in the system to replace these veterans.
And it hurts more when the Avs see whom they could have on D. In Calgary they see a star emerging in Robin Regher who was the future considerations in the Theo Fleury trade. Martin Skoula was shipped out for Kurt Sauer as the Avs went for brawn over skill. And the Avs traded the guy whom they though was going to anchor their D for years in Derek Morris for Gratton and Vaananen that also cost them D prospect Keith Ballard.
The condition of the forwards is worse. Sakic and Forsberg are still world class players. with them around, the Avs will remain a contender. However both have been bit by the injury bug, especially Forsberg, and are showing signs of aging. Though Hedjuk and Tanguay are still young, the Avs dont have the depth and talent they use to. They can thank poor drafts (remember former first rounders Mikail Kuleshov, Jonas Johansson, Kevin Grimes?), poor trades (renting Kasparitius cost them Ville Nieminen, Peter Worrell cost them Vaclav Nedorost when they had tough guys Scott Parker and Chris Dingman whom they gave away, Vrbata for Battaglia) and other moves that did help them win but are hurting them now (Aulin, Pahlsson, Deadmarsh, Miller, Rolston, a couple of first rounders were to cost to get Blake and Bourque, team had at one point Reinprecht and Drury but have Gratton to show for those moves). So as you can see, the Avs have little to show for what they have given up.
The Avs strictly rely on veterans to get the job done. Forsberg, Sakic, Hedjuk and Tanguay are paid to score, while Gratton, Konawolchuk and newcomers Damphousse, Laperriere, Laaksonen will be asked to fill in specific roles. None of their young forwards are ready or able to take on a big role. Wojtek Wolski is the best of their forward prospects. He has size, speed and skill to make it to the NHL. But he is still very raw and will need time to develop properly. Marek Svatos was a 9th round steal. His speed and skill make him dangerous but he is very small and may have a hard time withstanding the rigors of the NHL night in and night out. Denis Parshin and Brad Richardson are other hopefuls to help provide offence but are too small in stature. The other young forwards in the organization: Hahl, Hinote, Mclean, McCormick are basically role players at best.
The Avalanche will again need to restock their farm system and improve the team’s depth in order for them to compete in the future. Gone are the days where they can move out guys like Ricci, Simon, Ozolinsh for first rounders as the team is void of that kind of depth. they will need to do a better job with their first round picks and try to find diamonds in the rough like they have in the past when Hedjuk and Drury were found in the middle rounds. Otherwise, they will no longer be among the regular contenders as they have been the last 10 years.