Wednesday, October 1, 2014

WHL Lines - Oct. 1st, 2014

Please note that these lines may not always be 100% accurate due to in-game injuries and line shuffling.  They are designed to give readers a rough outline of each team’s depth chart and player usage, as I hope to update them at least once per week.  Note that the * signifies a repeated trend.  If the star is located at the top of a team’s header it signifies a nearly identical lineup has been used for at least two games in a row.  A star beside a specific line or defensive pairing means that group has been together for at least two consecutive games, if not more.

BRANDON (Last updated Sept. 30)*

#13 Bukarts (95) – #23 McGauley (95) – #28 Lisoway (95)
#21 Coulter (96) – #17 Quenneville (96) – #8 Hawryluk (96)
#12 Gabrielle (97) – #19 Patrick (98) – #15 Quenneville (94)
#27 Kitt (96) – #26 Lindgren (96) – #22 Shmyr (97)

Others: #14 Lewis (98), #16 Kaspick (98), #18 Nejezchleb (94), #20 Lycar (97), #25 Campbell (96)

#9 Provorov (97) – #6 Pilon (96)
#5 Waltz (95) – #32 Clague (98)
#11 Green (95) – #10 Pankewicz (96)

Others: #7 Roy (94), #3 Taraschuk (97), #29 Matsuba (97), #34 Mylchreest (95)

#33 Papirny (96)
#1 Thompson (97)

Notes: Entire lineup repeated in back-to-back games

CALGARY (Last updated Sept. 29)

#3 Helgesen (94) – #19 Tambellini (94) – #25 Chase (95)
#9 Karnaukhov (97) – #29 Fazleev (96) – #14 Bensmiller (97)
#26 Rankin (94) – #10 Lang (96) – #16 Babych (97)
#23 Ta. Sanheim (96) – #21 Draude (97) – #24 Twarynski (97)

Others: #11 Maltenstyn (98), #18 Virtanen (96), #17 Stallard (97), #28 Peterson (95)

#32 Tr. Sanheim (96) – #27 Thomas (96)
#4 Zipp (96) – #6 Harmsworth (95)
#7 Donald (95) – #8 Morrison (97)

Others: #2 Bean (98)

#31 Shields (95)
#1 Johnson (96)


EDMONTON (Last updated Oct. 1)

#39 Pollock (96) – #25 Bauer (96) – #20 Eller (95)
#13 Baddock (95) – #12 Benson (95) – #23 Kulda (94)
#15 Koep (97) – #21 Robertson (96) – #11 Bertolucci (95)
#17 Ralph (96) – #16 Koch (98) – #36 Walter (96)

Others:  #27 Lazar (95), #9 Brown (97), #14 Magnes (97)

#5 Sautner (94) – #37 Mayo (96)*
#22 Carroll (95) – #24 Irving (96)
#28 Mills (97) – #4 Orban (94)

Others: #6 Patterson (97), #29 Ibragimov (97)

#30 Jarry (95)
#35 Santos (94)
#1 Dea (97)

Notes: Sautner and Mayo are regular partners

EVERETT (Last updated Sept. 30)

#11 Low (94) – #15 Bauml (94) – #19 Sandhu (96)
#16 Stadnyk (95) – #89 Nikolishin (96) – #29 Millar (96)
#12 Leedahl (96) – #13 Laurencelle (95) – #23 Aasman (96)
#8 Bajkov (97) – #17 Fonteyne (95) – #55 Wegleitner (98)

Others: #95 Scherbak (95), #29 Nik Malenica (97), #18 Addison Runey (97)

#5 Betker (94) – #3 Juulsen (97)
#26 MacDonald (95) – #38 Davis (97)
#24 Skrumeda (96) – #7 Pfeifer (96)

Others:  #39 Wharrie (97), #77 Cochrane (96)

#30 Lotz (95)
#70 Hart (98)

Notes: Scherbak addition will alter things

KAMLOOPS (Last updated Oct. 1)

#21 Ully (95) – #14 Needham (95) – #34 Siederoff (97)
#18 Winther (94) – #7 Kryski (98) – #10 Revel (96)
#15 Shirley (96) – #16 Chyzowski (97) – #17 Harrison (95)
#32 Loewen (98) – #19 Zaharichuk (97) – #22 Benjafield (98)

Others: #9 Shynkaruk (96), #11 Bast (97), #12 Souto (94), #13 Krienke (96)

#23 Gaudet (94) – #29 Fora (95)
#25 Clouston (96) – #24 Rehill (95)
#5 Reagan (97) – #2 Verveda (97)

Others: #27 Connolly (95), #37 Maier (96)

#30 Pouliot (94)
#35 Kehler (97)
#39 Ingram (97)

Notes: The bottom D pairing and 4th line was moved around a bit last game to help insulate the younger players.

KELOWNA (Last updated Oct. 1)

#23 Kirkland (96) – #14 Chartier (96) – #10 Merkley (97)
#11 Rigby (94) – #26 Linaker (95) – #20 Glover (96)
#24 Baillie (95) – #16 Schmidli 96) – #25 Heffley (94)
#15 Soustal (97) – #18 Coughlin (97)

Others: #9 Wishnowski (97), #12 Goulbourne (94), #19 Dube (98)

#6 Wheaton (95) – #4 Bowey (95)
#8 Martin (94) – #2 Lees (95)
#3 Stadel (96) – #7 Johansen (97)
#5 Yorke (96)

Others: #21 Stephens (97), #28 Gatenby (97)

#1 Whistle (95)
#31 Morrissey (97)


KOOTENAY (Last updated Sept. 29)

#10 Chirva (96) – #15 Vetterl (94) – #14 Descheneau (95)
#26 Cable (94) – #21 Alfaro (96) – #11 Martin (95)
#8 Chynoweth (95) – #9 O’Connor (96) – #22 Zborosky (96)
#19 Legien (98) – #18 Loschiavo (98) – #25 Beattie (97)

Others: #12 Philp (95), #17 Wellsby (97)

#7 King (95) – #27 Faith (95)
#2 Murray (97) – #6 Overdyk (97)
#5 Allbee (97) – #4 Fleury (98)

Others: #3 Steenbergen (96), #24 Valiev (95)

#30 Hoflin (95)
#29 Williams (96)

Notes: Chirva has since been released

LETHBRIDGE (Last updated Sept. 29)

#19 Sheen (94) – #26 Jones (94) – #17 Watson (95)
#11 Cooper (95) – #16 Duke (96) – #14 Bricker (95)
#27 Folk (96) –  #7 White (98) – #10 Milekhin (97)
#12 Skumatov (97) – #29 Goberis (97) – #15 Holub (96)

Others: #5 Wong (96), #9 Estephan (97), #18 Alldridge (96), #21 Warkentine (96), #25 Amson (96)

#22 Hackman (95) – #3 Walters (94)
#2 Foulk (95) – #24 Kennedy (97)
#6 Nielsen (96) – #8 Sayers (96)

Others: #4 Bell (94), #23 Jensen (97), #28 Lenchyshyn (97)

#74 Skinner (98)
#35 Robidoux (96)

Notes: Big trade with Brandon will change things drastically

MEDICINE HAT (Last updated Oct. 1)

#36 Cox (95) – #11 Owre (96) – #26 Sanford (95)
#16 Eisenschmid (95) – #7 Bradley (97) – #21 Butcher (96)
#17 Penner (96) – #22 Labelle (95) – #24 Mowbray (96)
#6 Staples (95) – #18 Shaw (98)

Others: #9 Fischer (97), #20 Ast (95), #27 Rassell (97)

#4 Stanton (95) –  #5 Lewington (94)
#12 Becker (94) – #3 Vannelli (95)
#34 Hobbs (97) – #19 Quenneville (98) – #15 Schultz (97)

Others: #2 Forrest (97), #23 Allan (96)

#30 Langhamer (94)
#31 Schneider (97)
#33 Rathjen (94)

Notes: Dressed 8 D last game including Staples up front

MOOSE JAW (Last updated Sept. 30)

#13 Smejkal (96) – #19 Point (96) – #15 Rodewald (94)
#18 Yakubowski (94) – #21 Howden (98) – #16 Bargar (98)
#22 Eberle (94) – #11 Olynek (96) – #28 Penner (95)
#10 Jeannot (97) – #12 Halbgewachs (97) – #27 White (95)

Others: #17 Duperreault (96), #20 Gregor (98), #26 Lazaro (97)

#29 Adam (95) – #2 Sleptsov (96)
#7 Brown (97) – #6 Valentine (96)
#3 Gardiner (97) – #14 Jensen (95)

Others: #5 Zinis (97), #32 Zalitach (96)

#1 Paulic (95)
#31 Sawchenko (97)

Notes:  I believe Yakubowski has spent time with Point and Rodewald, too

PORTLAND (Last updated Sept. 29)

#13 Iverson (96) – #23 Turgeon (96) – #3 Price (97)
#15 Predinchuk (95) – #9 De Leo (95) – #25 Weinger (97)
#39 Veloso (97) – #43 McKenzie (98) – #22 Schoenborn (95)
#26 Flaman (97) – #17 Overhardt (97) – #29 McEvoy (94)

Others: #7 Bittner (96), #19 Petan (95), #27 Bjorkstrand (95)

#2 Cederholm (95) – #8 Smith (94)
#44 Texeira (97) – #42 Viveiros (95)
#36 Czaikowski (98) – #14 Heid (97)

Others: #21 De Jong (98), #4 Hanson (94), #16 Heinrich (95)

#1 Burke (95)
#31 Hill (96)
#35 Bullion (97)

Notes:  This lineup was used with Bittner serving a one-game suspension

PRINCE ALBERT (Last updated Sept. 30)

#28 Quinney (95) – #18 Hart (94) – #14 Conroy (94)
#8 Leverton (95) – #24 Tkatch (95) – #19 Gardiner (96)
#27 Zaharichuk (96) – #21 Gennaro (97) – #20 McCarthy (96)
#23 Stransky (97) – #25 Montgomery (98) – #26 Stewart (97)

Others: #16 Vanstone (96), #17 Williamson (98)

#5 Andrlik (95) – #7 Lange (94)
#3 Stewart (95) – #4 Guhle (97)
#12 Riddle (97) – #22 Warner (95)

Others: #6 Roach (97), #10 Morrissey (10), #11 Verrall (96)

#40 McBride (97)
#30 Parenteau (96)


PRINCE GEORGE (Last updated Oct. 1)

#15 Erricson (94) – #12 Harkins (97) – #8 Witala (95)
#9 Morrison (97) – #11 Ross (96) – #18 Soltes (95)
#14 McAuley (96) – #20 Hopkins (97) – #10 Mrkonjic (96)
#23 Boyd (97) – #16 Yaremchuk (96) – #26 McDonald (98)

Others: #17 Macklin (95), #22 Braid (94)

#3 McNulty (95) – #27 Carvalho (95)
#25 Olson (97) – #5 Tomchuk (94)
#2 Ruopp (96) – #19 Collins (97)

Others: #6 Bobos (95), #28 Anderson (98), #29 Grewal (95)

#35 Edmonds (96)
#1 Grant (98)


RED DEER (Last updated Sept. 30)

#10 Polei (96) – #22 Feser (95) – #9 Bleackley (96)
#16 Pawlenchuk (97) – #25 Musil (97) – #19 Maxwell (94)
#18 Nell (97) – #12 Kopeck (95) – #21 Johnson (95)
#24 Fafard (94) – #11 de Wit (98) – #15 Chorney (96)

Others: #14 Burke (97), #20 McCarty (97)

#27 Cote (94) – #8 Doetzel (95)
#28 Dixon (95) – #3 Charif (95)
#5 Mahura (98) – #2 Strand (97)

Others: #7 Grman (97), #17 Jansons (97)

#30 Burman (97)
#31 Toth (96)

Notes:  Bleackley listed on RW, but not sure if he actually spent the game there

REGINA (Last updated Sept. 30)

#29 Hunt (95) – #34 Kroeker (97) – #68 Padakin (94)
#23 Christoffer (94) – #39 Steel (98) – #32 Gay (95)
#25 D’Amico (94) – #10 Brooks (96) – #27 Wagner (97)
#28 McAmmond (97) – #24 Zimmer (97) – #22 Cole (97)

Others: #18 Klimchuk (95), #19 McVeigh (94), #20 Smith (98)

#15 Hansen (95) – #5 Williams (95)
#6 Harrison (96) – #2 Zborovskiy (97)
#3 Hilsendager (97) – #55 Reagan (97)

Others: #4 Burroughs (95)

#35 Wapple (95)
33 Fuhr (95)


SASKATOON (Last updated Sept. 30)

#17 Zajac (95) – #9 Hebig (97) – #38 Stovin (94)*
#11 Millette (95) – #24 Forsberg (95) – #28 Uhrich (96)*
#8 Soshnin (97) – #13 Sloboshan (97) – #37 Mappin (96)
#34 Armour (97) – #26 Clayton (94) – #39 Braid (97)

Others: #20 Adamson (96), #19 Graham (96), #0 McKechnie (94)

#16 Krupic (95) – #55 Nogier (96)*
#21 Dea (95) – #44 Thomson (96)
#23 Higson (98) – #6 Shacher (95)

Others: #0 Bevan (96), #0 Henry

#1 Martin (96)
#35 Amundrud (97)

Notes:  Top two lines and top D pairing remained the same in back-to-back games while Clayton and Dea have since been released

SEATTLE (Last updated Oct. 1)

#12 Gropp (96) – #13 Barzal (97) – #28 Kolesar (97)
#21 Baltram (97) – #8 Eansor (96) – #15 Pederson (97)
#26 Volcan (98) – #16 True (97) – #19 Neuls (97)
#34 Osterman (97) – #11 Elder (98) – #22 Spencer (96)

Others: #9 Hickman (94), #39 Holowko (97)

#33 Hauf (95) – #2 Smith (95)
#4 Henry (94) – #25 Bear (97)
#3 Wolf (96) – #7 Khaira (98)

Others: #17 Theodore (95), #27 Wardley (94), #4 Ottenbreit (97)

#35 Kozun (94)
#1 Mumaugh (96)
#29 Flodell (97)

Notes: Henry was moved for Ottenbrei

SPOKANE (Last updated Oct. 1)

#14 Helewka (95) – #11 Stewart (94) – #17 Ka. Yamamoto (98)
#22 Zwerger (96) – #12 Bechtold (96) – ##25 Whittingham (95)
#Ke. Yamamoto (96) – #13 Messier (94) – #27 Chartier (94)
#15 Meyer (96) – #18 Miske (97)

Others: #0 Brooks (94), #10 Oneschuk (95), #19 Cardiff (96), #16 Elynuik (97), #34 Lipon (96)

#24 Laday (96) – #7 Fiala (97)
#6 Helgesen (97) – #2 Fram (95)
#3 Hamaliuk (98) – #5 Rayman (96)
#8 Henderson (97)

Others: #21 Sozanski (96), #32 Bobyk (96)

#30 Hughson (95)
#35 Moodie (95)
#31 Verhelst (97)


SWIFT CURRENT (Last updated Oct.1)

#29 Lesann (95) – #10 Cave (94) – #15 Gawdin (97)
#19 DeBrusk (96) – #28 Gordon (94) – #12 Merkley (95)
#16 A. Johnson (94) – #25 MacKay (95) – #26 Schumacher (96)
#23 Odgers (96) – #17 Steenbergen (98) – #13 Leth (96)*

Others: #18 C. Johnson (98), #20 Leone (96)

#2 Heatherington (95) – #5 Martin (96)*
#27 Lajoie (97) – #4 Lernout (95)*
#24 Nikkel (95) – #3 Harris (96)

Others: #7 Shmoorkoff (94), #37 Gordon (97)

#30 Bow (95)
#31 Child (97)

Notes: Gordon moved to C last game, switching spots with Gawdin. Schumacher also switched spots with LeSann. Honka deleted from roster

TRI-CITY (Last updated Oct. 1)

#9 Nickles (94) – #39 Bowles (95) – #26 Williams (95)*
#21 Lukin (97) – #15 Southam (96) – #16 McCue (95)
#24 Playfair (97) – #11 Comrie (97) – #71 Krasheninnikov (97)
#17 Purtill (97) – #23 Gutierrez (95) – #18 Playfair (94)*

Others: #12 Topping (97), #32 McAndrews (95), #20 James (97), #29 Vickerman (96)

#37 Wotherspoon (97) – #36 Carlo (96)
#4 Rutledge (97) – #6 Hamonic (94)
#47 Thrower (96) – #3 Hillis (96)

Others: #10 Coghlan (98), #7 O’Reilly (97)

#1 Comrie (95)
#31 Sarthou (97)


VANCOUVER (Last updated Sept. 29)

#39 Hamilton (94) – #42 Popoff (95) – #27 Houck (95)
#47 Bobylev (97) – #9 Sward (94) – #14 Bellerive (94)
#17 Benson (98) – #16 Foster (96) – #8 Baer (97)
#24 McLelland (96) – #12 Brumm (97) – #19 Roach (97)

Others: #11 Stukel (97), #37 Holterhus (97)

#44 Geertsen (95) – #22 Osipov (96)
#5 Morrison (95) – #4 Kirichenko (96)
#15 Dosanjh (96) – #20 Atwal (95)

Others: #3 Menell (97), #26 McKinstry (98)

#1 Lee (96)
#31 Kubic (98)
#35 Porter (97)


VICTORIA (Last updated Sept. 29)

#15 Campese (97) – #17 Soy (97) – #21 Carroll (94)
#22 Crunk (95) – #20 Fisher (95) – #27 Dmytriw (98)
#8 Skapski (96) – #19 Hannoun (98) – #14 Palmer (95)
#10 Ferletak (96) – #24 Nagy (97)

Others: #18 Magee (94), Blomqvist (95), Fushimi (96)

#2 Hicketts (96) – #5 Kanzig (95)
#6 Brown (94) – #7 Kohlhauser (96)
#29 Reddekopp (97) – #9 Walker (96)
#4 Jarratt (98)

Others:  #3 Gagnon (96)

#35 Vollrath (95)
#1 Smith (97)


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Avalanche Player Grades - Sept. 25th vs. MTL

Brief player notes from September 25th, 2014
Colorado (2) - Montreal (3)  OT


#20 Reto Berra – Had a good performance overall, giving up 3 goals, all of which came on Montreal’s PP.  Still have some concerns with the glove hand, obviously, and once again showed some signs of going down early and also of not picking up pucks through traffic.  But he battled hard and didn’t leave too many juicy rebounds around until a couple late in the game.  Definitely a showing he can build off of.  If he can play like this every time he’s out there, he’ll be just fine as a backup.


#2 Nick Holden – Was a fairly solid game from the 2nd year Avalanche blueliner.  Skating has clearly improved from last year. Looks faster, smoother and stronger on his skates.  Also looks more composed with the puck.  He still lost a few positioning battles along the walls and needs to sharpen up his defensive positioning and decision making.  He should be just fine as a #5 defenceman, as he’s currently penciled in to be.

#4 Tyson Barrie – His knee looks full healed, was moving around the ice nicely.  Opened the scoring with a nice pinch and shot to the shelf. Looked like he was really trying to help set the games tempo with some of his puck control up the ice.  Got a bit carried away in the second half of the game with some of his pinches and rushes into the neutral zone, getting caught up ice a bit.  Also overcommitted on Galchenyuk on the OT winner.  He looks poised for a big year.

#5 Nate Guenin – Was awful to start, had a brutal turnover before the game was even 3 minutes old.  Also closed out the frame with another bad one on an attempted breakout.  Got a bit better and smarter as the game went on, but I flat out don’t see any reason for him to make the team to open the year.  He does block a lot of shots, though.

#22 Zach Redmond – Really liked him tonight.  Great combination of size and skating ability.  Loved to jump into the offence, joining the rush and even having a few shifts where he was on the forecheck and then behind the Canadiens goal.  Made some nice simple plays with the puck and some nice quiet pinches.  Tried to do a bit too much at times, but you can’t blame him when he’s trying to make the team.  Had some turnovers throughout the game and will need to clean those up.  He seems like a lock to make the team in my opinion.

#27 Bruno Gervais – Was often out there with Guenin and it was a trainwreck.  Spent a lot of time chasing, took some bad routes to pucks and lanes.  A middle pairing AHL guy but a nice move by Roy to let him stick around and play in the Bell Centre.

#44 Ryan Wilson – Moved around ok tonight.  Played decent defence, for the most part, in regards to his body positioning.  Made some nice reads and pinches down into the slot.  Hit the crossbar on the PP, also had some other good shots toward the net.  Played decent on the PK, including in OT before the winner.  Not perfect, but a decent showing.  I think he’s a lock to make the team if he can continue playing like he did tonight.  He’s a #7 guy and just needs to accept that.


#9 Matt Duchene – Was a threat here and there was a pretty average showing from him.  Seemed like he was going at about 75%.  Was only 2 of 9 on his draws.  Seemed like him and O’Reilly were moving the puck around ok from time to time, but Borna Rendulic’s bobbles here and there seemed to slow them down from creating off the rush much.

#10 Ben Street – Has good speed but didn’t show much tonight with limited minutes.  Pretty clearly a top 6 guy on the Monsters who should give them some good offence.

#18 Jesse Winchester – Skates well, plays aggressive. Had a great assist on the Landeskog goal. Made some nice hits and was working hard on the forecheck.  Saw decent time on the PK.  Didn’t seem too far out of place on the 2nd line, which is a good sign for him as a 4th line fit.

#24 Marc-Andre Cliché – Led the team in shorthanded PK time but didn’t do much for me.  Was pretty scary a few times when him and Gervais were the two guys on the right side of the PK unit.  I know that he’s going to make the team, but I just think he's more of a 14th forward.

#25 Max Talbot – Looked ok playing down the middle, but wasn’t taking a lot of draws.  He’ll be a good fit as a 3rd line winger or 4th line centre.  I just hope Roy doesn’t intend on using him as the team’s 3rd line centre.  Those will be some tough matchups for him in this conference.

#29 Nathan MacKinnon – Was arguably the team’s best player in this one and I still felt it was pretty quiet for him.  Wasn’t blazing out there a ton, but still made things happen when he had the puck.  He’s so smart offensively as he knows when to get rid of the biscuit and when to hold it.  Had a pair of assists and his cycle work on the 1st goal was something nice to see.  He's going to be tough to handle below the opposition goal line this year.  Showed some good work on the backcheck, too, but his overall defensive coverage was quite loose and scrambly at times.

#45 Dennis Everberg – Had a great first period and then seemed to cool off.  He’s a big guy and moves well.  Took some pucks to the net and had some nice plays off the rush too, including attempting a sauce feed to Street on a 2 on 1.  I think he’ll make a great fit as a depth forward.  Played twice as much as his linemates.

#55 Cody McLeod – Didn’t do much outside of his work on the PK. He’s a 12th forward, at best, these days.  Still like the effort, not many players are as rugged as he is.

#56 Daniel Maggio – Not sure why he's still around. A physical kid who threw his weight around but is only AHL depth at this point in time. 

#71 Borna Rendulic – Looked fairly comfortable now that he got to play with some skill guys.  Like Everberg, he also moves well for his size.  Was a bit soft along the walls and just on his stick in general.  Mishandled many pucks throughout the game.  Was sneaking into the slot on the PP and it resulted in at least one good chance.  Overall he started well and ended up being pretty mediocre tonight.  He needs some AHL seasoning, but looks to have some nice tools if he can figure it out.

#90 Ryan O’Reilly – Like Duchene, it looked like he was only going at about 75% effort.  Made some nice plays with and without the puck but overall didn’t help create a ton out there.  He’ll be fine, though.

#92 Gabe Landeskog – Had a good game, scoring a goal and generating some good chances, especially on the powerplay.  Had a couple of glass rumbling hits, too.  Above average showing in relation to his teammates, but he also looked like he wasn’t quite going more than 80% out there.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Colorado's Blueline Battle

While the Colorado Avalanche have some interesting battles taking place for depth forward positions (you can read more about that here), the same can be said for the blueline.

Heading into the offseason many people around the league and fans of the team felt that the defensive group was the main area that needed improvement. While the team got Vezina-calibre goaltending throughout the year and possessed one of the best young forward groups in the NHL, the blueline didn’t quite match up.  Both in quality and depth.

The team allowed nearly 33 shots against per game in 2013-14, sitting in the bottom 6 in the entire NHL in that regard.  To help counteract that fact, the team had an impressive, and likely unsustainable, shooting percentage of 10.12%.  That mark of 10.12 was the 2nd highest such mark among NHL teams, trailing only the Anaheim Ducks.  Many of the team’s defencemen played big roles in that high shooting percentage including Tyson Barrie and Nick Holden, both of whom were revelations for not only the amount of goals they scored but also for their clutch timing on said goals.

So, what has been done to try and improve this defensive group?  While I’m sure some defensive structure changes are on the way from head coach Patrick Roy, it’s too early to try and pinpoint any of them.  Therefore, we’re forced to take a look at some of the personnel changes that the team made over the summer.

The Avalanche opened 2014-15 training camp with 9 defencemen on one-way contracts, three of which didn’t play on the team last season. While the team was fairly active in the trade and free agency market on defence, they also apparently just missed out on a pair of big name fish.  Colorado seemed to be in the running for Matt Niskanen, while the team also had big interest in Brooks Orpik.  In the end, both opted to join the Washington Capitals, forcing the Avalanche to pursue other options. 

Who Is Gone?

Andre Benoit 

The Avalanche let Benoit walk as he was an unrestricted free agent.  The longtime AHL defender was 3rd on the team in time on ice last year at a shade over 20 minutes.  He was also 3rd on their blueline in both assists (21) and points (28), while finishing 2nd in shots with 113.  He signed a deal with the Buffalo Sabres this summer.

Cory Sarich

The Avalanche also let Sarich walk as an unrestricted free agent.  The veteran and former Stanley Cup winner suited up in 54 games for Colorado last year, playing 17 minutes a night.  Sarich is currently not on an NHL roster as a scary offseason accident nearly cost him his life, as he was run over by a truck while riding his bike.

Who Is Back?

Erik Johnson

Johnson continues to round into form as a legit number one NHL defenceman.  He played 23 minutes a night against tough competition, leading the defensive core in assists, points, PIMs, powerplay points, shots on goal and takeaways.  If only this team could find a legit top-pairing partner for him.

Tyson Barrie

Barrie was a revelation for the Avalanche last year after a brief stint in the minors early in the season.  He played 18:32 per game, posting a defence-best 13 goals.  He also led the blueline in powerplay goals and plus-minus, netting 5 game-winners, including 3 in overtime.  A knee injury to him in the playoffs was a massive blow to the team as he helped set the pace for the team’s offence. He’s back healthy and poised for another good year.

Jan Hejda

The big Czech enters the final year of his contract with Colorado.  He finished 2nd on the team with over 22 minutes of ice per night, leading the blueline in both hits and blocked shots.  He had an injured hand late in the season and not having him fully functional in the postseason was also a big blow.  The team needs his presence on the left side of the defence, even if he would ideally be a 3rd pairing guy rather than a 2nd, which he is.

Nick Holden

While Barrie was a big revelation, Holden might have been the biggest for the Avalanche.  A minor-league journeyman, Holden was signed by Colorado before the 2013-14 year.  He responded by making the team, posting 10 goals, 25 points, providing a physical edge while also scoring a number of timely goals.  I personally hope he shows progression defensively, as he’s not likely to post the kind of offensive numbers he did last year (take a peek at his sh% of 15.2 if you think otherwise).

Ryan Wilson

Wilson only drew into 28 games last year, missing time due to injury and seemingly being a regular in Patrick Roy’s doghouse.  I feel bad for him, to be honest, as he was showing some real promise a couple of seasons ago before his frequent injury issues started popping up.  If he can have a good pre-season and stay healthy he would make a solid bottom pairing guy as he’s proven he can play in a top 4 when he has confidence.

Nate Guenin

Like Holden, Guenin was mostly a career minor-leaguer before being signed by Colorado, eventually cracking the Avalanche in a depth role in 2013-14.  He suited up in 68 games, showing a willingness to put his body in front of pucks.  Was a regular target of fan fury as his defensive abilities were very hit and miss while often making mistakes with the puck.

Who Is New?

Brad Stuart

Colorado’s biggest blueline acquisition this offseason came in the form of Brad Stuart.  The veteran has been around the block in the NHL and while many people figure he’s on his last legs, he’ll still provide some valuable experience to a blueline that needs it.  While I feel he is better suited to be a number 4 or 5 guy at this point in his career, it sounds like Patrick Roy intends on using him against other team’s top lines alongside Erik Johnson.  Something tells me that could lead to some bad results from time to time.

Zach Redmond

Many Winnipeg Jets fans were a little sour when their team let Redmond walk as an unrestricted free agent this summer.  He’s a big kid who moves well and is coming “into his prime” at age 26.  While he doesn’t have a ton of experience at the NHL level, only 18 games, he’s proven himself to be extremely valuable at the AHL level with the St. John’s IceCaps.  While he might not be more than a 7th defender to start the year, he’s definitely in the mix to grow his role if he can earn the trust of the coaching staff.

Maxim Noreau

Noreau is a bit of a journeyman, leaving Ambri-Piotta in Switzerland to join the Avalanche this offseason.  The 27 year old hasn’t spent time in North America since 2010-11, when he posted 54 points in 76 AHL games with the Houston Aeros.  Colorado’s pro scouts identified him as a guy who can provide puck-moving depth in their system, possibly playing well enough to make the big team outright.  Despite having only 6 games of NHL experience, all with Minnesota, Noreau was signed to a one-way deal to convince him to come back to this side of the Atlantic and take his crack at making an NHL roster.

Who Are The Longshots?

Stefan Elliott

Elliott has long been hyped as an elite offensive prospect.  And while he has developed bit by bit in the AHL, he’s yet to really take advantage of his limited opportunities to crack the Avalanche roster.  With 9 other blueliners on one-way deals, it seems unlikely he has much of a chance to stick in the NHL to start this year.  I still have hope he can make it in the NHL, though.  There is just too much skill for him to not be able to carve out a role as a 6th defender and 2nd unit powerplay guy, even if it’s with another NHL team or in 2-3 more years down the road.  And regardless of that, he still has value to this organization at this point in time.

Duncan Siemens

Siemens is another guy that could potentially play his way onto the team with a stellar pre-season. He is coming off his first year of pro, which from all accounts was rather successful minus injury.  But when he was healthy, he played well according to Joe Sakic. He’s healthy now and has apparently played well at camp.  He provides a major mean-factor and is a tough kid to play against due to his size, reach and high-end skating ability.  While he could make the team, the more likely scenario in his case is that he plays top 4 AHL minutes, maybe gets an NHL game here or there due to injury later in the year, and battles for a full-time spot in Colorado in 2015-16.

Who Are The Long, Long Shots?

Chris Bigras

The Avalanche seem to remain high on Bigras, the teams 2nd round selection in 2013.  He plays a smart and composed game, highlighted by his top-end skating ability.  While he’s still eligible to return to junior for one more season and that seems like the likely route, there is an outside chance he blows the coaching staff away during exhibition play and ends up on the final roster.  The more likely scenario is that he plays junior this year, helps Canada at the coming World Junior tournament and then battles for a full-time spot at Avalanche training camp next year.

Bruno Gervais

While also considered a journeyman, Gervais at least has quite a few NHL games under his belt in his pro career.  He was inked to a two-way contract this summer after spending last year in the AHL with Adirondack and should provide nice top 4 minutes this coming season with the Lake Erie Monsters.  There may be a chance he gets a game here or there at the NHL level, but it would likely take 3-4 injuries before that happens.

Karl Stollery

The 26 year old is the type of guy that every NHL team needs.  He provides nice depth within the system, playing a steady game with an offensive lean.  He’s spent the last two years within Colorado’s system, playing a total of two NHL games.  Last year he posted 30 points in 68 games with Lake Erie, his likely destination again this season.  Down in the AHL, he’ll provide leadership to the team’s young defensive prospects including Elliott, Siemens, and newcomer Cody Corbett.

Who Cracks The Top 8?

This offseason, after missing out on at least one “big name” in Niskanen, it appears as if Avalanche management took the “throw crap at the wall, hope it sticks” method.  And while that means they still lack the top-end firepower (lacking two, top 4 guys to play the left side, in my opinion), it’s clear the blueline's depth is at least better than it was on last year’s division-winning club. 

So after listing all of the personnel involved in the situation, how does it come together? 

The top 4 seems rather cut and dried, barring injury:

Stuart – Johnson
Hejda – Barrie

As you can see, the left side of that blueline remains this team’s weakness.  While the veteran presence and physical play is a nice asset to get from Stuart and Hejda, skating and durability need to be stated as concerns.  Barrie and Johnson on the other hand, are more than capable of playing well and producing in their roles.  After the top 4, things get even more dicey.  Here’s how I see that bottom group shaping up:

Holden – Redmond
Wilson – Guenin

With Roy stating he wants to start the year with 8 defencemen, these are the guys I see making the cut.  Holden and Redmond make due as a 3rd pairing and should be fairly solid in that role.  They both can move the puck and provide some offence, with defence obviously being a concern on that pairing (lack of skating mobility defensively for Holden, lack of experience for Redmond).  Wilson and Guenin crack the NHL roster as the 7th and 8th defencemen, respectively, in my opinion.  I’ve touched on both of their skillsets already up top and think they are more than capable to play these roles and should thrive as depth guys with little expectation and pressure.  Guenin just edges Noreau in the battle for the 8th defensive spot in my predictive roster, with Roy’s familiarity of his game giving him the slight edge.  Elliott would probably slot in at 10th in this prediction.

After all of this it remains clear that while weak spots do exist on the blueline for Colorado, there are more spare parts this time around to try and plug potential holes.  Ultimately I feel that Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic are aware that these problems exist and will look to rectify them either through trade this year (Kulikov, anyone?) or next offseason via free agency (Marc Staal, Paul Martin or Christian Ehrhoff, anyone?).  At that point in time, the club will also have Stuart, Wilson and Hejda coming off the books with youngsters Siemens and Bigras looking for NHL minutes. 

Colorado will take their bumps defensively again this year, but some help does appear to be on the horizon in the form of cap space and young talent.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Who Is Lucky Number 13?

The Colorado Avalanche are a popular topic in the hockey world as NHL camps are underway.  The topics are many, including Nathan MacKinnon's big offseason, the loss of Paul Stastny to a division rival and the fact that the analytics crowd remain poised to jump all over the team once (if) they show signs of regression from last year's 112 point performance.

With that in mind, I've decided to tackle a few topics of my own as training camp is in full swing.  To start things out, who exactly will be the 13 Avalanche forwards to begin the season?

Here we go.

I won’t even get into the forwards on the top end of this lineup.  We all know that players like Duchene, O’Reilly, Landeskog, Iginla and the others are proven commodities in this league.  I really have very little concern about the first two lines of the club at this early part of the year.  It’s a versatile bunch and a group that shouldn’t have too much of an issue putting up goals, regardless of who plays where. 

But, the Avalanche do appear to have a battle upcoming for roles in the bottom 6, including the rank of 13th forward.  Most of last year Patrick Roy carried 13 forwards, 12 of which can draw into the lineup each night.  This fall, Roy has already confirmed he intends to follow that same format to begin the year.  He wants 13 forwards, 8 defencemen and two goalies to make up his 23-man opening night roster.

As things stand right now, the Avalanche have a total of 14 forwards on one-way contracts.  Out of those 14, it sounds as if at least one, Patrick Bordeleau, won’t be taking part in camp due to off-season back surgery.  While it sounds like he’ll be out for the next 3 months, it also sounds like a few other Avalanche players have more “minor” injuries.  After looking at the injuries and doing the math, it leaves 13 “healthy” bodies up front who are on one-way deals. 

But, is that group of 13 the group that will start the season up in the NHL with the Avalanche?  If you base it off of a financial mindset, then yes, it seems black and white considering you have to pay NHL money to a guy on a one-way deal even if he happens to get cut and start the year in the AHL.  But, I’m not so sure it will be that easy of a decision given new GM Joe Sakic’s preaching of a need for “more depth” on the NHL roster.  I would assume that means “let the 13 best forwards crack the opening night roster, regardless of who’s getting paid what”.  At least that’s what you’d expect given the fact that the team has strived to add depth, and therefore competition, to the team.  Hopefully they can live up to that and prove that Stan Kroenke and co. are ok with spending some big money for guys to play in the AHL.  That will be the case on the blueline, too, in case you were wondering, as 9 defenders are currently on one-way deals.

Let’s do a quick projection on how this team’s lines might shake down as things stand right now.  We start with the projected top six, as Roy has already outlined:

O’Reilly – Duchene – Iginla
Landeskog – MacKinnon – Tanguay

This is a nice looking group.  Duchene and O’Reilly have good chemistry, while Iginla will provide a big body down the right side of that line.  The MacKinnon line also looks ready to step in and do damage.  Tanguay and Landeskog had some decent chemistry last year before Alex was injured, while MacKinnon returns to his original position in the middle of the ice. While these lines will surely provide great looks offensively, I am a bit concerned as to who will play against the other team’s top lines in the brutally tough Western Conference and more-specifically, Central Divsion.  Paul Stastny and Landeskog did much of that heavy lifting last year and frankly, losing Paul is probably going to be a bigger blow than most Avalanche fans realize.  But hey, watching MacKinnon shred people will help ease the sting.  Now my bottom six predictions:

McGinn – Mitchell – Briere
McLeod – Talbot – Winchester

This is where things get a bit more interesting. Given the nature of the conference and Roy’s apparent good feelings toward John Mitchell, I would say it’s safe to assume he ends up as the third line centre.  He’s a big body and will be better suited to face tough matchups than players like Briere, Talbot or even Winchester would.  Briere is a right-hand shot and has played both the wing and centre, but seems to fit in nicely on a line like this, a line that should be able to add some good depth scoring.  On the last line, both Talbot and Winchester have the ability to play the wing and centre, but neither played much down the middle last year.  Talbot took less than 200 draws compared to only 130 for Winchester in Florida.  Regardless of that, this bottom six seems to have some nice versatility even though the “depth” would probably still be a concern in my eyes. 

I guess that's what this entire thing is supposed to be about, anyway.  Depth forwards.

Personally I don’t really see much of a change from this forward group, overall, when compared to last year in speaking about the depth.  Especially considering Sakic mentioned that was a primary goal of the offseason, given how the team’s injury issues were a major factor in their postseason loss to Minnesota last year.

The team brought in Jarome Iginla.  A great veteran signing for the next the years.  But, the team also lost Paul Stastny.  I call this one a wash, likely even a downgrade.

The team traded regular doghouse member PA Parenteau to Montreal, bringing back Daniel Briere.  Briere is a veteran with some very nice playoff experience.  He’ll also probably be better in the room, given how Roy seemed to value, or not value, Parenteau.  But, they’re similar players with Parenteau most likely being the better of the two at this point of their careers.  I call this one a wash, at best, even though Briere’s veteran presence will be valuable.

The team signed Jesse Winchester to a two-year contract as the 30 year old leaves the Florida Panthers to join the Avalanche.  He’s a noted hard-worker who excels on the penalty kill.  I like the signing, but ultimately that’s really the only “upgrade” I would say this team made up front, aside from the fact that a move like this would normally bump Marc-Andre Cliche down to the AHL, at least until an injury to someone else, aka Bordeleau in this case. 

Finally after all this rambling we get to the real issue I wanted to address.

Who are the candidates for the 13th forward spot?

The Returnee:  Marc-Andre Cliche

- This essentially seems like it’s Cliche’s job to lose, given he was on the team last year.  After being claimed on waivers from Los Angeles last season, Cliche played a depth role and was, to put it frankly, quite bad.  He seemed to drag down his linemates on a regular basis and had very little to give offensively.  Despite his lack of production and value to the lineup, he was given an extension in the middle of the season.  He’ll now be making NHL money for the next two years, regardless if he cracks the Avalanche this year or not. 

The Up And Comer:  Joey Hishon

- This is already one of the feel-good stories of Avalanche training camp.  Hishon has battled some major concussion problems since being Colorado’s first round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.  He finally got healthy enough to play in the second half last season, showed well in the AHL and was rewarded with a callup to Colorado during the playoffs.  He actually played in the postseason against Minnesota and didn’t look out of place.  He’s clearly transferred that confidence to this season as he’s apparently been buzzing at camp.  The top 9 looks fairly crowded for him, given his role at the NHL would likely need to be offence-first.  But, it would seem that Colorado is one more forward injury from Hishon stepping into the lineup at the start of the year.  Unless it comes to that, one would have to think the brass would want him to play big minutes at the AHL level, learn more about defensive hockey and prove he can stay healthy before earning a job in the NHL for good.

The Old New Guy:  Tomas Vincour

- Tomas Vincour is back in North America and looking to crack the NHL full-time.  After acquiring him from Dallas during the 2012-13 season, Vincour saw limited time with the Avalanche.  He had 1 assist in 2 NHL games late in the year, also spending 6 games with the Lake Erie Monsters.  Last summer, he decided to play in Europe, signing with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL.  He put up 11 points in 39 games in Russia.  But, this summer the Avalanche reached out to him, hoping to get him back under contract.  Vincour agreed and is now armed with a one-year, two-way deal and looking to prove himself again as the old new guy.  

The Longer Shots:  Paul Carey, Ben Street, Borna Rendulic, Dennis Everberg, Michael Sgarbossa

- Paul Carey is an energy guy who saw 15 games with the Avalanche last year, including 3 in the postseason.  Brings speed but not a ton of other qualities at this stage.
- Ben Street is a top six AHL signing more than anything, but played 13 NHL games with Calgary last season and was over a point per game in the AHL during 2013-14.
- Borna Rendulic is the first player born and raised in Croatia to sign an NHL deal, which he did this summer.  Have heard mixed reviews from camp as he likely needs seasoning.
- Dennis Everberg is a big kid who was also a free agent signing this offseason.  He scored 17 goals in Sweden’s second tier Allsvenskan last season.
- Michael Sgarbossa is entering his 3rd full season of pro and is coming off of a down offensive year where he faced injuries. Played 6 games with Colorado in 2012-13.

What are the possible outcomes?

- As mentioned above, the most logical answer is that Marc-Andre Cliche retains his spot on the roster.  While I really wasn’t a fan of his play throughout last season, he’s a prototypical depth forward who can do a lot of things.  While his offence was non-existent, evidenced by his shooting percentage of 1.4 (the lowest of any Avalanche player who scored a goal in 2013-14), it also makes the most sense financially.  If the team can come out of camp with Bordeleau being the only long-term injury, I would predict that Cliche starts the year as the 13th forward, getting sent down once Bordeleau is back and ready to play.

- If I had to pick a secondary option for what I think might happen, say for some reason another forward gets hurt in pre-season, I would guess Vincour earns a job.  While I like Joey Hishon and think he’ll make a good player in Colorado’s top nine one day soon, he needs to get more AHL time under his belt while staying healthy in the process.  Vincour is big, skilled and has played against men for a few years now.  Ultimately I would like to see Vincour beat Cliche out of the job outright, but admit that seems to be a long shot given the contract situation and the fact that waivers play a role, too.

With all of that in mind, here’s how I predict Colorado’s forward lines look to start the season, assuming everyone minus Bordeleau is healthy:

O’Reilly – Duchene – Iginla
Landeskog – MacKinnon – Tanguay
McGinn – Mitchell – Briere
McLeod – Talbot – Winchester
Bordeleau (IR)