Goaltenders: Peter Budaj, Andrew Raycroft
Defensemen: Adam Foote, J-M Liles, Scott Hannan, Ruslan Salei, Jordan Leopold, Brett Clark, Kyle Cumiskey, Daniel Tjarnqvist
Forwards: Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth, Milan Hejduk, Paul Stastny, Wojtek Wolski, Marek Svatos, Tyler Arnason, Ian Laperriere, Ben Guite, Darcy Tucket, David Jones, TJ Hensick, Scott Parker, Cody McLeod, Cody McCormick
Before we get started on this, I have to admit that it takes effort to feel good about this season in Colorado. Lined up side-by-side with the Bruins, the Avs don't seem to be in very bad shape. Their goaltending situation isn't that much worse, their offense isn't that much thinner, and there's no one in their division that strikes immediate fear in my heart. It just seems worse because of the way last season went. Usually the Bruins are the ones with the potential they never live up to and the Avs are the powerhouse that deservingly has our faith. While the roles aren't reversed exactly, they have switched a bit. To overcome the holes in their lineups, both of them have to come together as a team and work for it. For once, that sounds more like the Bruins. It's funny what one season can do.
Anyway, here's how the Avs are looking going into 2008-2009.
There's reason to be nervous about the goaltending situation on the Avs. With Jose Theodore gone, they're relying entirely on Peter Budaj. He's shown in the past that he can thrive in a starter's role, but he's never had to do it for the entire season. If he hits a rough patch, Andrew Raycroft isn't exactly the rock they need to pick up the pieces. God knows Boodz can come through, but if he doesn't then the season is lost. Gulp.
The defense is another story. Wow. Can I just say wow and leave it at that? Where's the weak link? There's not a guy in our top six that would be out of place in a top pairing. Barring injury, the Avs defense can make up for a lot of weaknesses at both ends of the ice.
In last year's playoffs, the Avs were most (or only) effective when the forwards were very aggressive defensively. The defensemen can- and need to- play their minds out, but if the forwards slack off in their own zone, they'll be spending most of the game there.
I'm curious to see how the offense will shape up. It can actually end up looking pretty good if the right people have good years, such as Marek Svatos. If he plays like a top-sixer, they'll have two solid lines, one excellent checking line, and an energy line that can fill in the gaps (I'd like to see Jones and Hensick there). However, if any of the top six forwards are injured or go through serious slumps, there aren't really any good replacements for them. Considering who's on the top two lines, this makes me very nervous.
Like the forwards have to play well defensively, the defensemen have to play well offensively. There's no way the power play can be as terrible as it was last year, and while most of that will have to do with coaching, it will also hinge on players like J-M Liles, Jordan Leopold, and Ruslan Salei. The Avs should use their speed and smart defensemen to dominate teams on the transition. If your players alone can't put the other team on their heels, then your plays should.
That's really the key to the Avs this year- playing more cohesively. They have the heart players to spark the effort, but they need a coach that can focus it. It's also vital that Boodz comes up big, that no one on the top two lines is injured or slumping for an extended period of time, that the defense plays phenomenally in all three zones, and that special teams are at least good enough not to cost them games. If they do all that, they can be a pretty solid playoff team. There's a lot to be optimistic about, but there's even more that can go wrong, and for the first time in a while it seems more likely than not that it will.