I remember when everyone thought that the Avs and Wings would both suffer greatly adjusting to post salary cap NHL Hockey. While this Avs have taken a step back from their perennial dominance in the late 90’s/early 21st century, the Dead Wings have continued to win Stanley Cups (and then get Marian Hossa in free agency this summer…) As a die hard hockey fan, I want to take a look at what kind of chance the Avalanche might have this year….of making the playoffs. Burnside’s initial summer rankings have the Avs at a dismal 13th in the Western conference. With the big free agent signing of the summer being Darcy Tucker and the Avs wishing to part ways with yet another man who was snatched by the intellect of Paris Hilton, they might have a point. That being said, a few variables could land the Avalanche in the playoffs, and maybe win a series of two:
1. Unsigned Free Agents—The elephant in the Avalanche locker room is obviously the pending Sakic decision. I predict he will come back for a couple of reasons. First, he would love to captain Team Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and so will play until then. Second, the amount of time its taking to make this decision is evidence of his desire to play—it would be very un-Sakic like to wait until right before training camp and then call it quits. The other big name is obviously Peter Forsberg. Rumors have it that he is looking good for his Swedish elite team and may return. The third somewhat silly rumor is that Forsberg and longtime friend Sakic are trying to lure Mats Sundin to Colorado, as evidence by things like Sundin’s presence at Forsberg’s golf tournament (not the strongest piece of evidence I have ever seen). While the Avalanche have pulled off some great deadline deals in the past (see Ray Bourque) and not given up the Sakic/Forsberg duo, the Avs simply don’t have the cap space. Recent estimates give them about 7.7 in space, only 1 million less than Sakic’s salary last year. I could see a hometown discount landing Sakic/Forsberg but highly doubt Sundin is in the picture.
2. The goaltending factor—Peter Budaj looks great some nights and lest than stellar on others while Raycroft appears to be the Avs next attempt to bring a goaltender back to where his once was. Will it work? Who knows but Jeff Hackett did a very good job with Theodore.
3. The Northwest Division- In many ways like a better version of baseball’s NL West, the Northwest Division is usually only separated top-to-bottom by a few points and its usually possible for 4 or even 5 of the teams to be in playoff contention down the stretch so don’t count Colorado out. A good run and they can be in the lead of the division in no time.