Re­build­ing Avs count­ing on un­proven youth

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Mike Cham­bers

En route to a club record-low 22 wins and 48 points last sea­son — the NHL’s fewest points since the ex­pan­sion Atlanta Thrash­ers opened busi­ness with 39 points in 1999-2000 — the Avalanche was rel­a­tively quiet at the March 1 trade dead­line and then didn’t ac­quire any ad­di­tional draft choices in June, days after los­ing Cana­dian World Cham­pi­onship goalie Calvin Pickard to Ve­gas in the ex­pan­sion draft.

The Avs, who pro­tected doub­trid­den goalie Se­myon Var­lamov from Ve­gas in­stead of Pickard, bought out de­fense­man Fran­cois Beau­chemin, didn’t make qual­i­fy­ing of­fers to for­ward Mikhail Grig­orenko or de­fense­man Pa­trick Wier­cioch, didn’t re-sign any un­re­stricted free agents and made two mod­est moves Satur­day when free agency be­gan. In all, they parted ways with 11 play­ers who played at least 27 games with the team last sea­son. That’s sig­nif­i­cant turnover, but no change to the team’s “core” — the top-six for­wards, top-two de­fense­men and Var­lamov.

Now, mi­nus a ma­jor trade or free-agent sign­ing, the team is try­ing to sell tick­ets for 2017-18 on the premise that ev­ery­thing will be OK in the com­ing year, that sec­ond-year coach Jared Bed­nar now will have a han­dle on a team that fin­ished last in scor­ing (2.01 goals per game) and goals al­lowed (3.37) and the young prospects who will re­place the vet­eran role play­ers will make all the dif­fer­ence. Fact is, this team could be worse. The Golden Knights could be bet­ter than the Avs.

The big buzz Satur­day was that the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets and Nashville Preda­tors were sweet­en­ing their of­fers to get Duch­ene, but it never hap­pened. Avs gen­eral man­ager Joe Sa­kic con­firmed Duch­ene is on the mar­ket but would not dis­cuss the teams in­volved or what he is ask­ing in re­turn.

It’s fair to be­lieve Duch­ene could fetch a top-four de­fense­man, prospect and/or draft pick. And, in fact, Newsday re­ported a Duch­ene trade bring­ing de­fense­man Travis Ha­monic, a No. 1 draft pick and prospect from the New York Is­landers was turned down last week by Sa­kic. The top-four de­fense­man is a press­ing Avalanche need, but the draft pick and prospect are equally im­por­tant long term.

If Duch­ene re­mains in Colorado, the Avs’ blue line in Oc­to­ber could fea­ture 22-year-olds An­drei Mironov, Chris Bi­gras and An­ton Lind­holm. Sergei Boikov, 21, could also be in the mix. Those are fresh young faces, full of prom­ise. But they’ll strug­gle as much as suc­ceed.

Of­fen­sively, the Avs will look for more good things from Mikko Ran­ta­nen, 20, and hope that J.T. Com­pher, 22, and Tyson Jost, 19, among oth­ers, don’t have grow­ing pains.

Bar­ring a Duch­ene trade, the NHL slow sea­son is upon is. We have three months to wait and see if the Avs im­proved.

Wier­cioch, who is from the Bri­tish Columbia prov­ince, signed with the Van­cou­ver Canucks on Satur­day, and Avalanche UFA goalie Jeremy Smith signed with the Carolina Hur­ri­canes. Mike Cham­bers: mcham­bers @den­ver­post.com or @mikecham­bers

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