Rebuilding Avs counting on unproven youth
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