NHL Season Preview: Colorado Avalanche

Welcome to the NHL FanHouse 2008-09 season preview. While other sites are previewing "30 teams in 30 days," we decided to take advantage of the extra time off before the start of the season to bring you all 30 previews over the next three weeks. We're counting down in reverse order of finish from last season in each conference every weekday from now until October 3. Look for an Eastern Conference preview every morning and a Western Conference preview every afternoon. Click here to read them all.

Who's In: Andrew Raycroft, G (FA-TOR); Darcy Tucker, F (FA-TOR)

Who's Out:Jeff Finger, D (FA-TOR); Andrew Brunette, F (FA-MIN); Kurt Sauer, D (FA-PHX); Wyatt Smith, F (FA-TB); Jose Theodore, G (FA-WSH)

What's Changed: The Avalanche are not younger, and it's hard to argue that they look like they're going to be better. Joe Sakic is back to lead the offense, and he's just a small part of an aging group. Sakic turns 40 next summer, and he's joined by over-30 guys like Ryan Smyth, Milan Hejduk, Ian Laperriere, Scott Parker, Brian Willsie, and Tucker.

There isn't any reason to think that Colorado is going to suddenly change course and go with a youth movement. If they do, it will undoubtedly be led by third-year man
Paul Stastny. Last year, Stastny led the Avalanche in points (71), assists (47), and plus-minus (plus-22). His offensive totals are impressive when you consider that he only played 66 games a year ago.

With Finger gone, expect the Avalanche to lean on veterans Adam Foote and John-Michael Liles on defense. Theodore's departure leaves a wide-open door for Peter Budaj to emerge as the top goaltender. Raycroft was signed from Toronto, but it's not likely that he'll be a serious factor for the full-time job.

Who's On The Hook: Young players like Stastny, Wojtek Wolski, T.J. Hensick, and Marek Svatos will be expected to step up. They can't lean on Sakic and Hejduk to do everything. The ability is there, but they have to prove they can stay healthy and be productive for a full season.

On defense, there are veterans abound, too. Foote, Ruslan Salei, and Scott Hannan are all experienced. One guy to watch on the blue line is Jordan Leopold. The former college star played in just 43 games last year, but he has plenty of offensive potential if he can stay healthy. If things go well for Leopold, I can easily see him serving as the "quarterback" of the second power-play unit (Liles will work on the top line).

Speaking of Liles, he got a big contract during the off-season, and he needs to live up to it. Scoring six goals and 32 points in 81 games won't get the job done.

Where They'll Finish: Colorado could sneak into the playoffs at the bottom of the bracket, but I'm not so sure. They're relying on an aging and possibly ineffective defense, and Budaj has simply not proven himself in net.

The offense will be productive if the key players are healthy, but it's not likely that they'll score enough goals to win in a tough division full of quality goaltenders.

Blogs To Watch:Mile High Hockey, Avs Talk, In the Cheap Seats

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