The biggest question facing the Colorado Avalanche heading into the 2011-12 NHL season is whether or not they can keep the puck out of the back of their net. The Avalanche allowed a league high 287 goals last season, 25 more than the next closest team. It’s not even close to being good enough if the Avalanche want to return to the post season or even be slightly competitive in the Western Conference this season.
Colorado attempted to address this starting last season when they acquired Erik Johnson from the St. Louis Blues, and their process continued at June’s NHL entry draft. The Avalanche used their first pick on winger Gabriel Landeskog, and then drafted defenseman Duncan Siemens. It remains to be seen whether or not either player will make a difference for this year’s club, but both have a chance to be in the NHL sooner rather than later based on the way Colorado played defense last season. The Avalanche also brought in veteran defenseman Jan Hejda to help support a still suspect defense corps.
Perhaps the most important move for the Avalanche in their quest to shore up their defense was the trade they made for Semyon Varlamov. Avalanche general manager Greg Sherman put all of his eggs in one basket, and Varlamov better produce the way Sherman expects. Colorado sent a first and second round pick to Washington for a goaltender that wasn’t even going to play for the Capitals after they acquired Tomas Vokoun. That first round pick could be costly if the Avalanche finish as one of the worst teams in the league for the second year in a row. If Varlamov turns into the elite goaltender Sherman thinks he can be, then the deal may very well be worth it for Colorado in the end, and may help put the Avs in contention this season. Varlamov has been extremely successful in his limited playing time as an NHL netminder. He’s posted a 30-13-12 record in 59 career games, along with a 2.39 goals against average and .917 save percentage.
The Avalanche have some solid young forward depth with Matt Duchene, T.J. Galiardi, and Paul Stastny. They have veteran Milan Hejduk back for another year. Can David Jones duplicate or improve on his breakout season from last year? Will other young forwards step up to alleviate the burden from the big four? Is there a defensive puck move that can replace the loss of John-Michael Liles?
Unless the Avalanche reduce their goals against drastically this season they don’t stand a chance out West. The addition of Varlamov and veteran backup J.S. Giguere will certainly help, but it would be a surprise if it were enough behind a still shaky defense. The offense needs to find more individuals to contribute as well if they don’t want to regret losing that first round pick come next June.