Colorado Avalanche preview

How much did injuries play a role with this team last season?

Most of their major players missed significant time due to injuries. Then when they made the playoffs, their players continued to get injured, until the lineup was too depleted to put up much of a fight against the Detroit Red Wings.

But the team is coming back fully healthy this season. But can they stay that way?

Forwards: This team is led by Joe Sakic up front. He’s be the face of this franchise for 19 years, and he shows no sign of slowing down. He’s still a point a game player, and is an expert on the powerplay. Last season, 19 of his 40 points came from the powerplay.

Ryan Smyth, on the other hand, is on the downside of his career. Last season was his worst season in nine years. He has the heart, but the body doesn’t respond as it used to. He’ll shine in the playoffs if the team can make it that far.

Paul Stastny is only entering his third year, but he is a star on the rise. He had less points last season, but he missed 16 games due to an injury. He actually went up in points per game average.

Milan Hejduk is one of the most underrated goal scorers in the league. The former 50-goal scorer is durable, and has scored an average of 31 goals a season throughout his career.

Defence: The defence is the real weak spot on the team. They don’t have a puck-moving defenceman, one of those guys who make one pass to set up a breakaway or an odd-man rush. While they’re stronger in their own zone, they’re missing one of those players that can keep the other team honest.

Adam Foote is the real star on the defence. He doesn’t score goals, won’t see powerplay time, and isn’t interested in points. But he’ll play a ton of minutes, block shots, and be in a give and take relationship with the opposing team: In other words, he’ll give abuse and take abuse.

Jordan Leopold has never quite lived up to expectations. Colorado traded for him a few years back so he could be that setup guy, but it never worked out. He’s missed 67 and 39 games in each of the last two seasons.

John-Michael Liles is the best bet to see some powerplay time. His career points peaked three years ago with 49, and has gone downhill every year since, going to a career-low 32 last season. Not good. But he will have the chance to get back to form this year,

Goaltending: Their number one goalie, Peter Budaj, lost the starting job to Jose Theodore last season. So this year, they signed Andrew Raycroft? I’ll admit Raycroft is not as bad a goalie as Toronto Maple Leaf fans may think, but he’s not the type that can push Budaj. Budaj would have been served to have a veteran to back him up, to give him advice throughout the season.

Budaj’s goals against has gone down every season for his first three years in the league. But he’s only played more than 35 games in one of those seasons. It’ll be interesting to see if he has the stamina to play 60 games a season.

Pool picks: Darcy Tucker would be a smart pickup that most people won’t see coming. He has scored at 20 goals in six of the last eight seasons. If he plays on a line with Joe Sakic, he could easily reach 60 points. Stay away from: Ryan Smyth. He’s injury-proned, and he had a horrible season last year. He’s getting up in age, and can’t play the hard-nose game he played so much with the Edmonton Oilers.

Miscellaneous:Will Peter Forsberg come back this season? If he does, will he rejoin Colorado? And then, will he come back in time to help this team make the playoffs? That’s a lot of questions for one player. Forsberg is still a great player. He scored 14 points in nine games with the Avalanche last season. The problem is, he doesn’t play enough. The last time he played more than 60 games was in the 2002-2003 season, but he missed the full season before that. Without Forsberg playing most of the season for Colorado, the Avalanche won’t have much of a chance to make the playoffs.

Expected finish: Fourth in the Northwest division, 10th in the Western conference.

Overall: The Avalanche is team that is getting older, and don’t have enough young guys to make a difference. But they have a bunch of talent, and are $6 million under the cap, so they could still make a big move to make a playoff push. Unfortunately, it won’t be enough as this team will continue to be bitten by the injury bug.

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