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Building From Within

Avalanche Sticks To The Plan On First Day Of Free Agency

Thursday, 07.01.2010 / 6:16 PM / Features
By Aaron Lopez  - Special to ColoradoAvalanche.com
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Building From Within
From the moment Colorado’s successful 2009-10 campaign came to an end, Avalanche General Manager Greg Sherman hasn’t wavered on how he plans to construct his team moving forward.

Build from within.

“The Avalanche organization is about winning, so certainly our expectations are that,” Sherman said on Thursday afternoon. “As we look to the future we feel very confident about the young group that we have and that we’re going to build around.”

Sherman’s “no shortcuts” strategy makes complete sense when you look at where the Avalanche came from and where the team sits today.

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After a tough 2008-09 season, Colorado was assumed to be in the early stages of a “rebuilding phase.” But after adding gifted teenagers Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly at the 2009 NHL Draft, and coupling them with the young talent already in Colorado’s system, the Avalanche fast-tracked the “rebuild” and surprised many pundits when the organization achieved its goal of returning to the playoffs this past season.

“We have an expectation as a franchise. We have a standard as a franchise,” said Sherman. “We certainly want to exceed the expectations that we have internally.”

With expectations met for the 2009-10 campaign, the Avalanche is now focused on the future.

Instead of trying to add a high-priced free agent or two this offseason – and possibly hampering the organization’s ability to re-sign its own players down the road – Sherman has stuck to his guns and shown faith in the young Avalanche squad. And why not? A quick examination of Colorado’s returning players shows a solid core in place that will certainly continue to grow and improve.

Start in the middle, where Colorado will return its top three centers in assistant captain Paul Stastny, Duchene and O’Reilly. With Stastny leading the club in scoring this past season with 79 points (20g/59a), Duchene earning a nomination for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie and O’Reilly proving to be a vital cog on the Avalanche’s third line and penalty killing unit, Colorado seems set at the center position for years to come.

On the wings, Colorado will bring back players such as veteran sniper Milan Hejduk, the versatile T.J. Galiardi and Cody McLeod, who provides some necessary grit and can also chip in offensively. David Jones, who was having a breakout season with 16 points (10g/6a) in his first 23 games before tearing his ACL in November, has also returned to health and could be poised for a big year.

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On the back end, Colorado returns a number of NHL-quality defensemen, starting with Adam Foote. The captain was re-signed to a one-year deal in May and will be expected to provide veteran leadership to an Avalanche squad that again looks to be among the league’s youngest.

In addition to Foote, Colorado has a nice mix of defensive-minded rearguards and puck-movers on its blue line. Scott Hannan will provide another reliable veteran presence, while Kyle Cumiskey and John-Michael Liles will be expected to provide some offense from the blue line. Ryan Wilson, who was recalled from Lake Erie on Oct. 12 and went on to spend the remainder of the season with the Avalanche, provides a nice mix of offensive ability (21 points in 61 games), physicality (86 hits) and willingness to sacrifice his body (76 blocked shots).

And there’s more help on the way, as several top-end defensive prospects will be looking to state their case for a roster spot in September. Among those youngsters looking to crack the lineup will be Kevin Shattenkirk (the 14th overall selection at the 2007 Entry Draft), Colby Cohen (45th overall in 2007) and Cameron Gaunce (50th overall in 2008).

“I feel very comfortable about our ‘D’ core,” said Sherman. “We certainly believe our depth on the blue line is very strong and we look to have a competitive camp in September on the back end with a couple of spots that could be competed for.”

Of course, Craig Anderson will be back between the pipes after posting 38 victories, a .917 save percentage and seven shutouts while appearing in 71 games during his first season in the Mile High City. Joining him will be Peter Budaj, whose 86 career victories rank fourth in franchise history.

There is still plenty of work to be done, as Sherman is in the process of negotiating with four key restricted free agents – Peter Mueller, Kyle Quincey, Chris Stewart and Brandon Yip – for the coming season. Newcomer Daniel Winnik, acquired in a trade with the Phoenix Coyotes earlier this week, is also restricted.

“These are the type of players that certainly are in the young group we are building around,” said Sherman, who also mentioned that talks are ongoing with each of the players.

When factoring in the team’s restricted free agents, Colorado’s projected lineup for the 2010-11 season appears to be pretty solid from top to bottom. Still, there’s a chance the club will add a few additional pieces in the coming days.

That being said, Sherman and the rest of the Avalanche’s hockey operations staff made a plan heading into the offseason and are sticking to it. That approach revolves around allowing Colorado’s young players to develop and grow together, while also stockpiling its farm system through the NHL Draft.

“You see what we have with a group of young, enthusiastic, energetic players on our own club,” said Sherman. “I very feel strongly about the group of players that we have and staying focused on that plan.”
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