Avalanche Roundtable - Make-or-Break Players - Colorado Avalanche Updates, News and Game Reviews at Avs Talk

Monday, October 1, 2007

Avalanche Roundtable - Make-or-Break Players

The time has come for the Avalanche Roundtable to launch. As discussed last Thursday, it is the largest gathering of premiere Avalanche bloggers to hit the Internet airwaves. There are 8 questions with 11 participants answering each question.

To view the full table of contents for the roundtable, visit Mile High Hockey.

So on to the question and all the juicy answers!

Q: Of the new players (rookies and free agents), who has the most to lose in the upcoming season? Similarly, which Avs players from last year have the make-or-break outlook heading into this season?

Shane - Avs Talk (a.ka. the site you're at right now)
Players that sign big contracts are going to be subject to more scrutiny than anybody. Not only due to the big contract but due to the high expectations that come with those contracts.

We didn't sign Smyth so he could crash and burn and become a 10-goal scorer. If he doesn't put in a 30-goal season this year, there will be chaos. And laughter from Oilers fans. Regardless of the intangibles he brings, he needs to bring points to the table but I have no doubt that he will.

Hannan comes in with the most to lose because a lot of fans seem to think he's Chris Pronger. He's a great shutdown guy and will bring some veteran leadership, which you can never have too much of. He will make a difference but I don't see it being the difference that a lot of people are hyping him up to be. I'm glad he's on the team and I think his salary was actually fairly reasonable for a free agent signing. But he's not a magical deity.

I know it's the easy pick but Marek Svatos is the player with the largest make-or-break scenario. He was signed to another one-year contract to show his stuff. And if he doesn't he will be bounced at the door and the team will be no worse for the wear. With players like Hensick and Stewart just itching to see NHL ice time, Svatos needs to be looking over his shoulder. Cause he's not rich enough to retire just yet.

As far as new guys, I vote Smyth. He has huge expectations on his shoulders and if he can't stay healthy or produce, that fat contract is going to look even bigger.

Returning player with a make or break season has to be Svatos. He got a one-year-lets-see-if-you-were-a-fluke contract in the off season. If he can't improve on last year and come back up to the level of play of his rookie season, the door will be hitting Marek in the ass.

Draft Dodger - In The Cheap Seats
Ryan Smyth certainly is the "newbie" with all pressure on his mullet-draped shoulders. We've been talking for at least a year about how much of a perfect fit Smyth would be in Denver, both on and off the ice. On paper, he would seem to be an excellent match for a team that likes to play behind the net. Add to the fact that he's a leader who many think will replace Joe Sakic as captain some sad day in the future, and you get extremely high expectations. Expectations are so high that I think many people (myself included) think his $6 salary is a bargain.

It won't seem like a bargain if Smyth doesn't score goals. Smyth doesn't seem to have an abundance of secondary talents. He's not going to be making plays happen with his speed, or with bone-crunching body checks in the corner, or with behind the back passes to the blueline. He scores goals, mostly from right in front of the net. If, for whatever reason, he's not lighting up the lamp, that bargain contract will start to look very large indeed.

I'm guessing the majority of writers are going to pick Marek Svatos for their returning make-or-break pick. That's certainly a solid choice, but I'm going in a different direction. Jordan Leopold. To be fair, we've only seen Leopold in an Avalanche uniform 15 times. But, so far, we haven't really seen anything to indicate that Leopold is that top-flight defenseman we thought we were getting when we traded Alex Tanguay for him.

I'm worried that we've built him up a little too much, and are expecting too much from him. A lot of people seem to think he's our #2 defenseman after Hannan. That might be true, but I'll need to see it on the ice first. I suspect he might be more like a #3 or #4...or even lower. If that's the case, a lot of people with high expectations are going to be disappointed.

Even though Ryan Smyth is going to be expected to perform up to his salary, I think he is going to be fine. The player I believe is going to have the most pressure and highest expectations is Scott Hannan. Along with Jordan Leopold, he is going to be expected to anchor a defensive unit that struggled last season.

While a few of the problem players have been released, Hannan will have the fans asking him to deliver the team to the promised land. He will have more pressure on him than Leopold from whom a full season would bring happiness to the fans. While everyone will be expecting Leopold to live up to his signing, Hannan is the new backbone of the defense. He has to show up every game, and if he doesn't, the entire team will suffer greatly.

As for make or break, Jose Theodore will make or break his career this season. He may not get as much money next season no matter what, but a poor performance is going to make it hard for anyone to take a chance on him at any amount.

Oh, yeah, and Svatos. The Avs are showing a ton of patience with the guy, and he needs to show some of the flash that had fans raring for more in his rookie season. I think he can, but fans will be watching him closely, waiting to pull the chute.

Justin - The Avalanche Guild
This is a great question with some real obvious answers (Smyth, Theodore, Svatos), but I believe it is actually someone not so obvious; Jaroslav Hlinka.

He has the most to lose this season because he has waited a number of years to get a shot at playing in the NHL. And since this will be his first and most likely his only opportunity to prove he belongs in the NHL, he has to take advantage of this chance to play with the big boys.

Hlinka won't be getting nearly the amount of respect with the puck that he received in the Czech Republic, which will make things much tougher for him once the regular season begins. But if he can overcome the hurdles of playing in a much more physical and tough league, it will be full steam ahead for the Czech superstar. He would be recognized as "a total steal" by fans and analysts, as he has only signed for $600,000 for the season.

But if he cannot produce in the regular season, or cannot handle the physical play, he'll be heading back to his native homeland, never to return again. The proverbial "tail between the legs" archetype will run rampant throughout the league, and his reputation will be scarred forever. That's a ton of pressure for a player who is heralded in the Czech Republic - but will be an unknown to the other 29 NHL teams.

Of the returning players, Jordan Leopold is certainly under the most pressure to have a productive year. Two words are all that is needed here - Alex Tanguay. This trade was made in order to bring in a valuable defensive leader, but his lack of games played and the nature of his injuries has put a real damper on his actual abilities.

The toughest thing for Leopold is the fact that he is capable of being a defensive powerhouse, but hasn't had the health to go out and prove it. This preseason is huge for him, but one more injury will sour the trade, and his reputation, forever.

While he is technically not "new", I think the player with the most to prove is Jordan Leopold. He missed all but 15 games last season and will join a completely restructured defensive squad this year. He has to prove that he is worth the loss of Alex Tanguay, something no former Flames player has ever done after joining the Avalanche.

He's got to join Scott Hannan as the other "Number One" d-man and really make a huge impact. Every game, fans need to come away saying, "Sure, Hannan is a beast, but did you see Leopold tonight? Wow!" It's not necessarily his fault, but the Avalanche have never successfully traded players with the Flames. Leopold needs to break that mold and really come through.

I've got to agree with Tapeleg and Joe. I personally believe that Jordan Leopold has the most weight on his shoulders. He's not really a new player, and not really a returning players, so I'll take the easy way out and use him as my answer for both.

There have been high expectations attached to him, given his reputation before he was acquired and the talent sent the other way in the trade (Alex Tanguay). I've got a feeling that Colorado management may have a similar feeling about Leopold. Why else would they continue to draft offense-first d-men if they weren't worried that they wouldn't get value for the trade?

I expect him to anchor the D with Hannan this year, pop in 40-50 pts at least, and quarterback the 2nd PP unit to a productive season. Anything less, and Avs fans and management may be wondering if we got fleeced by the Flames again.

Jibblescribbits - Jibblescribbits
I agree with those of you above. Leo has a lot to prove, so does Hlinka, this is his last shot. Theo? He had the most to lose last season, and he lost it. I can't narrow it down to just one, so here's my 3:

The person with the most to lose individually is Marek Svatos. Another good season and the sophomore slump is all but forgotten. He'll get his good contract and be a part of the Avs for a while to come. A bad season and he's done in an Avs "sweater" and will have to compete for a job on some other team next training camp. There's really no in between for him.

Liles is also facing a make or break season. He's been the next great defensemen for a while now. Is he ready to step up and at least be a legitimate one? Or will he become just another journeyman defensemen with great potential. He played well last season until the broken foot, and he played honorably, but not as effectively, when he came back from the foot injury too early last season. The good news is that no one can really question his heart or toughness now, but he needs a good season.

The most important make or break season is Budaj's. Budaj's success or failure is the most make-or-break because if he is a "break" it will be impossible to hide behind without a significant move. If Liles underperforms we have Clark, Leo and even Cumiskey to call up and make a difference. If Svatos falters we have plenty of firepower. If Budaj falters... Theo and his contract season? That's like having Will E. Coyote's little umbrella as your backup parachute. Sorry if Budaj fails it could ensure the failure of all the Avs.

Of the new guys, while Smyth got the most hype, there's more pressure on Hannan. Smyth's expected to be a leader (no problem) and a top-six forward; Hannan's expected to be a number-one defenseman. There's a lot less room to slide.

Returning guys - Svatos and Budaj. Budaj because this is his chance to establish himself as a top goalie, and if he doesn't, the second chance is gonna be a lot harder to earn. Svatos because if he doesn't get back on form this year, he's probably looking at a career in Switzerland.

It's probably now or never for Jaroslav Hlinka. He's under contract for one season and finally gets the opportunity to prove he has what it takes to make it in the NHL. This signing got lost with all the excitement over the acquisitions of Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan. Unlike Smyth and Hannan, Hlinka doesn't have the security of a long term contract. I can see this being a boon for the Avalanche if he can find some chemistry on the third line.

Marek Svatos and John-Michael Liles are two players I view as having make-or-break seasons. Svatos failed to regain his scoring touch after suffering another serious shoulder injury. Instead of the feisty player who wasn't afraid to throw an occasional hit, Svatos was very tentative and that seemed to affect his offensive game. Svatos is a restricted free agent after this season, but there are young forwards in the Avs prospect system that are nipping at his heels. Svatos is in danger of becoming expendable.

Liles is an unrestricted free agent at season's end and with Brett Clark having signed a contract extension in August; questions exist as to his future with the organization beyond this season. Liles had injury concerns last year and found himself in Joel Quenneville's dog house. He'll have to find offensive consistency throughout the season and tighten up his defensive game. Another concern for Liles is the emergence of Kyle Cumiskey.

While I'm not convinced Cumiskey's offensive skills are on par with Liles, the Avs can view him as a cheaper alternative should Liles falter or if the Avs believe they will be unable to afford his salary demands. Offensive defensemen are in high demand and teams are willing to pay a premium in the more "wide open" game.

Back to Shane
And so ends the third question of the Avalanche roundtable. If you're going in order, continue on to Jibblescribbits website for a question on just what the Avalanche might stumble over.

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