Thursday, December 6, 2007

Hitch Tells Team "Wake Up"...and they Listen

As I was subjecting myself to more articles and videos on last nights game, I came across this article linked from Kukla's Korner entitled What a Period.

I found myself a bit deflated that it had to be the team I cheer for who was on the receiving end of the third period beatdown that's the talk of Internet town. However the first thing that came to my mind was that their coach told them wake up...and they did.

Wouldn't it be nice if the coach for the Avalanche could tell the team to wake up, dig in their heels and pull out a win...and they would? It's becoming apparent that Q's tactics just aren't working and you can't continue to blame the goaltenders or the players. The coaches have a job to do and it's simple. Get the team to buy into a system of play and make the players accountable for mistakes while instilling confidence in them at the same time.

So far in all of Q's tenure here, the players haven't bought into the system being preached. And really can you blame them? You can't call "try to score more goals than the other team then cross your fingers once you have the lead" a "system."

The PP has struggled this year and Q's idea to remedy things was to take Sakic off the point and put Wolski there. Ok, Wolski hasn't looked too bad there but why is Quenneville so adamant on having a forward play the point? We've got Liles, Cumiskey and Clark who are all capable of playing an offensive role. Put Hannan out on the second unit as a filler and shot taker and there you go.

The PK hasn't been terrible statistically but at 81.5%, 17th in the league, they should definitely be looking to improve. I'm still not a fan of the "no pressure" style of penalty killing as it gives the other team far too much time to pass the puck around. With PKers like Hejduk, Stastny, Richardson and Sakic, they should be pushing the other team for a turnover at the blue line to take advantage of.

And the defense. Where to begin. Well actually, it's simple. The first thing I was ever taught when playing defense was that you took the man first and the puck second. From novice all the way up, that's what the minor hockey coaches preach. So why is it that in "the" league, all the defenseman on this team tend to go for the puck? And I'm not talking taking a swipe at the puck and missing. It's more this idea of flopping to the ice to break the pass/block a shot. If you lay the opposing player flat on his ass, he's not about to pass or shoot the puck. It's a much more efficient system.

Oh, and just to throw one in for offense. What in the holy hell is Ryan Smyth doing taking shots from the outside? What happened to the in-your-face, garbage goal scoring, goaltender interfering, heart and soul player that he was in Edmonton? He's shown flashes of those abilities but he's also shown flashes of trying to be a bit of a finesse player. And that's a fault of the coaches.

When are the coaches going to wake up and take responsibility?

Related Links
The Coach Q Factor
Pair of Goalies is None

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Avalanche Acquire Bacashihua for 7th-Round Pick

In a surprise move, the Avalanche have acquired Jason Bacashihua from the St. Louis Blues for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2008.

It's surprising for a couple reasons. The goaltending duo so far has been doing all right and Tyler Weiman was showing promise as the goaltender of the future for the Avs. At this point though, I believe it's mainly a depth move and, for the price, a bit of a steal actually.

He's already headed down to Lake Erie which is likely where he'll stay this year. There is a good chance that Michael Wall is headed down to the ECHL as he's been playing very poorly for the Monsters.

Looking at Bacashihua's stats - and incredibly bizarre lastname - you'll notice he's basically been a minor-leaguer posting up average yet unspectacular numbers. He's been touted as having the ability to be a #1 but has yet to realize that potential.

At only 25, he's still got a couple years to prove his abilities. But he's getting awfully close to the "bust" point in his career.

There is the possibility that this is setting up another trade and FG wanted to bring in a backup with NHL experience. Possibly. Not probably. Not anywhere near probably in my mind.

Related Links Trade Announcement
Spector Weighs In

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rookie Camp Roundup

The Avalanche rookie camp came to a close today with minimal fanfare. But that doesn't mean the anticipation isn't lingering in the air! Camp got underway Saturday as the rookie lineup hit the ice from 9:30 until 11:30 in the morning. As with most hockey practices, the day started out with drills and ended with a scrimmage. The main difference from your typical practice scrimmage is we're talking a full-on game - refs, fights and all!

Day 1 - Cumiskey, Hensick, Stewart and Jones were the most impressive in Day 1 by most accounts. Stewart was strong on the puck and notched 2 goals in the scrimmage. Hensick appears to be living up to his billing as the Avalanche top-ranked prospect, notching one goal and looking impressive. Stewart will give him a run for the money with his power game plus goal-scoring abilities.

Recaps Day 1 Report
Avsprospects Day 1 Report
Woodchub's Day 1 Report

Day 2 - Hensick and Stewart continued to impress in Day 2 with Stewart finding the back of the net twice and Hensick putting one home as well. Mitch Love continued to show his feisty side as he and Brandon Straub dropped the mitts. Wall and Weiman both made some good stops and are, as expected, standing out as the #1 and #2 goaltenders at the rookie camp. Cumiskey, benefitting from his 9 games with the Avalanche last season, has improved his positioning and overall game.

Recaps Day 2 Report
Avsprospects Day 2 Report
Woodchub's Day 2 Report

Day 3 - Chris Stewart continued to find the twine today. Stewart tallied a hat trick as did Cody McLeod during the scrimmage. Tyler Weiman did not take part in the scrimmage and was reportedly working with Peter Budaj. So there may be a clear cut #3 coming out of rookie camp and Wieman should be chosen to play with the big boys once they take the ice this week for training camp.

And speaking of the big boys, they made a surprise appearance today and played a game of pickup hockey on the other side of the arena. This made rookie camp reports a bit sparse as most fans understandably flocked over to watch names such as Sakic, Smyth, Hannan, Stastny and - yes - Parker, step onto the ice publicly for the first time since April.

Recaps Day 3 Report
Avsprospects Day 3 Report

Day 4 - Rookie camp came to a close today with no scrimmage. It was nothing but drills for the youngsters in their final chance to impress the coaching staff. Cuts will be decided later today to select the group of rookies who will attend the Avalanche training camp,

Recaps Day 4 Report
Woodchub's Day 4 Report (on Avalanche forums)

With the conclusion of rookie camp, it's time for the veterans to take the ice. The veteran roster reports to the arena for physicals and medicals on September 13th and will take to the ice on September 14th and 15th. The Burgundy/White game concludes training camp on September 16th followed by the first preseason game against Phoenix on September 17th.

Yes, NHL hockey action has begun and the season is less than a month away! To pass the time, check out some of these interviews and articles relating to the Avalanche's promising youngsters.

Rookie Interviews Q&A; - Ray Macias Q&A - Trevor Cann Q&A; - Kevin Montgomery Q&A - Kyle Cumiskey

Related Articles - Weiman Keeps Working
Sports Illustrated Camp Coverage Camp Coverage
Denver Post - Chris Stewart Article
Denver Post - JD Corbin Article - Brendon Straub Article
Stewart and Hensick Beat The Odds

If anyone comes across other articles, let me know and I'll add them to the list.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Numbers Game on Smyth and Hannan

Scott Cullen from TSN analyzed the recent signings of Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan in one of his Numbers Games columns. If people haven't read Scott's columns before, he does an excellent job taking a fair and analytical approach to his articles. He's been in the business long enough that he likely doesn't even have a favorite team anymore. Which I'm sure is very useful to the business side of watching hockey but I wonder if he still gets real excited during games? I would miss that.

So on to business. With the Smyth signing, he's got nothing but praise. The only caveat, as is a caveat when signing any player long-term, is that his production may drop in the later years, sticking the Avalanche with a hefty contract. Not that they have any experience with that. Since the 2000-01 season his numbers have stayed pretty steady including having his second best season in both goals and points in 06-07. So I'm not concerned about his production at this point.

If he finds himself on the wing with Sakic and Brunette, he could certainly surpass those totals this coming season. I still personally think he'll be best on the wing with Stastny and Hejduk but time will tell. If you want to play him with Sakic, then put them on the PP unit together. Smyth can park himself in front of the goaltender and Joe can pick off the empty parts of the net while the goaltender becomes acquainted with Ryan's better side. The Avalanche already had the 4th-ranked PP in the league with a 21% conversion rate in 06-07. With Smyth, that number could approach 25%. Hey I can shoot for the moon, right?

Hannan, as we all know, is a shutdown defender and should relish that role in Colorado. He immediately becomes the #1 shutdown defender since there are no others on the team. With his PK experience, the Avalanche should improve on their 24th-ranked 80% PK rate. And if he pairs with Liles, it would be a great combo as they should compliment each other well. Of course, player combos are all conjecture until we see them in action but on paper it sounds (looks?) great.

So after reading and analyzing his analysis, one big thing these two signings accomplish is a large improvement on both special teams. So we've got PK and PP improvements, extra scoring punch, extra grit (I can't help using that word), and two of the finest mullets in the game. What more could we have asked for?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Avalanche Sign Leopold, Sauer, Finger and Jones

The Avalanche had a brief spurt of activity Monday as they re-signed Jordan Leopold, Kurt Sauer and Jeff Finger to new contracts. They also signed prospect David Jones to a contract. So if you're counting, and who isn't, that's 7 d-men signed with two of those being on two-way contracts (Finger and Cumiskey). So it's looking like the defensive core is near wrapped up and not too different from last year.

Leopold signed a two-year deal worth $1.5m per season. That's a pretty reasonable amount if he stays healthy and plays to the level that is expected of him. The only troubling thing is that his injuries were in the groin area which are often tough to really get rid of and can bother players throughtout their careers. Given that both he and the Avalanche organization showed each other same faith, I'd say that the doctors are confident with his situation.

Sauer signed a one-year extension worth a little over $700k. If he continues to improve the way he did towards the end of the year, that may end up a steal. I have no trouble believing he can up his play on the defensive side of things. I tend to hold my breath when he gets a hold of the puck. Particularly in the Avalanche zone. I was at the ill-fated Edmonton game during the playoff push where his giveaway led to the tying goal. I'm a pessimistic optimist on his abilities.

Jeff Finger signed a two-way contract that will pay him $475k if he stays with the Avalanche. I pat Giguere on the back for getting that one done so cheaply. Finger wouldn't have a ton of leverage to negotiate anything much above league-minimum but he certainly showed heart and determination during his time with the team this year. Every game I found myself noting Finger finishing checks and showing a good hard-working attitude.

Yar, good ol' Davy Jones be a solid prospect. I was going to finish this whole paragraph in pirate speak but I just couldn't do it. I admittedly didn't know who David Jones was until the Avalanche signed him this week. I'm sure I've heard his name before since he was nominated for the Hobey Baker. It just isn't a name that stuck with me. If only he had some sort of hook with his name. He was selected in the 8th round (288th overall) by the Avalanche and looks to be worth much more than that. He posted 44 points in 33 games with Dartmouth and was the Ivy League Player of the Year. Ok, so the Ivy leagues aren't noted for churning out a lot of hockey sensations but you still have to give that some recognition.

Without taking into account the possibility that a fellow such as Sauer was signed so he could be traded, the lines looking something like this:

We could banter all day about what the lines combos should be and nobody will really know until the season gets under way and you can see how the players respond to each other. If they ended up like this at the end of the day, I wouldn't be too disappointed. It would be great if we could see a name like Hannan or Preissing inserted somewhere but it's all conjecture at this point.

But conjecture is fun so let's go. The Avalanche still lack a true #1 d-man as neither Liles or Leopold are at that point in their careers. And Liles will likely never fill that role. Leopold has an outside shot at it. The top 3 guys I would like to get would be: Timonen, Hannan or Preissing. In that order as well. If pressed for a fourth, I'd say Danny Markov.

Nashville may have problems signing Timmonen as they are already at $33 million with only 13 players on the roster. He'll likely get over $4 million as he's a pretty experienced player who seems to improve every year.

San Jose already have 4 top-four d-men under contract (McLaren, Carle, Vlasic, Erhoff), but they do have a decent amount of cap space left. With indications of changes in the wind though, it's a tough call to say just what San Jose will do.

Ottawa will almost certainly let Preissing go though I bet it will hurt to do. They have Redden, Corvo, Philips, Volchenkov and Meszaros signed on with 4 of those at a cap hit of greater than $2 million. They don't have much to change up front though so if they could get rid of Gerber somehow, that would make room for them to lock up Preissing and fill out the rest of their team. And if they plan on getting rid of Redden at the end of this year or sooner, then they could give Preissing a multi-year deal and end up with an extremely solid backend for the next 3 years.

Apologies on the slightly lengthy Ottawa portion but I am Canadian after all.