The Dallas Stars are now just over a month away from the start of their new life in the Central Division, saying goodbye to those in the Pacific and saying hello to some new and old friends during the transition. One of those old friends is the Colorado Avalanche, a team the Stars have never been in the same division with but have enjoyed a nice and healthy rivalry with in the past nonetheless.
In some ways the Avalanche and Stars mirror each other, with two once-proud and successful franchise struggling to fight their way back into the playoffs. The Avs won just 16 games in 2013 and ended up with the top pick in the draft, while also making some significant changes in the front office.
Like the Stars, the Avalanche will be fighting their way back into the postseason in a new division with a brand new approach in the front office and behind the bench. There was also some slight changes on the roster as well:
C Nathan MacKinnon (Draft); D Nick Holden; RW J.T. Wyman; LW Alex Tanguay, D Cory Sarich
D Greg Zanon; RW Chuck Kobasew; RW Milan Hejduk; D Sean Sullivan; RW Bill Thomas; RW David Jones; D Shane O'Brien
The Colorado Avalanche chose to stay relatively quiet in the offseason when it came to actual roster turnover, a calm that did not carry over into the other parts of the business. Going for a theme we're very familiar with here in Dallas, the Avalanche turned to two franchise heroes from the past to help infuse some energy and new life into an organization that has stagnated the past decade or so.
However...the Avalanche took the theme of turning to franchise legends and ran with it to a new level completely.
Joe Sakic, after two years of working in the Avalanche front office as an "executive advisor" -- sound familiar -- was promoted this summer to Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations. The move was part of a much bigger shakeup in the Avs front office, specifically with Pierre Lacroix now relieved of his duties, but the biggest move was yet to come.
Patrick Roy will not only be the head coach of the Avalanche moving forward, but was also named a VP of Hockey Operations. Depending on which source you use, Roy or Sakic will have the final word in all matters relating to hockey operations and the actual General Manager of the team -- Greg Sherman -- now serves in that capacity in name only. A figurehead of sorts.
Talked to NHL GM about COL shopping No. 1 pick: "Who are we supposed to call there?" Patrick Roy, apparently. Greg Sherman GM in name only.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 29, 2013
The Avs also owned the top pick in the draft in 2013 and Patrick Roy immediately showcased that a non-traditional front office arrangement would also mean a non-traditional approach to handling the media and other general managers. Roy and the Avs made it known that the top pick was up for grabs and if they kept it, they were taking phenom center Nathan MacKinnon. Many felt this was a bluff and that the Avs were making a farce of the process, but the team stayed true to their word and grabbed MacKinnon with at No. 1.
In the process, the Avs also passed up a generational talent and hometown-hero-in-waiting Seth Jones and failed to address the biggest weakness on the team and in the organization: defense.
The best defenseman right now for the Avalanche remains Erik Johnson, who is still the lone defenseman proven capable of playing shutdown hockey against top competition. Matt Hunwick is a steady veteran as well and the Avalanche have a few promising young players on the blueline but are in a very similar situation as to where the Stars were just a few years back -- very thin on the backend.
Several of the top prospects the past few years have now moved on to the NHL and the Avalanche just don't have the quality the system needed to help out a team that was increasingly incapable of improving through free agency or trades. Sending a couple of second rounders and a first round pick to Washington for Semyon Varlamov also didn't help much.
Tyson Barrie and Duncan Siemens are decent prospects and there's no doubt that getting a player of MacKinnon's caliber will certainly help, but the Edmonton Oilers are a perfect example of what can happen when a team is loaded up front with young talent but has no defense to back it all up.
Yet the Avalanche are getting younger and more talented up front, helped inexplicably by those magical picks at the top of the draft that always seem to help struggling franchises rebound (sometimes). Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and MacKinnon form a very talented young core for this team to build around; the question is whether or not the Avalanche have the ability to effectively build a competitive team around them.
The Avalanche likely won't see a drastic improvement this season and could once again have a top pick on their plate next summer. It's all going to depend on Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic, however; two former players with very limited experience working in the front office in the NHL are going to be relied upon to make the smart decisions necessary to continue to improve moving forward.
That's certainly going to be the big test.
In the meantime, a rekindling of the rivalry between the Avs and Stars will depend solely on how quickly these two teams battle it out in the postseason. It could be that, with two young teams trying to forge a new identity in a new division, that the rivalry develops naturally as the Avs and Stars battle it out for positioning in the Central. The intense battles of the past, however, are likely a bit further down the road.