Thursday, January 20, 2011

Team Wide Sophomore Slump?

The Colorado Avalanche are having a bit of a tough go at it this season. This time last year they were in and out of first place in the division. And while the Western Conference is ridiculously tight and teams shift in and out of playoff spots daily, one has to wonder if the Avs have what it takes to end up in the top eight come April. So far this season they have been highly inconsistent!

Part of what I think is a huge factor is experience. While the team is very young in average age they are also rather short on experience. Many of the players on this team have more experience listed on their NHL resume than I would like to give them credit for.

For example, Craig Anderson is listed with eight years of experience. But we all know those were years as a backup, not as the number one goalie. Expectations are different, work load is different, every thing is different. Last year Anderson was out to prove he could be the man. And as many discover following a superlative performance: it is often more challenging to match it than it is when you are coming out of no where and you are the underdog. Once the white hot spot light hits, the pressure is really on.

The way I see this team is a combination of games played or complete seasons played. And the Avs have a serious glut of sophomores. Here’s how I see the team structure right now, give or take a dozen or so games, either way

Rookies: Dupuis, Shattenkirk, Yip and Porter.
Sophomores: Duchene, Galiardi, Hunwick, Jones, O’Byrne, O’Reilly, Stewart, Wilson, Winnik and Craig Anderson.
Experienced: Fleischmann, McLeod, Stastny and Budaj. Though Budaj has little more games than Anderson I see him as an experienced backup where as Anderson is a sophomore as a starter.
Solid Vets: Foote, Hejduk, Liles.

Those are the major players on the team. Two thirds of this team falls into my rookie or sophomore status. What’s more is these are guys that are being given large chunks of responsibility.

So while many guys, though not truly sophomores, they are experiencing their second year of full responsibility. Like Craig Anderson. Some of this is due to injuries but also a huge reliance on young players. When you have guys like Hunwick, O’Byrne, Shattenkirk and Wilson playing major minutes on defense, there will be growing pains. Scott Hannan was steady and easily falls into the established veteran category, but he was traded.

Despite Duchene and Stewart’s sophomore status, they are not in a slump (at least Stewart was not before the injury) when it comes to scoring. Thankfully, or this team would be in real trouble in the standings. Mainly it’s important to remember to temper our expectations of this team that is so young and inexperienced. They should only get better and better.

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