In case you haven't noticed, the Avalanche have been on a stunning tear which has seen them win nine of their past eleven games since December 13th. For those of you who didn't hit the panic button and start screaming about the need to fire coach Joe Sacco before the run your patience is being rewarded. Still, it helps to remember that the club, although headed in the right direction, is still growing. Furthermore, a knee injury sustained by Matt Duchene, which will leave him out until at least February is cause for concern.
On the bright side, Ryan O'Reilly continues to show that he can (will?) become one of the great Avalanche centermen. This is reassuring considering how Paul Stastny, who at one point looked like he would turn out to be the next Joe Sakic, has instead evolved into a player in the area of the next Michael Peca. This isn't a bad thing, but it is kind of lame nevertheless. Defensive centers who sometimes score big goals are nice, but so is finding out that a potentially major car repair can be averted by changing out a bad fuse.
The left wing position in hockey is still something of a mystery to me, and apparently is something of a mystery to the Avalanche as well. Left wings are hard to find. They are almost as hard to find as say, young power forwards with the potential to score 40 goals a season from now until eternity (Chris Stewart! Excuse me. Where's my hanky...). Gabriel Landeskog is trending in the right direction and I'm glad the Avalanche managed to crap the tub hard enough last season that they were able to draft him. However, the recent news that the Peter Mueller experiment is back on skates is making my thinning hair grow even thinner. Why is this man still playing hockey?
The Avalanche are desperate to fill out their top six but the fact that they are relying on a man who has been concussed so hard that he can be taken out by a hovering june bug is bordering on the absurd. It is like the management has become Robert De Niro in "Casino", whose character worked himself into a lather trying to justify the expense of keeping around a mid-level hooker who at any moment could snap and burn his house down. Do they hate Wojtek Wolski that much? Sure, he took several hundred shifts off, but come on!
As it stands the Avalanche have 41 million smackers to play with in the upcoming season. Keeping around Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, Erik Johnson, Kyle Quincey, David Jones, Milan Hejduk, et al. is going to take a bite, but it isn't exactly going to throw them into Washington Capitals or Buffalo Sabres territory either. So why not break out the old gamblin' visor that has been stowed away since 2002 and make a run at Zach Parise this summer?
I can only guess (just like everyone else who writes about the Avalanche) what they have planned for the future, but Parise would bring a quality that the team has been lacking since the retirement of Burnaby Joe Sakic, strong leadership. By leadership I'm not talking about the steadying hand of the quiet and reliable Milan Hejduk. I don't mean the "he'll grow into it" kind of leadership of Ryan O'Reilly. I'm talking about the saddle up, Annie Get Your Gun, screw the other team and their ancestors, Chris Drury kind of leadership that Parise possesses. Here is a man who is so obsessed with winning that he actually contemplated returning several times last season on a knee that had the consistency of cold poutine, for a team that had less of a chance of winning the Stanley Cup than Venezuela.
The major element the Avalanche have been missing all these years is an identity. Nobody is afraid of them because you can't fear something that isn't sure it exists. The Avalanche need teeth. They need grit. They need Zach Parise. I hate to go back to the Stanley Cup days because I'm sick of fans living in the past (myself included) but look at what they had on the 2000-01 Cup team. Adam Foote- rusty nail eating leader. Rob Blake- hip checking leader. Peter Forsberg- superhuman leader. Chris Drury- Olympic leader. Raymond Bourque- Messianic leader. Joe Sakic- Ultimate leader. That team reeked of leadership!
Again, I'm not saying the Avalanche is lacking in potential leaders (Duchene), and nice guy leaders (Hejduk), and born and bred leaders (Stastny) or even psychotic gym rat leaders (O'Reilly), but here is a club that with Zach Parise would go from "plucky and developing" to "watch yer butts" in the swipe of a pen. It is time the Avalanche took a hard look at bringing the team back into the big leagues. Mr. Sherman, Mr. Lacroix, and Mr. Kroenke, you have 4-5 months to get the house in order. Make it so.