Have you heard? They ceded the Cup to the Avalanche. Rest of the
season is cancelled.
Ok, not really, but to see the reaction in Denver in the days
following The Trade, you'd have thought the Avalanche just earned a
playoff bye -- for three rounds.
The mediocre play of late notwithstanding, it's exciting around here
these days. Even though he only got into one game before hurting his
knee, Theo Fleury has captured the town's imagination.
But before Theo came to town, there were other games to play,
throwing a monkey wrench into the chronology of this column. First
came the much-ballyhooed return of ex-Avs coach Marc Crawford, who
left the team in an acrimonious dispute that we all heard way too
much about last summer.
The game resolved nothing, as the Avs underachieved enough to not
win (but not enough to actually lose to the rotten Canucks). No one
killed each other, and newspaper columnists got to, once again,
exhaust the whole did-he-fire-or-did-he-quit thing. Oh boy.
Thus inspired, Colorado went right out and lost their next game,
breaking the streak of four straight ties. The Czechs caused
problems, as Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka rallied the Pens from a
third-period deficit to win.
Next up were the pesky Predators, who the Avalanche had yet to beat
this year despite the fact that they're (remember?) an EXPANSION
team. Thankfully, Adam Deadmarsh - who's been hot -- played one of
his best games of the year, playing a part in each goal, checking,
and even cleaning the ice between periods.
And then came Theo. The news was big enough to push the Denver
press' year-long coverage of "John Elway: His 4,000 Greatest
Moments" down a bit. The news energized the town, especially since
all that was given up was checking winger Rene Corbet, perennial
prospect Wade Belak and future considerations (more on that later).
And boy did it energize the Avalanche, as they spotted Edmonton a
four-goal lead in Game 1, W.F. (With Fleury). Oooooooooooooops.
But then, things got a little funky. Fleury -- already serving as a
sparkplug -- scored a third period goal. Then Valeri Kamensky. Then
Aaron Miller. Unfortunately, close only counts in saturation
bombing, and though the comeback won points for style, the judges
were unimpressed with the lack of finishing ability and awarded the
win to the Oilers.
Still, Fleury was great to watch, all over the ice. On a line with
Joe Sakic and Kamensky, the three were all over the place, mixing
up the Oilers defense and only kept in check by a stellar
performance from Bob Essensa and the Hand of God.
After the game, it was revealed that Fleury had sprained a knee and
was out indefinitely. Again, oooooooooooooops.
Having learned a little something, the Avalanche let the Panthers
run out to a five-goal lead in the next game. Then, Peter Forsberg
was released from the cryogenic chamber and preceded to show that
little punk Pavel Bure (a hat trick? Hah!) what it's all about.
As the nation turned into Monica, Forsberg put on a hockey clinic
the likes of which hasn't been seen since the last time ol' Foppa
went nuts. Six points -- three goals, three assists -- in just over
a period, sending Florida goalie Sean Burke into the witness
Forsberg came out the next game and got hurt. See a pattern? In said
game, the Avalanche were wiped out by mighty Tampa Bay, an effort
that prompted Sakic to offer some rare public criticism of the team.
Well-deserved, too. I mean, Tampa Bay?
And, while the effort wasn't entirely there, some spark and
character returned as the Avalanche rallied to beat Pittsburgh.
Craig Billington was crazy in relief of a flu-ridden Patrick Roy in
goal, and Milan Hejduk -- how do you say "clutch" in Czech? -- got
his second game-winning comeback goal in three games, making half
of the rookie's goals this year game-winners. And, believe me, it's
all because I repeatedly misspelled and mispronounced his name
early in the season. Inspired the guy.
So, it's been uneven lately. But life's uneven. And the Avalanche
are facing the playoffs with a rested Fleury, a rested Forsberg,
and the best collection of skill you've seen in recent years.
The Avs aren't done trading. With Fleury's acquisition, the Avs now
have seven first-two-liners (and -- do the math -- only six spots):
Sakic, Forsberg, Fleury, Adam Deadmarsh, Valeri Kamensky, Claude
Lemieux and Hejduk.
Sakic, Forsberg and Fleury are all automatic. Deadmarsh has played
extremely well of late, and they need his physical presence up top.
Kamensky and Hejduk need to be on an offensive line to be
effective. Lemieux needs to be on and offensive line to be happy.
The odd man out? Color Kamensky gone. He's an unrestricted free
agent this summer. He's said he won't be back.
Talks with Buffalo fell through because the Avs want too much
(defenseman Jay McKee). Vancouver continually pops up -- possibly
as part of a deal for Alexander Mogilny -- except that it makes no
sense. As a free agent, Kamensky's a rent-a-player, and the Canucks
are almost a sure bet to miss the playoffs. Plus, Mogilny's another
offensive force, which the Avs don't need -- particularly if they
are serious about getting Fleury for longer than a few months.
More likely destinations? Toronto; Boston; Carolina; San Jose. Those
types of places.
Another rumored deal has Sylvain Lefebvre (another unrestricted free
agent this summer) going to Tampa Bay. Fine, except that's even
stupider than Kamensky-to-Vancouver. Recent games have exposed big
flaws in the Avs defense, and Lefebvre has always been a tough
defenseman in the playoffs. Plus, since Tamps Bay's going to finish
farther out of the Cup race than most ECHL teams, they need a
veteran defenseman for the stretch run like ... well, like the Avs
need another skilled forward.
One deal that's likely to play out soon is the "future
considerations" of the Fleury trade. There's a list of machinations
far too complex to list (because I Don't entirely understand them),
but the upshot is the Flames will get an Avs prospect (most likely
junior defenseman Robyn Regehr, possibly Martin Skoula) and a draft
pick, the place of which is determined by a.) the Avs' finish in
the playoffs this year and b.) their success in signing Fleury.
See, you didn't need to know all those little details, did you?
Lost in the excitement of the Fleury trade was the departure of Rene
Corbet. Corbet's ice time had been reduced this season with the
emergence of Chris Drury and acquisition of Shjon Podein, but he'll
be remembered as one of the most entertaining Avalanche players to
watch, one of the very few who always gave their all, and one who
gave his heart to hockey all the time.
Calgary will love him, and we'll miss him.