Today marks the one week anniversary of the end of the most unbearable, miserable, downright difficult to watch season in Colorado Avalanche history (years in Quebec not withstanding). I was lucky enough (or unlucky, based on the performances I witnessed) to attend the final three home games of the season at good ol' Pepsi Center. The Avs got two of a possible six points in those three games, but managed to be shutout in the final two. In all, I was able to be at seven regular season games, and one pre-season game, with the Avs record being 2-4-2 overall (one of the wins, being pre-season, and the only other win coming at Staples Center here in LA). Should I ever return to Pepsi Center after seeing the team get a total of two points in the six games I attended? I'd like to say that I wouldn't, but I don't know what could really keep me away from there in the future.
On the Avs message board, there was a thread where people listed the "Avs Awards" for the 2008-2009 season. Here's a quick rundown of my picks..
Best forward: Milan Hejduk, Ryan Smyth
For the most part, these two came to play every night, which is more than can be said for a good part of the roster this season. If the whole team had stayed healthy, I'm sure these two would've been able to put up more than a team-leading 59 pts a piece this season. The bright spot for these two this season was scoring their 300th career goals on the same night back in January.
Best D-man: John-Michael Liles
Though we saw 13 different players suit up on the blue-line this season, I feel Liles was the most consistent D-man the Avs had during the season. In the past, he was known more for his offense than his defensive play, but he really picked it up this season and was a physical presence in the corners and behind the net, which was never one of his strong suits. While improving defensively, he also managed to bring his point total up to 39 from 32 last season, playing in seven less games in the process (including six more goals).
Best goalie: Peter Budaj
This is a tough one, as I don't feel either goalie had a great season. This was Peter's year, once again, to prove himself as the #1 goalie on the Avs, but he just couldn't find the consistency in his game to secure that spot for himself. As with the past couple years under Quenneville's reign, the two goalies were interchanged on a near game-by-game basis, which must make it really tough on a goalie's confidence and psyche to keep their play at a high level night in, night out. Though he had some extremely rough streaks during the season, Budaj also had some flashes of brilliance that we've seen from him in the past, including a hot streak to end the season giving up just five goals in his last four games (including three overtime periods). While I don't feel that he is the long-term answer for the team in net, I'd like to see him back on the roster next year behind a veteran that the team brings in. When he's on his game, he's nearly unbeatable.
Biggest surprise: Cody McLeod
What a season by Cody McLeod! Dubbed by some as a life-long AHL'er, he came out this year and had an absolutely spectacular season for someone known more for his big hits than his knack for finding the back of the net. Before the season, who would've thought that Cody would find himself in third place in goals scored on the Avs? Though injuries depleted the rest of the team's top-line forwards, there's no denying that Cody had one hell of a season scoring 15 goals and five assists (up from 4g5a last season), while dropping the mitts 10 times this season. He is currently un-signed, and I think it would be a Bruno-esque blunder to not bring him back next season.
Biggest disappointment: Darcy Tucker
What really needs to be said about this guy? He was bought out by Toronto, and then signed by the Avs to a 2yr/$4.5mil contract. For that kind of money, you expect to get someone who cares about the team and attempts to help the team on the ice. But not this guy. For seven straight years, he put up a more than respectable average of 43 pts per season, which is on the top end of the list of the mucker-and-grinder type player that Darcy is known as. So after scoring a big contract this season, you would think he would come out with the fire and passion that he was known for during his time with the Leafs, right? Not this guy. Darcy put up a miserable eight goals and eight assists this season, and at times couldn't even stand up on his own two skates. He is worth about half of the contract, if that, that Giguere gave him last summer, and one can only hope that he will become the first player in NHL history to be bought out in two straight seasons, as he is not needed on this team going forward.
Best leader: Ian Lapperiere
Once again, what really needs to be said about our beloved Lappy? Heart, determination, passion, and any synonym of those words could be used to describe him. He's one of the few in the entire NHL who never takes a shift off and sacrifices his body, no matter what the situation or cost. He is also currently un-signed, and losing him this season would be far worse than what happened when the team let Bruno walk to a division rival last summer. Lappy is the kind of player that nearly every team in the NHL would be interested in signing, and it would be absolutely horrific to see him finish out his career anywhere else.
Best rookie: Chris Stewart
Prior to this season, a lot of bad things have been said about Chris since he had been drafted 18th overall by the Avs in 2006. He was supposedly known for laziness on the ice and a lack of work ethic and drive to improve off the ice, and thankfully he proved everyone wrong this year as being the complete opposite of that after being called up in December. He totalled 11 goals and eight assists in his first year in the NHL, and had eight fights to go with those production numbers. I see a very bright future for Chris. If not a top-six forward, he would definitely make a great third-line right wing who not only has the skills to put the puck in the net, but has a very physical aspect to his game as well.
Best Av for 08-09: Cody McLeod
This is a tough one, as I feel that anyone listed above (save for Budaj and Tucker) could be the winner of this award. In the end, I have to go with Cody McLeod, as no one expected the kind of play that he gave the team this season. Congrats Cody, I've been calling you the MVP since day one, and you really lived up to all the hype and praise I had given you early this season.
What's next, you ask? Who knows. Last Monday, Francois Giguere was "relieved of his duties" by former GM Pierre Lacroix. This is the first step in what might be a long re-building process over the next few years, but it's definitely a step in the right direction. Who will succeed Giguere is unknown at the moment, but he will need to do a lot to bring this team back from the trenches. The team holds the third overall pick in the upcoming 2009 entry draft, and is most likely looking at C Matt Duchene, who grew up following the Avs. Also, waiting in the wings is Ryan Stoa, who is projected to make the roster as well this coming season. On a third happy note, we have most likely seen the last of Tyler Arnason in the burgandy and blue. REJOICE!!!
To those of you Avs fans who struggled to watch but stood by the team through all 82 games of this dismal season, I salute you, as this is the type of season that thins out the bandwagoners from the tried and true fans. As far as I see it, things can only go up from here, as in all honesty they can't get much worse.