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Team Preview: Colorado Avalanche

Key additions: Pierre Turgeon, C/LW (FA - DAL); Patrice Brisebois, D (FA - MTL); Curtis Leschyshyn, D (FA - OTT); Andrew Brunette, LW/RW (FA - MIN); Brad May, LW (FA - VAN); Ian Laperriere, RW/C (FA - LA); Antti Laaksonen, LW/RW (FA - MIN); Marek Svatos, RW (D - 2001, 7/227); Paul Healey, RW (FA - FLA)

Key losses: Peter Forsberg, C (FA - PHI); Adam Foote, D (FA - CBJ); Paul Kariya, LW (FA - NSH); Chris Gratton, C/LW (FA - FLA); Phillipe Sauve, G (FA - CGY); Teemu Selanne, RW (FA - ANA); Vincent Damphousse, C (Retired); Darby Hendrickson, C (FA); Peter Worrell, LW (FA); Andrei Nikolishin, C (FA)

Key players unsigned: None

Forwards: Butting right up against the salary cap, what you see is what you're going to get with the 2005-06 edition of the Avalanche, barring any trades. It's impossible to replace arguably the best player in the world (Forsberg), a nine-time All-Star (Selanne) and a seven-time All-Star (Kariya), so GM Pierre Lacroix didn't try to (of course, those three combined to score only 45 goals in 2003-04, just four more than Ilya Kovalchuk scored). Instead, he has built a team that will fit defense-first Head Coach Joel Quenneville's mentality by adding defensive forwards Laperriere and Laaksonen. Turgeon and Brunette will provide some scoring help, but the trio of Joe Sakic, Alex Tanguay and Milan Hejduk (whose numbers will likely suffer without Forsberg feeding him) will carry the water for the Avalanche offense. With Turgeon, Brunette, Sakic and Tanguay, the Avs have plenty of set-up men, but only one real finisher in Hejduk. Someone else will have to step up, perhaps the diminutive Svatos. The head scratcher of the offseason has to be the signing of May, discussed at some length here, but I guess the Avs had to do something with the money they saved by not having to pay a salary to Steve Moore this year.

Defensemen: Rob Blake's body has taken such a beating over his 15-year career that one has to wonder how much he has left. Our bet? Not much. Couple that with the loss of Foote, and the top pairing in Colorado will be a far cry from what it has been for the past handful of years. The good news is that John-Michael Liles is really coming into his own as an offensive defenseman, and if Blake can impart a little of his defensive knowledge upon Liles, the latter could be exceptional at both ends of the ice, despite his lack of size. Breeze-by, err, Brisebois will fit in well in Colorado where he will not be expected to be equal parts Bobby Orr and Ray Lewis. The rest of the defense - Ossi Vaananen, Karlis Skrastins, Bob Boughner and Lecshyshyn is solid but unspectacular.

Goaltenders: David Aebischer had some fairly enormous skates to fill when he stepped into the starting role in Colorado in 2003-04, and he did not disappoint, going 32-19-9 with a 2.09 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. In fact, "Abby" posted a better GAA and a better SV% in 2003-04 than his predecessor - what was his name again? - did in 2002-03. The 27-year-old Swiss goaltender had a couple of ugly games at the outset of the second round of the 2003-04 playoffs in San Jose, but there's no reason to doubt that he will post strong numbers again in 2005-06. Aebischer will be backed up by Peter Budaj, who has yet to play an NHL game, but with three years of AHL experience under his belt, is ready for backup duty in the show.

Bottom line: The Avs had the League's third-best powerplay in 2003-04, and should be one of the League's best again this year. Colorado will look to play opponents even at 5-on-5 and beat them on special teams, and should be fairly successful with that strategy. There's not much help on the way at any position, as years of blockbuster deadline deals (Blake, Ray Bourque, Theo Fleury, etc.) have depleted the organization of prospects to the point that they are ranked dead last in the NHL in that area. There is cap relief in site, though, as 36-year-olds Sakic and Blake, who account for more than $13 million in salary (or 1/3 of the salary cap), are nearing the end of their respective careers. The Avs will build around Aebischer, Hejduk, Tanguay and Liles and will be a playoff team for the forseeable future, but 2005-06 might be the team's last best chance to make a run at the Stanley Cup for quite some time.