March 6th, 2000 Ray Bourque left Boston. His destination, via trade was for the Mile High City and one last chance to win a Stanley Cup. The following season, which would be Bourque’s last, he would succeed in winning his first Cup. It was a tremendous moment in sports history. Everyone outside of New Jersey was hoping for Bourque’s career to be capped off with a real fairy tale ending. 13 years later another aging veteran makes his way to Denver in hopes of one last shot glory. Jarome Iginla, the long time member of the Calgary Flames, signed a 3 year deal on July 1st to play for the Colorado Avalanche. He hopes lightning will strike twice.
Colorado had a rough July 1st in the eyes of many. The team did little to upgrade their blue line, which has been an item of much critique. Outside of Brad Stuart and a few low profile signings the defense is still relativly the same. However, the big blow for Colorado came when Paul Stastny left for the St. Louis Blues. Colorado have plenty of Centers, so it was seen as an inevitability that one of them was to depart. It’s tough though, that Colorado lost one of it’s stars for nothing. Shortly after Stastny left for the Blues, the Avalanche made their only real free agent splash of the day with the signing of Veteran free agent Jerome Iginla.
Iginla, once a long time member in Calgary has turned into a highly profile journeyman the last two seasons. He was originally traded to Pittsburgh, in a trade memorable for the confusion it caused, before signing with Boston last summer. Iginla is trying to win a Stanley Cup. Calgary is in the middle of a rebuild, so his dream was never going to happen with them. The Question now becomes, can he accomplish that dream in Denver.
The first part of that answer is, not this year. But Iginla is signed now for 3 seasons. Unlike his one year deal in Boston, Iginla either knows something about this Colorado team, or his friendship with Joe Sakic has clouded his judgement. Colorado isn’t ready to compete this season. The loss of Stastny, and minimal improvements to the defense mean that the Avalanche are still growing. What the team has lacked recently is real veteran presence in the locker room. Players like Iginla are real leaders. Part of this signing has to be to help the young core in Colorado.
Leading by example
Iginla was a captain in Calgary for many years. Meanwhile in Denver they named the youngest captain in NHL history two years ago. Gabe Landeskog is a fine leader, but having a presence like Iginla with the team can have a massive effect. These are things that matter in a playoff series. Know how lead and remain calm are hallmarks of many Stanley Cup champions.
Iginla is not just here to be a cheerleader though. He’s here to provide offense. His 30 goal season last year in Boston proves he is still capable of generating offense. He’s a consistant 30 goal scorer. He’s even hit 50 in his career. The best way to negate the impact of Stastny is to put up the same numbers on offense. Iginla is capable of doing that. The question is, will his body allow that for a full season, and playoffs. Colorado fans shouldn’t be too concerned about that because Iginla is famous for his high standard of fitness. If anyone is capable of keeping in shape at that age, it’s Iginla.
Defense wins Championships
For Iginla to have his Ray Bourque moment in Denver, the Avalanche cup window needs to open in the next three seasons. Offensively the team is right there, they have an exceptional amount of talent going forward. The blue line, however, is still a work in progress. When Ray Bourque came to Denver he was a great addition to an already excellent defense, and Rob Blake was also added in 2001 to further bolster their back end. The 2014 Colorado Avalanche don’t have the same embarrassment of riches. Colorado’s possession stats are not great. They were in the bottom ten in the league last season. The loss of Stastny, one of Colorado’s only plus possession players is going to make things worse, potentially.
For Colorado’s cup window to open during Iginla’s contract, they are going to need to get better on the blue line. Brad Stuart, a recent trade acquisition provides solid leadership, but questions remain about his speed. He’s not very fast and with the man coverage system that Patrick Roy uses could be a problem. Colorado seem to be banking on the hopes that prospects like Chris Bigras, a very strong skater, will make the jump to the pros and be impact players. The signing of Tyson Barrie, which is yet to be completed is also something that should be in Colorado’s defensive plans.
Buying a Championship
Apart from Iginla, all of Colorado’s big acquisitions (Brad Stuart and Daniel Briere) are on the final year of their contracts. This presents for Colorado an interesting situation. According to CapGeek , Colorado are going to lose roughly 13 million dollars in free agent salary. Brad Stuart, Daniel Briere, Jan Hejda, Ryan Wilson and Cody McLeod. With the potential of the Cap going up more in recent seasons, Colorado is in an enviable position. The Avalanche could be all in as early as next season. A lot is going to depend on their performance this season. If they manage another successful season then Colorado’s stock as a prime free agent destination will be on the rise.
The next two season there are some appetizing free agent defensman available. Chiefly among them, Brent Seabrook and Keith Yandle. Whether or not Colorado is even a potential destination for any of those free agents is surely debatable. However, Colorado have put themselves in a position to make these kinds of moves. In the salary cap era, cap management is so important. Teams that overspend and have trouble keeping their core together suffer. Colorado, at the very least, seem to be keeping costs down, while building something competitive.
Putting it together
The Stanley Cup has been called the hardest trophy to win in sports. Colorado haven’t had the pleasure since 2001. Jarome Iginla, has never experienced it. For many his decision to sign in Denver was a head scratcher. He’s in the twilight of his career, and Colorado, to some may not be the best place for him to win. His three year, contract, on the other hand gives some indication that Colorado is on the cusp of being a real contender. Going forward, it’s about how Colorado fills in the pieces around Iginla, and their already impressive core. If Colorado, can score a premire free agent, possibly aquire one in a trade if the Ryan O’Reilly situation continues south, then it will be an important step. But more importantly they need that core group to continue to develop, and they need a prospect or two to turn good on their potential.
The Avalanche have put themselves in a great position, but a lot of teams are in great positions. For Colorado it’s all about execution. If everything goes according to plan, it might not be long until we see something like this again.