Avs searching for star power
The Avalanche own more victories than anyone in the NHL expected
them to have at this point. What the team lacks is an identity that
can fill arena seats or raise the roof with noise.
But what if I told you the Avs have two bona fide American sports heroes worthy of wrapping in the flag?
If there is any justice, center Paul Stastny and goalie Craig Anderson will be named red, white and true-blue Olympians for the rapidly approaching Winter Games, when Team USA is announced Jan. 1.
"It would be an honor to make the Olympic team," Stastny said. "I don't want to get ahead of myself and think about it, rather than thinking about what's important with (the Avalanche). But it would be a dream come true. Everyone wants to play in the NHL finals, and it might even be harder to get picked for the Olympics, where the best players in the world compete."
While the puck-handling of Stastny has made him Colorado's scoring leader and the rock-solid goaltending of Anderson has provided the foundation of a surprising start, what these two players can do next is return something to the Avs that has been missing since the magnificent Joe Sakic and the mischievous Ian Laperriere left the building.
While a Ubaldo Jimenez fastball popping the mitt, a jump shot from Chauncey Billups ripping the net and the feisty mouth of Josh McDaniels have made the heavy-decibel sports noise around here lately, the local NHL team has quietly faded into the background.
It's not so much the Avs have been forgotten as they have become strangers in town. Everybody around here knows Melo or Champ or Tulo, with no formal introductions from a public-address announcer necessary.
But except for the die-hard fanatic who wears a Nordiques sweater to the Pepsi Center and can recite penalty-kill percentages by heart, this is a hockey franchise in transition with the hearts of the general sports populace. It's going to take some time to warm up to these Avs, regardless of how many games they win.
That might help explain why Avalanche management had an extended dalliance with Patrick Roy when the team went looking for a new coach, before settling on Joe Sacco, whose no-nonsense, straightforward approach certainly grabs the attention of young players but doesn't make headline news.
This is a Colorado team in search of a personality.
"I really don't know," Sacco said, when I asked the rookie coach how well the Avs had established their own style of hockey. "We keep pushing the style of play that we want to play and how we need to play to be successful. The message comes from me and our leaders, too. We're just a team that's not going to quit; we're going to keep coming."
This is a hockey franchise in need of some new heroes.
And that is where Stastny and Anderson need to step it up.
Stastny not only is a lock to make the Olympic team, he seems to be a natural fit on the top line when on the ice in Vancouver. So if the Yanks can pull off any miracles big or small at the Winter Games, it just might give the affable but extremely low-key Avalanche star reason to crash for what passes in the USA as the general hockey conversation around the water cooler, a painfully short discussion that currently seems to begin with Sidney Crosby and end with Alex Ovechkin.
What makes Anderson intriguing as a goalie is a subtle, acquired taste. Rather than entering every room with the stop-what-you're-doing strut that made Roy famous, Anderson could be mistaken for your kids' orthodontist -- except for eyes hidden behind his mask, eyes that exude a confidence that doesn't require boasting.
He doesn't figure to start in goal for Team USA, but it's hard to imagine the 23-man roster without Anderson, whose $1.5 million salary makes him one of the biggest steals, dollar for dollar, in this young NHL season.
The bottom line: Would you pay 80 bucks to watch Stastny or Anderson play?
This is a new era of Avalanche hockey.
Are the games of Stastny and Anderson big enough to define this era and return the Avs to being active players in the Denver sports debate, or must we wait until teenagers Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly grow up?