Ryan O'Reilly was at one point favored to be a captain of the Avs, but the honor went to Gabriel Landeskog this summer, while O'Reilly remains unsigned. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
Colorado Avalanche fans have waited a long time for their club to return to its status of perennial post-season contender.
Missing the playoffs in four of the past six seasons has taken a toll on the Avalanche's attendance. After enjoying four consecutive seasons of sellout crowds from 2001-02 to 2005-06, the Avs saw a steady decline in attendance that reached its nadir in 2009-10 when they averaged only 13,947 per game.
Since then, the Avs’ attendance has slowly increased, largely due to their rebuilding program.
GM Greg Sherman has done well restocking his club with good young players via the draft (Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly in 2009 and last season's NHL rookie of the year, Gabriel Landeskog, in 2011) and trades (Semyon Varlamov, Erik Johnson, Steve Downie, Jamie McGinn).
The Avalanche teased their fans by flirting with post-season contention the past two seasons, only to collapse down the stretch. That's prompted some of their followers to call on Sherman to acquire a scoring star and to use some of his young talent as the trade bait to accomplish it.
Center Paul Stastny has been suggested as a trade candidate and rumors this off-season have linked him to the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.
One Denver pundit went so far as to suggest Duchene should be shopped.
Sherman wisely rejected the advice of armchair GMs and retained the pair. He instead spent the off-season re-signing a number of players (Duchene, Downie, Milan Hejduk, David Jones, Cody McLeod, Johnson, Shane O'Brien, Ryan Wilson, Matt Hunwick and J-S Giguere) and added right winger P-A Parenteau and defenseman Greg Zanon via free agency.
Sherman also held contract talks with O'Reilly up to the expiration of the CBA. It's expected once a new labor agreement is in place, the 21-year-old center will be quickly inked to a new deal.
Whenever this season begins there will be considerable focus on the performances of Stastny and Duchene.
Stastny's stats have been in steady decline since his career-best 79-point performance in 2009-10. He's entering the second-last season of his five-year contract.
Sherman has resisted calls for Stastny to be dealt, but if the 26-year-old center continues to struggle, he may be shopped by the trade deadline.
Stastny's $6.6 million average annual salary was considered a major stumbling block that stood in the way of him being dealt. But with only one season remaining on his contract after 2012-13, that may be less of an obstacle for teams willing to gamble that he'd benefit from a change of scenery.
For those GMs seeking a more affordable, younger option, the 21-year-old Duchene would be a more desirable trade target.
Once touted as a future Avalanche captain, Duchene was hampered by injury last season and netted only 28 points in 58 games (a considerable drop from his career-best 67 points the season prior), while his minus-11 rating led to questions about his defensive play.
A strong bounce-back performance by Duchene would certainly increase his trade value, but it would also give Sherman more justification to retain him.
Sherman could shop O'Reilly if his contract negotiations aren't quickly resolved once a new CBA is in place, but that possibility is slim.
As the Avalanche's young talent (especially their forwards) continues to improve, the club should also see a significant improvement in the standings.
Still, Sherman's patience can only last so long. If the inconsistency of the past two years carries over and once again threatens their hopes for playoff contention, Sherman will have to consider shaking things up before the trade deadline.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla's Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.
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