The Penguins are off and running in the as they seek a second consecutive Stanley Cup. The same isn't true for their opponents the past two Cup Finals, the Detroit Red Wings.
Wouldn’t it be great to see another classic playoff series between the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche? It could happen – if the Red Wings make the playoffs this year.
The inversion of power at the 10-game mark of the NHL season is impossible to ignore. The Avalanche lead the Western Conference at 8-1-2, while the Red Wings are in 12th place as we go to press with a record of 3-4-2. These two teams aren’t alone in delighting handicappers who both follow and fade, and their fortunes could reverse several times over the course of the season. But both clubs have fundamental betting value going forward.
Hot: Colorado Avalanche
In order to beat the market, it helps to start with low expectations. Colorado has this in spades after finishing last in the West at 32-45-5, a full 10 points behind the next-to-last Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes. That’s the worst season the Avalanche have ever mustered; you’d have to go back to their days as the Quebec Nordiques to find a sorrier bunch. It was also Colorado’s second time missing the playoffs in three years. The retirement of Joe Sakic after playing just 15 games (herniated disk, broken fingers) was the proverbial nail in the coffin. The Avs went into the 2009-10 season as 75-1 long shots to win the Stanley Cup, ahead of only the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning at 100-1.
Effective change starts at the top. Heads rolled; Francois Giguere was fired as general manager and replaced by the tandem of GM Greg Sherman and VP of Hockey Operations Craig Billington. Tony Granato was relieved of his coaching duties, along with most of his staff, while Joe Sacco was promoted from the AHL farm team in Cleveland, the Lake Erie Monsters. Their early results are obviously very encouraging.
It’s not like the new front office was handed a total dog of a team. Young talents like LW Wojtek Wolski (five goals, five assists in 11 games) and C Paul Stastny (four goals, six assists) were already in place, but they needed some help. The Avs appear to have struck gold using their high position on the draft board with first-round pick C Matt Duchene (one goal, five assists) and second rounder C Ryan O’Reilly (two goals, eight assists, plus-10), both of whom are evidently remaining with the parent club rather than be sent back to their junior teams for more seasoning.
The front office deserves even more praise for the change in philosophy in the defensive end. First and foremost, replacing goalie Peter Budaj (.899 save percentage last year) with Florida Panthers cast-off Craig Anderson (.936 SV%) was a masterstroke. But kudos as well for trading LW Ryan Smyth to Los Angeles for defensemen Tom Preissing and Kyle Quincey. Preissing had his knee scoped last month and has yet to play, but Quincey already has two goals and six assists, quarterbacking the top power-play unit and leading Colorado in ice time at 25:53 per game.
Not: Detroit Red Wings
Here’s the kicker: Quincey was drafted by the Red Wings in 2003, but there was no room at the inn, so the Kings were able to claim him on waivers. This is Detroit’s problem in a nutshell. They are the anti-Avalanche at this point, top-heavy with aging, overpaid players after years of chasing down the Stanley Cup. The Wings went into the 2009-10 season expected to contend again as the 6-1 favorites. Those betting odds will plummet when the futures market prices go through their first wave of adjustments.
When the Wings eventually do their housecleaning, the first man to go has to be 36-year-old goalie Chris Osgood, in the midst of his second straight poor regular season with an .890 save percentage. The Wings would like to start handing the torch to understudy Jimmy Howard, but the defense in front of him is so poor that it might be better to let Osgood bear the brunt for now. Detroit has been outscored 30-25 on the season and beaten twice by – you guessed it – Colorado.
We saw Detroit kick it into gear for the playoffs last year. It could happen again. But they still need to amass enough points in the regular season to get into the top eight in the West. Until they find that hypothetical gear, the Wings might as well be on the scrap heap.