The Colorado Avalanche entered the summer of 2012 with a lot of free agents to sign and a lot of money with which to sign them.
That the key free agents all re-signed -- joined by unrestricted free agent addition P.A. Parenteau -- means a young, still-evolving core stays intact, albeit one that missed the playoffs last season. That the team still has one of the lowest payrolls in the league means fans will continue to view billionaire owner Stan Kroenke's moves with suspicion.
The Avalanche have missed the playoffs four of the last six seasons, with two 95-point seasons (2007-08, 2009-10) serving as blips in an awkward post-lockout transition after years of thriving on franchise greats like Joe Sakic. But 2011-12 was a step forward of sorts, its 88 points (aided by nine shootout wins) and a 41-35-6 record representing a 20-point leap over the previous season.
Most importantly, almost all of the Avalanche's key players are at an age where they should be getting better. Gabriel Landeskog was a rookie phenom who took on tough competition all season and thus is likely to suffer a sophomore slump. Matt Duchene has been stalled by injury and role identity issues, but he remains a promising, growing talent and Parenteau could be just the experienced running mate he needs. (Parenteau, the ex-Islander, secured an NHL job and thrived next to Duchene's fellow top 2009 draftee John Tavares.)
As this team grows together, one interesting position still up for debate is in net, where a year ago the Avalanche famously spent this summer's first-round pick to bring in and sign Semyon Varlamov from the Washington Capitals. Varlamov, 24, had an inconsistent first year in Colorado. But veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere is still around to back him up for at least one more year, so goaltending should not sink the Avs.
Offseason Additions / New Faces
If you're not going to add much in the offseason, at least don't destroy your flexibility in keeping the players you already had. Avalanche GM George Sherman successfully avoided that, methodically extending restricted free agents like Erik Johnson, Duchene, Steve Downie and Ryan Wilson to conservative deals that locked none of these talents up for life. Unrestricted free agents David Jones, Shane O'Brien, Cody McLeod and longtime Av Milan Hejduk also re-upped -- Hejduk for a modest one-year, $2 million deal.
Of those, Jones' deal may be the most debatable, as the roughly 40-point scorer's four-year deal is the same as import Parenteau. For a team spending near the cap floor, $8 million on those two players gives pause.
All told, these are not the bold moves of a team looking to rise above the ashes in a weak but improving Northwest Division. But with the addition of the underrated Parenteau and the reasonably expected growth of the Avs' young players, the team can at least expect to be better. For a franchise still forging a post-lockout identity, that's a step.