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Colorado Avalanche: Are they legitimate NHL contenders?

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The accomplishments of the 2013 season for the Colorado Avalanche seemed to be never ending. Central division champions, second in the Western Conference, top five in goals scored, and the best road record in the NHL are among the most impressive feats. The mile high city was even graced with the emergence of a budding young superstar in Nathan MacKinnon.

In a season that saw the club go from worst-to-first, new head coach Patrick Roy has to be pleased with what his team was able to do this past year. The real question is, are the Colorado Avalanche now legitimate contenders in the NHL?

After a heartbreaking first-round exit in the playoffs to a division rival, which is sure to have left a bitter taste in the mouths of many, the Avalanche still have high hopes for next season. And why shouldn’t they? It’s a club that has every reason to believe they can contend for the Stanley Cup. They may be young, but the talent on the roster is overwhelming.

There’s no doubt that Paul Stastny was a big part of the success from a year ago. The highly coveted unrestricted free agent said goodbye to Colorado when the St. Louis Blues signed the 28-year-old center to a four-year, $28 million contract this offseason. The Avalanche will certainly feel his absence, as he racked up 60 points in 2013. Though, to address the loss of Stastny, the front office made a splash by signing future hall of famer Jarome Iginla to three-year, $16 million contract.

“With this group, I think the sky is the limit.”-Jarome Iginla

The addition of Iginla is an indication of Colorado’s rising stock among the elite teams in the NHL. The 37-year-old has had an illustrious career, spanning nearly two decades. The 600-goal scorer is frothing at the mouth for a Stanley Cup that has been eluding him for 18 years. He seems to feel as though Colorado offers him the best chance to finally get his hands on the 35-pound piece of hardware.

Iginla stated that he believes this team has all the capabilities of a championship caliber team, adding, “With this group, I think the sky is the limit.”

On top of the Iginla signing, the Avalanche took care to address the issue that plagued them the most in the playoffs: depth. Against Minnesota, injuries and a lack of sufficient depth were Colorado’s demise. The front office knew that to truly be a contender, they had to absolve these issues, among others.

The day before the free agency period started, the Avalanche shipped winger P.A. Parenteau to the Montreal Canadians in exchange for Daniel Briere. It was a move that freed up cap space, while adding veteran leadership. That extra cap space would eventually prove to be crucial in re-signing Ryan O’Reilly to a two-year, $12 million contract.

Any serious NHL contender needs to be confident with their back end. That’s certainly been an area of concern in recent years for the Avalanche. That all could change soon, as Erik Johnson has become a viable top-two defenseman and the Avalanche have a solid, young crop of defensive prospects. In a rather youthful defensive core that includes the likes of Tyson Barrie, Nick Holden, Stefan Elliot, and Nate Guenin, the Avalanche needed to add a veteran presence.

Enter Brad Stuart.

Colorado acquired the big-hitter from San Jose in exchange for the Avalanche’s second-round draft pick in 2016 and a sixth-round pick the following year. Stuart will pair up with Johnson to give the Avalanche a one-two punch on defense next season.

Bolstering the defensive unit was essential to the continued success of the Avalanche. Adding depth up front was also imperative this offseason. With the addition of three former NHL captains and a Stanley Cup winning defenseman, Colorado is putting themselves on the map. It’s looking more and more like that “Stanley Cup attitude” head coach Patrick Roy mentioned, is becoming a reality in this locker room.

Look no further than O’Reilly, Landeskog, Duchene, Iginla, and MacKinnon. That’s some of the primo talent in this league. Not to mention a netminder, Semyon Varlamov, who won a league high 41 games last season. There was no goalie more valuable to his respective team in 2013 than Varlamov. Take a moment…now imagine how magical Matt Duchene and Jarome Iginla could be together. It’s been awhile in the making, but the young core of this team is poised to become a contender for years to come.

All in all, we’re talking about the third best team in the entire NHL a season ago. Head coach Patrick Roy and executive vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic have reinvented this team. They’ve made remarkable improvements and there’s absolutely no reason to think that this team won’t contend for both a Presidents’ trophy and the Stanley Cup in 2014.

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Tags: Jarome Iginla Matt Duchene Ryan O'reilly

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