Avalanche Lessons from Split-Squad Series


Live Feed

3 reasons the Avalanche won't win the Stanley Cup in 2024
3 reasons the Avalanche won't win the Stanley Cup in 2024 /

Puck Prose

  • Could Flames Goalie Dan Vladar Be A Trade Option for the Avalanche?Flame for Thought
  • Colorado Avalanche sign free agent Tomas Tatar to one year dealPuck Prose
  • The most important player to watch this season for the AvalanchePuck Prose
  • 2023 Central Division Preview Series: Colorado AvalancheBlackout Dallas
  • The Top 5 Centers in the NHL Today Might Not Be Who You ThinkPuck Prose
  • The split-squad pre-season series was meant to do a lot of things for the Colorado Avalanche, but recording a win was not as high on the agenda as other considerations.

    Pre-season games are nice to win, but teams typically use them to work on timing, cement line combinations, teach new players the system, remind returning players of the system and implement new plays. Teams also use at least the first couple games to weed out prospects.

    Considering the Avalanche released 16 players today, reducing their roster was clearly a top priority.

    Colorado Avalanche Reduced Roster

    The following players are off to Lake Erie to participate in the Monsters’ AHL training camp:

    • Sami Aittokallio, goalie
    • Troy Bourke, left wing
    • Paul Carey, center
    • Trevor Cheek, left wing
    • Nate Condon, center
    • Cody Corbett, defenseman
    • Mitchell Heard, center
    • Garrett Meurs, center
    • Michael Sgarbossa, center
    • Colin Smith, center
    • Karl Stollery, defenseman
    • Francois Tremblay

    Tremblay looked pretty good in training camp, but he didn’t even get a nod for either game against the Anaheim Ducks. Aittokallio warmed up with the home squad but saw no action in the game.

    The following three players are released to their major junior teams:

    • Chris Bigras, defenseman, Owen Sound
    • Conner Bleackley, center, Red Deer
    • Mason Geertsen, defenseman, Vancouver

    Bleackley and Bigras are somewhat surprising. Head coach Patrick Roy praised Bigras’ defensive play. However, he didn’t play Bigras in either game. Bleackley played hard in the home game loss. Roy said of his efforts:

    "“We put him on the fourth line – it’s not necessarily easy. But I thought he did a lot of good things. He’s learning – he’s having a lot of things to learn. He’s going to be a good player for us one day. He’s learning to play at the NHL level. Overall I thought he had an ok game. He did some good things out there, and he’s in a position to learn a lot.”"

    Obviously, Roy wants that learing to continue at the major junior level for now.

    Right wing Kenny Ryan was released from his professional tryout contract.

    Other Lessons

    Of the 16 players released, six did not play in either split-squad game. Four played on the home squad with components of the Avalanche’s top-six forwards and best defensive pairing.

    Six players went to Anaheim with small sections of the Avalanche’s bottom-six forwards and bottom defensive pairings. It seems pretty clear that coach Roy was looking to put players through the ringer to see who washed out. Perhaps he was also getting a closer look at some bottom-six and bottom defensive parings possibilities.

    “(Bleackley) is going to be a good player for us one day.” — Patrick Roy

    In fact, that away squad for the Avalanche was… noteworthy. The Ducks ended up splitting their team pretty evenly with top-six, bottom-six and prospects. They sent their number-two line to Colorado, though new acquisition Ryan Kesler didn’t play. They also sent one of their top defensive pairings in Clayton Stoner and Sami Vatanen.

    The Avalanche, on the other hand, sent Nick Holden, Ryan Wilson and Nate Guenin along with Marc-Andre Cliche and Cody McLeod — and a whole bunch of prospects. Holden and Guenin were blueline surprises for the Avalanche last year, but neither is considered top-four. Ryan Wilson spent most of last season as a healthy scratch. These guys, plus the prospects, were tasked with stopping the Ducks’ top line of Corey Perry-Ryan Getzlaf-Dany Heatley. Perry and Getzlaf just won gold medals at the Olympics last year, and Heatley has had 40 and even 50-goal seasons.

    Cody McLeod was as good as their NHL-trained offense got — this was a man who earned his 500th penalty minute last season on a fight. That’s his role, along with energy.

    In the middle of all that was a goalie very controversial amongst the Avs Nation, Reto Berra. People are worried he’s not adequate back up for Semyon Varlamov, and they’re using last night’s performance as further proof.

    No, he didn’t perform great. However, to reiterate, what he had in front of him were bottom-pairing defensemen against Olympians and pure goal scorers. Was Patrick Roy testing him in a pressure cooker? It looks like it. Coach Roy hasn’t said yet what his takeaway was from that experience, but Roman Will and Calvin Pickard are the only goalie prospects he’s kept on the roster.

    I can’t imagine either of them as Varlamov’s backup.