Avs season preview: Part II - Forwards

Part I was Goalies. This is part II - Forwards

 Key Additions -  Jarome Iginla, Danny Briere, Jesse Winchester, Ben Street

Key Subtractions - Paul Stastny, PA Parenteau, MA Cliche

Edit: for some stupid reason, I thought the Avs did not re-sign of Cliche. Apologies for the error.

Let's start the position players with the elephant in the room: The Avs Corsi-tied last season was 22nd in the league. Their Fenwick-tied was 23rd. That's not good, and while it's possible to overcome a possession deficiency, it's extremely hard (and usually requires a good dose of... favorable random chance, which the Avs got in spades last season). The Avs needed to increase their possession game in order to maintain some of their success, and it's pretty hard to make the claim the Avs got much better at forward this offseason. 

What I see from a lot Avs fans saying: Iginla replaces Stastny, and Briere replaces Parenteau, who wasn't that good anyways

I see something a lot different

Jarome Iginla plays wing.  Iginla played perfectly fine minutes for Boston. He was on a line, almost exclusively, with Milan Lucic and David Kreiji, and they weren't on the ice against the toughest players the east had to offer (that honor went to Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson and Riley Smith, with a little Brad Marchand thrown in too). In the last three years he's put up 76-85-161 in 204 GP (.79ppg). 

Jarome Iginla is a winger who played against top line competition but took a lot of starts in his attacking zone, relative to his teammates. He had ok possession numbers, but nothing that jumps off the page. He's a possession positive, or at the very worst not an anchor. He had a very good 30-31-61 points line, and he was paired up almost exclusively with David Kreiji and Milan Lucic at even strength. In the last three years he's put up 76-85-161 in 204 GP (.79ppg).

Paul Stastny is a center. He was dynamite for possession and Stastny racked up his points (25-35-60) against some of the toughest competition in the NHL.  The Avs forwards who played the toughest minutes last season were: Ryan O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny. (Apologies to Mitchel and Talbot, who also had tough minutes, but against lesser competition). In the last 3 seasons he's  55-82-137 over 190gp (.72ppg)

Jarome Iginla isn't taking those minutes, especially the defensive ones. He's not a center, and he's not really capable of it. Whose going to replace those minutes in the defensize zone? Ryan O'Reilly already had a difficult workload, does he double down on it? How will that affect his offensive game? John Mitchell is a fine player, underrated in fact, but is he really that shutdown guy? Does anyone think MacKinnon is ready to take those tough draws in his own end against the Toews, Koivus and (sigh) Stastny's that lurk in our division? 

I don't see anyone on the Avs roster who can replace what Paul Stastny was brining to the team. 

PA Parenteau is a winger. He He played tough competition, (both years), but he was slightly sheltered in terms of zone starts. He was terrific possessionally. Last season was a down season (14-19-33 in 55 GP). But over the last three years he's got a line of 50-93-143 in 183gp (.78 ppg).  PA Parenteau may be the most underappreciated Av. He had a fantastic two year spell with the Avs, including a better PPG with the Avs than: Claude Lemieux, Gabe Landeskog, Chris Drury, Adam Deadmarsh, Ryan Smyth and Pierre Turgeon. While those guys aren't HoFers, that's a pretty impressive list.  Yes, he had a down season (0.55ppg) last season, but he battled injuries and at 31 with three other very productive years prior it's fairly likely he'll return at least mostly to form next season. 

When I look at the possession numbers I see: Iginla is an upgrade on Parenteau and no one replaces Stastny. That's a lot less palatable. You could probably argue that's unfair, because we're comparing only last season to this season, but then that changes to:

Iginla replaces Stastny's offense, No one replaces Stastny's defense, and who replaces PA?

Which brings us to Danny Briere, who had a terrible season (13-12-25). He played middling competition, but did so often from his own zone. He was ok possessionaly, in that role and he is a good bet to slot into a 3rd line with Mitchell and Talbot, I think.  In his prime, Danny Briere was another player I think was overlooked in his career. But I don't think he's going to be able to replace PAs contributions to the team. And at 36 it's significantly more likely that he'll never recover from his poor season. Ove the last three seasons he was 35-55-90 over 173 gp (.53ppg). The absolute best case is he almost covers for the loss of PAs career worst season. At 36 the most likely scenario is he bolster a weak bottom-6, and not much else. 

The one clear win for the Avs is replacing reducing MA Cliche's role with Jesse Winchester. Cliche may have been the worst non face-punching regular NHL forward last season. Winchester maybe be a below ave 4th liner, but he's an upgrade over Cliche. That said, the 4th line gets, what, 7 min a night? Downgrading in the top 6 and upgrading on the 4th line is still a significant downgrade. 

Overall, I think the Avs forward corps took 2 steps backwards this season, and I don't think they're going to be able to improve on either their Goals For, Goals Against, Corsi or Fenwick next season. For a team in the 20s in possession, that's big trouble. 

(Yes, there are young players on the Avs that will improve. I'll get to that in the Part - IV 'Others')