This week in our NHL debate, we're going to roll with the SportsJudge theme and rule "Sustained" or "Overruled" on a number of early trends throughout the NHL. Hot topics include the fast start by the Colorado Avalanche, Rene Bourque's breakout season potential, and where Marc-Andre Fleury stands on the Team Canada depth chart.
Marc-Andre Fleury has proven he should be the starter for Team Canada in this spring's Olympics...
Joe Romano: SUSTAINED. I know some of my Penguins bias will seep in here, but I think Fleury is currently the best goaltender from my northerly neighbor. MAF is quickly becoming one of the best goaltenders in the world. He has already started the 2009 season on a strong note after leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup last season. Other than a hiccup against the Capitals, MAF was arguably the best goaltender in the playoffs. We can't forget the 2008 playoffs when he carried the Pens to the finals with a sub-2.0 GAA. He simply is currently the best Canadian goaltender playing hockey.
Onto his competition, Luongo is over two years removed from actually carrying a team, who already plays in a conservative system. Additionally, when the Canucks lost in the playoffs, much blame could be placed on Luongo's shoulders for more than a few soft goals. Sure, he's nasty in NHL10, but this isn't Xbox Live. Next is Brodeur, who certainly is no spring chicken. The past three playoffs by Brodeur have been marred by less than spectacular performances. Many Devils fans are still wondering how he almost personally handed the Hurricanes a first round win. You also need to go back to 2006 to find the last playoffs where Brodeur shined. Lastly, we have Cam Ward. It completely boggles my mind how much people have fallen in love with him over last year's playoffs. We are talking about a goalie who has been mediocre for most of his NHL career except for six rounds in the playoffs. Even in last year's playoffs he shined against average offenses (Boston and New Jersey), but was completely outmatched by the Pens. The competition is solid, but MAF has an advantage over each.
Mike Colligan: OVERRULED. I don't buy it. I think Fleury is an excellent goaltender and is really beginning to come into his own as one of the league's elite young talents, but it would be in Team Canada's best interest to put him on the team as the #3 goaltender to be sure he's ready for Sochi 2014. 2010 in Vancouver is Roberto Luongo's time to shine. He's off to a slow start this year (which is a yearly occurrence), but he finished with a 33-13-7 record to go along with 9 shutouts last season despite missing two months with a groin injury. Luongo served as Brodeur's understudy in the 2004 World Cup and 2006 Olympics and now deserves the chance to win a gold for Team Canada in a place he knows very well.
Some combination of Fleury, Cam Ward, and Steve Mason will eventually backstop Team Canada's gold medal hopes for the next two Olympics, but our Canadian readers probably still haven't forgotten (or even forgiven) Fleury for his "goal" in the 2004 World Junior Championships that sealed the victory for the US. As much as I expect Mike Babcock to shake things up this spring for Team Canada, I think Fleury needs to learn from the guys who've been there before.
Rene Bourque will fill the void left by Michael Cammalleri for Calgary...
Mike Colligan: SUSTAINED. I'm guessing I'll be in the minority on this one, but I don't think it's a matter of will he replace Cammalleri, he needs to. Rene Bourque has 25 goals in 66 career games with Calgary which equates to an 82-game pace of 31; all while never finding consistent time opposite Jarome Iginla. In Cammalleri's two seasons on LA prior to his breakout with Iginla, he was on a nearly identical goal-scoring pace and eventually tallied 39 last year. Iginla has been off to a slow start so far this season and new head coach Brent Sutter has been trying to find the right mix of players to get him rolling. Sutter has also given Bourque quite a bit of powerplay time, something Rene never received much of last year under Mike Keenan. It seems inevitable that Bourque eventually ends up on a line with Iginla, and centerman Daymond Langkow (who Bourque and Iginla have both had chemistry with in previous years). If that's the case, I think Calgary may be facing the same challenge of resigning a breakout free agent scorer next summer with Rene Bourque.
Joe Romano: OVERRULED. Bourque is a nice player, a decent two-way forward that helps on both ends of the ice, but nobody is confusing him with a 40-goal scorer, which Cammalleri was. Bourque has no track record as a goal scorer, he only has 54 goals in four full seasons. He also doesn't have the pre-NHL pedigree to be a goal scorer. In four years in college, he never passed a half a goal per game mark, nor did he do it in the AHL. Bourque also wasn't even drafted. Sure, there are late bloomers, but I don't see it here.
To fill Cammalleri's shoes he needs to get to about 35 goals, and it won't happen. This doesn't mean he can't approach 55-60 points, which makes him a decent fantasy winger especially at his price, but he won't replace what was lost with Cammalleri. At 28 years old, Bourque may be hitting his prime, but you can't dress up ground chuck and try to pass it off as filet.
Darren Coslov: OVERRULED. Rene Bourque without question is a strong two-way player that plays with an edge. His size and speed on the wing is a contributing factor to the Calgary Flames offense. However, I really believe he lacks consistency in order to be a replacement for Michael Cammalleri. His speed will never go unnoticed in Western Canada, but without the skills of a scoring winger and the consistency he lacks in term of playing with an edge, it’ll be difficult to fill Cammalleri's shoes. Bourque’s stats are on the rise in terms of goal scoring since the 2006 campaign and may just hit the 30 goal mark at some point, but I don’t think he will truly become the intelligent all-around goal scorer as Michael Cammalleri has become.
Colorado Avalanche off to 6-1-1 start and are for real...
Darren Coslov: SUSTAINED - This hockey club looks really good early on, responding to head coach Joe Sacco in every which way, including an impressive hard fought comeback against the Red Wings on Saturday. Those are the types of games that can do wonders for a young franchise. At certain times though, they still find themselves revisiting last year, by gripping the sticks too tight trying to maintain a lead. Instead of using the success factors they have created early on, they are sitting back on their heels and allowing the opposition to move in and threaten them on the score sheet. How they respond to these situations, is going to determine exactly where these guys are headed. So far so good, as the character building blocks continue to come together. Their record certainly indicates a lot of good things, but they are probably still a little bit away from becoming a Cup ontender again. For now, if the Avalanche can continue to learn from coach Joe Sacco and build off the success they have created early on, they are way ahead of the game.
Joe Romano: OVERRULED, sort of. Yeah, its a cop out, but I think the Avalanche are a solid team with a great foundation to build from. However, I don't think they are win-the-division good, more like merely make the playoffs good. They have two potential superstar forwards in Stastny and Duchene to build around, but they will also significantly contribute this year. Many also forget about Wojtek Wolski, once upon a time he was a top prospect who put up 22 goals in his rookie season. If Wolski is becoming what many believed he would become, the Avs will have a dangerous offense.
On the defensive side of things, the Avs sport a few average defenders, but made a huge pick up by grabbing Kyle Quincey from the Kings in the Ryan Smyth trade. Quincey is a solid two way defenseman that can really contribute on offense. The biggest question, though, is in net. Craig Anderson has been a very good back up, and, if he can become a very good starting goalie, the Avs could be a tough team to beat. There are just too many questions to sustain this, but there is enough there not to overrule it. I'll take it under advisement.
Mike Colligan: OVERRULED. It's been a nice start, but I think Joe hit the nail on the head. Craig Anderson hasn't been tested under the workload he'll receive this year and will wear out in the second half if they keep riding him like they've been. They remind me of Columbus a couple years ago, with a few great forwards but just not nearly enough depth to contend with the elite in the West.