When news broke yesterday that Patrick Roy would be going back to the well and putting defensemen Nate Guenin and Tyson Barrie on a pairing together, Twitter lit up with a reaction that was overwhelmingly negative. Let's take a look:
Roy might just be testing things out in practice today. The idea of Guenin back with Barrie on opening night is horrifying, though.
That's just a tiny sampling of the multi-hour tirade that ensued on social media yesterday. The feeling permeating throughout the unhappy section of the fan base was this was more of the same from Head Coach Patrick Roy; the mistakes of last year being repeated and dooming this year's Avalanche team before it even gets off the ground. Out of curiosity, I decided to take a look back at last year's opening night roster and see just how far the Avalanche have come. Is it really more of the same?
On October 8, 2014 the Avalanche walked into Minnesota for their season opener and got smoked 5-0 in a game that was close until the puck actually dropped. The Avs were outshot 48-16 and the highlight was Reto Berra stopping all 10 shots he faced in relief of battered starter Semyon Varlamov. While not the fondest of memories, let's dig a little deeper and look back at the lineup (lines/pairings are approximate given fluidity of changes throughout a game):
Jamie McGinn - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay - Nathan MacKinnon - Daniel Briere
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Dennis Everberg
Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Max Talbot
SCRATCHED: Jesse Winchester
Brad Stuart - Erik Johnson Jan Hejda - Tyson Barrie
Nick Holden - Nate Guenin
SCRATCHED: Ryan Wilson, Zach Redmond
Players who will not be in the arena for the Avalanche on opening night are bolded. When you compare that lineup to the expected opening night lineup for tomorrow night, you can see plenty of room to continue being optimistic despite the inclusion Guenin and potentially Stuart. Take a look at projections for Thursday night:
Blake Comeau – Matt Duchene – Jarome Iginla
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Alex Tanguay Mikko Rantanen – Carl Soderberg – Borna Rendulic
Cody McLeod – John Mitchell – Jack Skille
SCRATCHED: Mikhail Grigorenko
Francois Beauchemin – Erik Johnson
Nate Guenin – Tyson Barrie Nikita Zadorov – Brad Stuart
SCRATCHED: Nick Holden, Brandon Gormley
New players are highlighted in bold, except John Mitchell, who was an Av last year but was hurt on opening night and unavailable to play. Just looking at these lineups, it's unfair to criticize Roy for going with "more of the same" simply because the Guenin - Barrie pairing has been put back together. The Avalanche have made positive strides in roster construction and while the lineup may not be ideal on day one, opening night rosters never look the same by the end of the season anyway. For example, compare last year's opening night roster above to the one iced for game 82:
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Alex Tanguay
John Mitchell - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod - Joey Hishon - Marc-Andre Cliche Jordan Caron - Freddie Hamilton - Daniel Briere
Duncan Siemens - Tyson Barrie
Nick Holden - Nate Guenin Jan Hejda - Zach Redmond
Again, players who are no longer either in the organization or on the Avalanche roster are bolded. Injuries clearly play a huge role in the development of a season as the Game 82 lineup features several key players out of action, most notable Erik Johnson and Nathan MacKinnon.
The amount of roster overhaul from Game 82 to opening night of this season is also striking. Basically the entire bottom two lines have been completely replaced and it's almost impossible to say it isn't a clear and significant upgrade. While players like Rantanen and Rendulic surely aren't proven in the NHL yet, they would have to put up incredible showings of futility to match the type of possession and production the Game 82 lineup bottom six produced.
All in all, I thought it interesting to take a look at the opening night rosters to see how much has changed in just one season. Avalanche fans certainly have reasons to be optimistic even if there remains plenty of work to do, especially along the blue line.