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Will Jarome Iginla Signing Prevent a 2014-15 Letdown for Colorado Avalanche?

Boston Bruins' Jarome Iginla skates against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period of Boston's 4-1 win in Game 2 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series in Boston Sunday, April 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Winslow Townson/Associated Press
Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistJuly 1, 2014

One way or the other, summer seemed certain to usher in change in Denver. With a number of high-profile pending free agents and a desire to continue improving the team after a tremendously successful 2013-14 campaign, the Avalanche management group was busy both on the trade front and in unrestricted free agency.

The highlight was the signing of former Boston Bruins right wing Jarome Iginla, per ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun.

But activity doesn't always translate to improvement, and it isn't at all clear that Colorado is a better team now than it was a few days ago.

Between trade and free agency, the team is essentially replacing four departing players with four others:

Avalanche additions and subtractions
DepartureAverage 82 gamesArrivalAverage 82 games
Paul Stastny24 goals, 59 pointsJarome Iginla31 goals, 65 points
P.A. Parenteau22 goals, 64 pointsDaniel Briere17 goals, 43 points
Brad Malone6 goals, 14 pointsJesse Winchester8 goals, 21 points
Andre Benoit7 goals, 27 pointsBrad Stuart4 goals, 16 points
NHL.com

Average 82-game performance based on the last three seasons for each player.

The raw numbers don't look great, and in each case, the Avs added a player who was older than the one he was replacing on the roster.

Iginla is 37, as Briere will be early in October, and Stuart turns 35 in November. Those three key players are all in their twilight years and all reasonably high risks to fall off a performance cliffthough both Stuart and Briere are in the final years of their current deals, which minimizes risk.

Looking at the moves in more detail doesn't help matters much.

ST. PAUL, MN - APRIL 28: Paul Stastny #26 of the Colorado Avalanche skates with the puck against the Minnesota Wild during Game Six of the First Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 28, 2014 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Ph
Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

Colorado's exceptional depth at centreMatt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O'Reilly and John Mitchell can all play top-nine minutes at the positionmeans that subbing in a winger such as Iginla for Stastny isn't a problem positionally.

What does hurt is that Stastny played tougher minutes than Iginla—both saw a high quality of competition, but Iginla had a pile of offensive-zone starts, while Stastny generally started in the defensive zone—and drove possession, while Iginla relied heavily on finishing ability and had middling shot metrics.

Some might say "tomayto, tomahto," but Iginla's numbers are going to get worse if he isn't given the kind of favourable usage he had in Bostonand that means Stastny's defensive zone load will shift to someone else.

The loss of Stastny makes the departure of Parenteau uglier, too.

At five on five, the two were Colorado's top regular forwards in Corsi percentage. Moreover, when they were on the ice, the Avalanche scored 56.7 percent and 54.5 percent, respectively, of all goals tallied.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Newcomer Briere wasn't exactly a dud in Montreal, but he was basically treading water in terms of both goals and Corsi. He also slipped down the Canadiens' lineup in the postseasonit's difficult to understand why the Avs preferred him to Parenteau.

The net result is that Colorado moved two critical five-on-five pieces for a pair of players who are going to need to shoot the lights out because they aren't likely to win the shots battle.

Mar 24, 2014; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; San Jose Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart (7) skates against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 2-1 in the shootout. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

On defence, the Avs made something of a name addition by trading for Stuart, but again, it isn't obvious that he's a big upgrade on the still-unsigned Andre Benoit.

Benoit played key minutes on defence, taking on second-pairing opponents and playing a role on both special teams. His underlying numbers hovered around the team average.

Stuart played similar minutes for much of the year in San Jose, and he underperformed compared to the team's totals. The Sharks were a better team, but even allowing for that, this is probably only a wash. Benoit also played power-play minutes, but Colorado should be able to replace those internally.

The only obvious upgrade is the move from Brad Malone to Jesse Winchester, and that's happening far enough down the lineup that its impact will be muted.

However, Colorado's biggest problem isn't that it seems to have downgraded in free agency.

Its biggest problem is that last year's results were fuelled by an uncanny shooting accuracy at five on five (8.8 percent at even strength, the second-best total in the NHL) and the brilliance of goalie Semyon Varlamov, who went from a miserable .903 save percentage to a brilliant .927 total.

DENVER, CO - APRIL 30:  Goalie Semyon Varlamov #1 of the Colorado Avalanche looks on during a break in the action against the Minnesota Wild in Game Seven of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Pepsi Center on April 30, 2014 in Denver,
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Few teams can sustain a shooting percentage so far above the NHL average year over year, and if the Avalanche fail to, their goal totals will take a big hit.

Varlamov is almost certainly better than his 2012-13 .903 save percentage performance, but his career average is significantly lower than what he did in 2013-14. If he steps back toward his career average, Colorado is going to allow a lot more goals than it did last season.

How big of a drop are we talking? If Varlamov goes back to a career-average save percentage and the Avalanche shoot at an NHL-average rate in 2014-15 (the team's shooting percentage was below league averages in both 2011-12 and 2013 in five-on-five situations), the team would score 20 fewer goals and allow 21 more.

As the Avs only posted a plus-30 goal differential in 2013-14, a 41-goal drop would likely put them outside the playoffs in the competitive West next season.

Major improvements were needed over the summer. We haven't seen them yet.

 

Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com, ExtraSkater.com and CapGeek.com unless otherwise noted.

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