At this point, you’ve probably heard the rumors.  Gabe Landeskog to the Boston Bruins. Matt Duchene to the Carolina Hurricanes. We even took a stab at creating some of our own.

The unfortunate truth of sitting 30th in the NHL as the March 1st Trade Deadline looms is that the trade rumors are unavoidable. The Avalanche’s core players – Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabe Landeskog, Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, and Semyon Varlamov – have found themselves particularly hard hit by the storm.

Even though most of the team’s issues stem from a lack of depth, there are some concerns about whether or not the styles, positions, and ages of the core players mesh well with GM Joe Sakic‘s view of the future.  With dysfunction mounting and attendance and tv viewership falling, it seems a blockbuster trade is simply a matter of time.

Or… not.

As it turns out, there are even more reasons why patience with the core is a better option.

For one, every single member of the core is signed to a cap-friendly deal through the summer of 2019.  Even the upcoming players – Mikko Rantanen, Tyson Jost, A.J. Greer, J.T. Compher, Nikita Zadorov, Chris Bigras, Calvin Pickard, and others – will all still be cost-controlled restricted free agents well past that date.

That means that every deal, every rumored core trade has at least a 2-year window before a decision must be made.  This is not a Ryan O’Reilly situation where he intended to leave in free agency that coming summer.  The Avs are at near-zero risk of losing these players for quite some time, so there is absolutely no rush on pulling the trigger of a big deal.

Besides, it’s not like the core players have values that are going to drop off before the start of next year.  Even the oldest core players – Johnson and Varlamov – are only 28, which still leaves two years at minimum before age becomes a concern.  If anything, the core’s value will probably rise next season once prospects and new depth signings add much-needed skill to the lineup.

Everyone’s poor numbers this season will only give ammo to other GMs trying to drive down their price.  Any moves made this year could easily result in selling low on assets, which is, needless to say, not a good way to build a successful hockey team.

The impact of the bizarre events of this summer can’t be overlooked either.  After the draft, after free agency, and after all the big-name coaches had been hired, Patrick Roy decided to leave the team mere weeks before training camp.  New selection Jared Bednar had no time to hire his own staff or have much input on the roster.

The results have been a half Roy-style, half Bednar-style mess.  Many of the players that Roy favored in his more grinding style simply cannot play Bednar’s upbeat systems, leading to a mishmash of tempos on the ice.  Two of the assistants on the bench, Tim Army and Dave Farrish, are holdovers from Roy’s staff.  Their adjustments have not gone well, leaving the Avs in the bottom five in both special teams categories.

To make matters worse, four of the six Avs core players have missed significant time due to injury.  The three skaters – Duchene, Landeskog, and Johnson – have missed a combined 31 man-games and counting.  While all teams have to deal with injuries, for a club as thin on high-end talent as the Avs, there is no doubt that their losses pack more of punch to overall team performance.

(Solid bars indicate games missed to injury. Faded bar indicates their presence in the 10-game rolling average)

Two other relatively healthy core players have had unexpectedly poor seasons.  Tyson Barrie‘s offense has run dry for large stretches of the year, and his shooting percentage is still well below his average.  He’s also been on the ice for far more ugly goals against than expected this year.  However, the biggest under-achiever has been Semyon Varlamov, who is currently sporting by far the worst save percentage and goals against average numbers of his career.  The same can be said for his backup, Calvin Pickard.

Add in a healthy dose of team-wide bad luck – only one team since ’07-08 has finished the season with a combined save/shooting % (PDO) lower than the Avs current 97.04 – and this year has been a painful statistical outlier on just about every front.

Luckily, the chances of remaining this far below norms for long are very, very slim.  The Avs also have at least 10 depth players with expiring contracts this summer, which means Bednar will likely get a roster far more tailored to his needs.  There will be ample time to sort out personnel issues, and the projected top 4 pick and influx of likely NHL-ready prospects (such as Greer, Compher, and Bigras) will help the overall talent on the roster.

Even without a big trade, it is almost impossible for the team not to rebound next season.  Holding off a year on any core-player deal gives them a chance to evaluate not only how well the current six mesh with the future of the franchise, but also how well the prospects can fill into those core spots in the event of a trade.

Gaining this certainty costs very little, so why would the Avs front office not take advantage?  Even if the core does need to be reset, the timing of the move makes far more sense a year from now than it does at the present.

While there’s a possibility another general manager offers up a deal too great to refuse, making a big trade for the sake of making a trade is destined to end poorly for the Avalanche.  As long as Sakic works on clearing out the Roy-style depth players through February and into the summer, sweeping the rest of the conclusions drawn from this awful, fluky year into the trash bin is the most logical and sound course of action.

Emotions are high right now – no one likes losing.  Yet if even half as many things go right next year as went wrong this season, the turn around in Denver could come sooner than many think.

Leave the core be. Wipe the slate clean this summer.  Reassess next year.  Then, and only then, is it time to make the course-correcting trades.

Patience won’t sell tickets, and it won’t sell hope. But it just might salvage this “rebuild” and keep Sakic from making a career-defining mistake.

Andi Duroux

As a Colorado native and relative newcomer to hockey, Andi grew up following college basketball before switching sports in 2010. Since that time, she's developed a passion for learning about the icy game and sharing that knowledge with others. Her focus on history, in-depth analysis, and statistical research provides a unique take on both the Colorado Avalanche and the NHL as a whole.

  • Tbone Haberer

    Agreed! No knee jerk reactions please. 50% roster turnover should be expected but hopefully none of the “core”.

  • Chris Hopkins

    My only disagreement with what you said is that waiting a year isn’t a move without cost. Ultimately this is a business and I feel certain in saying the Avs are most likely taking a huge loss financially this year. I also feel comfortable in saying that if they stand pat and bring this same team to Denver next year with a few new prospects, no one is showing up to the can. It’ll take being firmly entrenched in the central top 3 in late February for fans to come back to this group of players, in my opinion.

    Also you definitely are depreciating an asset. As much as saying “wait until they get a better supporting cast to judge them” and framing that as they’ll be better, what if they are worse?? At that point your only hope is they go to South Korea and kill it to salvage value if then you want to trade them. At current, I have to believe it’s still fresh in people around the league’s mind that just a couple months ago 9/92 played exceeding well internationally for countries that are loaded with talent.

    At current I don’t think Sakic is looking to make a trade to make a trade. It appears he’s asking a reasonably good price and if he gets it he’s got to seriously consider it. Right now the Avs have the best pieces available. Waiting until next year who knows. StL could decide they need a rebuild, Tavares will probably be on the block, if Dallas and Nashville miss the playoffs they could blow things up next year with another struggle. All that could spell disaster if then you decide to trade them then. Because obviously if you want to trade them a year from now, they’ve only gotten worse, and if the league has better options you are not going to get the value you will right now.

    Lastly, along with my earlier thought, if the Pepsi center is going to average 10,000 fans next season reguardless of who’s on the ice, doesn’t it make sense for them to start that rebuild now from a business stand point? Why push that back another year? How long can dad be distracted with stabbing StL in the back and fleecing LA and pissing off north London before he looks at the credit card statement and goes “wtf are you doing with the hockey team, son?” Not so sure lil kronk wants to find out.

    • AJ Haefele

      I’m with you. While I’m not pounding the table for the Avs to trade either guy, I think the time is right to do it if that’s the decision to be made. They’re already in last place so why are we worrying about them getting any worse right now? They’re the only guys on the block right now that move the needle in this way.

      Part of the value of trading a Duchene in-season right now is the team acquiring him has three playoff runs of his services before he’s a free agent. There’s definitely value in that versus doing it in the summer when they’ll only have one two playoff runs before his contract runs out. The longer you wait to do this, the more the value of the already-signed contracts will go down. Even if you get a team to agree to the same kind of deal a year from now that you could get today, it delays everything about the process by one more year. It’s a year the first round pick they acquired could be developing and one year closer to contributing in the NHL alongside the NEXT core.

      I just think if this is what they’re going to do, get the ask you want, and move on with your business. The more tap-dancing they do hurts everyone involved. Pick a direction and go.

      PS “Lil Kronk” is hilarious

    • WyoX

      I can’t believe this is even coming up again. In 2013-2014, the Avs had five players with over 60 points. The Avs finished the year with 112 points and a playoff berth. Sakic then let one of those scorers go, Paul Stastny, for nothing. The next year there were no 60 point scorers and as expected the resulting finish also fell to 90 points and seventh in the Central Division. With no 60 point scorers, Sakic decided to get rid of one of the 50 point scorers, Ryan O’Reilly, for the talent equivalent of a dozen wooden hockey sticks and a case of Lebatts. Naturally, this led to even fewer Avs points (82) and a 6th place finish in the Central Division. This year the Avs lose Eric Johnson and naturally they fall off a cliff. Though I don’t think Sakic had anything to do with Eric Johnson’s injury.
      The point is the Avs have tried to get better by getting rid of good players and it hasn’t worked!! Now Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Rielly had no intention of staying in Colorado and injuries do happen. But the idea of getting rid of the young, most talented players on purpose is inexcusable.
      Further, people are putting all kinds of faith that Sakic will get an exceptional deal for our best players. What the hell gives anyone the idea that Sakic won’t be anything but royally fleeced in any trade? Aside from letting Stastny go for nothing and O’Reilly go for next to nothing, Sakic signed Brad Stuart to a contract so ridiculous that Stuart was required to pick up his check with a mask and a gun, locked Iginla to a contract that would take him till he was 87, wasted a first round draft pick on Connor Bleackley, and is largely responsible for assembling the Ice Capades group that takes the ice every night. I do not trust Sakic any further than I can throw him. When Joe Sacco and his wheel of ineptitude left, the Avs had two choices. Bring in an experienced head coach and an experienced GM and staff and begin to rebuild the AVs in the new salary cap era; or bring in heroes from the past, place them in positions of authority that they have no business being in, and market the crap out of “a return to the glory days” in hopes of keeping butts in seats. Well the novelty of seeing our hero’s sitting in the owner’s box has seriously worn off.
      It is time for Sakic to become VP in Charge of Counting Paper Clips, bring in a GM with experience, augment our “core “and start building a “supporting cast” with actual NHL level players.

  • AR

    I agree that trading for the sake of it makes no sense. The best one I read about was with Ottawa for Chabot, Colin White and a pick for Duchene. I would probably make that trade but Ottawa may not. Chabot is as best as we could get for a defence prospect, White showed up well in the World Junior.
    The problem with trading during the season is the salary cap. Even more complicated this year is the expansion draft. Teams will not want to add players as it could mean leaving an additional player unprotected in the expansion draft.
    Now the big question mark is Sakic. I have been a big fan of him since his days in Quebec. Unfortunately, so far his job as GM has not matched his playing days. No point of coming back on Stasny, that was painful. ROR’s return so far has not been good but hopefully next year JTC and Greer make the team and are better than anything we currently have on line 3-4. I doubt we will ever win that trade but at least we got something for him.
    Defence has been a problem for years and still is. The last two years they came close to be able to pick a defenceman in the draft but Mtl picked Serg… this year. There were some good ones the previous year as well but they were picked before Avs selection. This year there is only only top defensemen, Finish guy currently ranked second. Foote is ranked later in the first round. Somehow they have to pick some defense in the draft, all will depend on where the finish. Patrick is ranked number 1. Would be interesting to see what they would do if they do have the first pick.
    What is killing us is the players Sakic has signed to fill line 3-4 and bottom defensemen. This is simply atrocious and he has to be accountable for that. Bourque, Colborne, Comeau, Gelinas, Tyutin, Wiercioch. Paying up for Iginla was ok at the time but the third year is not pretty. Beauchemin is killing us this year and he has one more year to go. Soderbergh was the replacement for ROR. Needless to say that did not work out and he still has two years to go on his contract.
    Sakic has never been vocal as a player and is the same as GM. I wish he would come out more. I hope he is done with trading low round picks, stop signing veterans for 3 years and stop signing gap players no one else want.
    Hopefully next year JTC, Greer, Jost (if he signs and is ready) make the team so we can get rid of some of the dead bodies. Beaudin may be ready at some time next year. Hope to get that defensemen from Finland as their first pick wherever they pick in the draft.
    Bring Siemen and see what he can do. The year is done so nothing to lose really. Bigras just came back from injury so prob need a bit more time.
    All in all, unless they get a really good offer then there is no point of making a trade. It would kill me to see Duchene or Landy doing well with another team and lose on the trade (again…)

  • dstal89756

    I have to disagree with your premise for this article. I don’t believe a team that sits in last place in its league can categorically say we are not trading any of our core assets. While I agree you don’t trade a Landeskog or Duchene is a panic move, it certainly is prudent to shop them and attempt to generate competing offers. The first question you have to ask yourself is, if we stay the course for the next two years as you propose will we have a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup? Looking at this team I believe most experts would say no.If you allow for two more years of draft choices and a few free agents to be added to this roster, you are still lacking the components to win a Cup.
    What is lacking from this team? Historically, Stanley Cup champions will have a dominant number one defenseman, a dominant number one center, a sniper, a top ten goal tender and a highly effective 3rd line that can essentially shut down opposing number one lines. Winning teams also have depth throughout the roster. Does every Cup champion have all of these components? No, not all of these pieces but they certainly have a series of these pieces on a championship roster.
    The Avalanche as currently constructed are lacking that dominant defenseman, the sniper, the effective third line and it is safe to say that Varlamov has not shown to be that top ten goaltender capable of getting on a hot streak and carrying a team deep into the playoffs. The key term here is the playoffs. Certainly Varlamov has shown flashes of brilliance in the regular season but can he be consistent enough and play at a high level in the playoffs? By staying the course can you continue to expose Varlamov to high shot totals and sub-standard defensive support and expect his long term game to not be affected? The NHL is littered with promising goalies who were exposed by poor support and ocnsequentially there careers never reached their potential.
    By shopping a core member of this current team the Avalanche could potentially fill multiple holes in their organization. If they choose to hit the reset button, then you certainly have to adjust expectations for another two years. If you do that then you have to ask yourself is it possible to resign Duchene when his contract expires after the 2018-19 season or would it be beneficial to move him along with Landeskog. Certainly the Avalanche are not pressured to move anyone from the core but with the expansion draft on the horizon, the time might be right to create an innovative strategy to upgrade this team.
    Certain teams will be hard pressed to protect all of their assets from the expansion draft. By exposing players such as Soderberg and Varlamov in the expansion draft (Losing One) the Avalanche could essentially lope off $25 million in contracts when coupled with expiring contracts and potentially trades. With this type of flexibility the Avalanche could then agree to retain a portion of Duchene’s contract and/or Landeskog’s contract in return for a richer return of players, prospects and draft picks. By retaining a portion of salary, you expand the number of teams you can deal with. With no major contracts to hand out over the next two years the Avalanche can easily accommodate this. It is certainly a very unique time in roster management and with the right plan the Avalanche could conceivably turn two core players into 7 or 8 prospects, draft picks or players on a entry level contract. Couple this with Greer, Jost, Compher and Bigrass the Avalanche could be flush with a young and exciting roster.