I used to have to write these “thoughts on the Avs at the quarter-pole, the halfway mark, the three-quarters pole and final season wrap-up” stories all the time in my former life as a mainstream media person. And, they were almost always manufactured bullcrap, necessitated by the tyranny of some artificial deadline, with only so much space allowed.

I have no space limitations here and nobody told me to write this. I just want to write about the Avs here, that’s all. The fact that it’s the quarter-pole of the season has nothing (ok, a little) to do with it.

I’m just going with five thoughts on how I see things with the Avs right now:

  1. The future really is, well, kind of bright for this team again – I don’t know how this all happened so fast, but the Avalanche is now the second-youngest team in the NHL, at 25.5 years of age on average. Their oldest player, Carl Soderberg, is 31. They don’t just have young guys. They have a lot of young, talented guys, guys who are hungry and really want to prove themselves. I look at Mikko Rantanen, and I see a happy-go-lucky Finn who has major talent and is just enjoying himself out there finally. I see linemate Nathan MacKinnon and I see a guy who also is finally having some fun again after a couple of hellish years, a guy who, when he gets full confidence in himself again, well…look out. He’s that’s good. I see a 19-year-old named Sam Girard who already seems to have the poise of a guy 10 years older, who never panics with a puck on his stick and can make plays most others just can’t. I see a rejuvenated captain, Gabe Landeskog, who seems to feel freer now to lead a truly international locker room, who has seen the lowest of the lows and never wants to go back. I see Alexander Kerfoot and I see an Adam Oates type of player, who can always spin away from pressure and find some open guy with the puck. I see J.T. Compher and I see hell on wheels, a throwback kind of kid who just goes hard every second he’s on the ice. I see Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie feeling re-energized and happier with all this new young blood all around them. I see a GM, Joe Sakic, who somehow pulled off a trade in which he got SEVEN assets for one disgruntled player in a recent trade. Three of those assets are first-, second- and third-round draft picks still to come. I see a “farm” system in which one defenseman, Cale Makar, is being touted by some as the best offensive defenseman prospect to come along since Erik Karlsson. I see other developing kids such as Conor Timmons and A.J. Greer and Ty Lewis and Dominic Toninato and I can’t help but be really enthused at what the future will keep bringing.
  2. Do I think they are a playoff team this year? I’d love to say yes, but then I look at the kind of game they played Saturday night in Nashville and I think “probably not yet.” There have still been games where they just look a little too overmatched by some opponents, and the Avs still have yet to play some other top teams such as Pittsburgh or Los Angeles or St. Louis on the road. There still seems to be an underlying feeling that Avs players know they’re not that good just yet. Maybe in certain home games they can feel like that, such as in recent wins over Chicago and Washington. But they still have yet to prove they can go into other really tough buildings and impose their will on those teams. Could they sneak in? Sure they could. But there’s still a lot of tough hockey to be played. As Claude Lemieux used to always remind me: “The real good teams don’t start really playing until after Christmas.”
  3. Joe Sakic deserves early consideration for GM of the year – Where are all the critics right now? Where are the “Sakic is in over his head”, “Sakic is just a nostalgic hire, he doesn’t know the business of hockey” people right now? The fact is, Sakic has rapidly transformed this organization, from too old and tired to young and energized, in just a few months. When everybody ridiculed Sakic for having unrealistic trade expectations for Matt Duchene, he got way more than anyone thought possible. He won the poker game that lasted until 5 a.m. He made the others blink first. And he deserves the credit for it, after heaps of ridicule the last two years.
  4. This is Erik Johnson’s team – I really think EJ is the real leader of this team. This is to take nothing away from Landeskog or MacKinnon or Barrie or any other veteran. But, to me, Erik Johnson is the real heart of this team now. He plays 27-30 minutes a night now and just really busts his tail every shift. He’s always accountable for his own play, always a stand-up guy in the dressing room, win or lose, and he really loves this organization and this city.
  5. I really hope the fans come back again, and keep the transplants at home – I know it shouldn’t, but it still ticks me off when I see the Pepsi Center half-filled with sweaters from the opposing team. Denver is a city where people want to come from all over to live, I get it. I did it myself, in 1991 as a New Hampshire transplant. And, for a few years, I wore Celtics and Red Sox jerseys to Nuggets and Rockies games and generally was one of those jackasses primping and pointing at the logo on my chest and trash-talking the people of the city in which I now lived. Shut those people up now. You live in Denver, so come on out to the game, put an Avs jersey on and keep it so the bandwagon, fairweather fans from other cities have to stay home and watch in on TV in their Colorado residences.

Adrian Dater

Adrian Dater is a staff writer with BSNDenver. He started his journalism career way, way back in 1988 as a proofreader with the Concord Monitor as a kid out of college (Keene State College), and has wended its way since with a 25-year stop at The Denver Post, 20 of which were spent as the beat writer of the Colorado Avalanche, from its inception in 1995. Adrian has also worked as a primary hockey writer with Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, The Hockey News, Versus.com and Bleacher Report. He is the author of seven sports books, including the best-selling “Blood Feud: Colorado Avalanche v. Detroit Red Wings, The Inside Story of Pro Sports’ Nastiest and Best Rivalry of Its Era” and “100 Things Avalanche Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die”, which was published in October, 2016.

  • DownIsTheNewUp

    Good write up Dater

    • Adrian Dater

      Thanks man

  • Randy

    All good points. I would add that Sakic has rebounded from a mess of his own making, especially on defense. After all, he gave up too much for Brad Stuart and then gave him a ridiculous contract, acquired Tyutin, Gelinas, Gormley and Bodnarchuk while leaving Siemens to rot on the vine, etc. However, the D looks a whole lot better now and for the near future. With the teens Girard, Timmins and Makar, and 22-year-olds Zadorov, Bigras and Lindholm, I’m optimistic.

    • arrowsmith

      I agree. “GM of the Year” remains debatable, but Sakic definitely deserves “most improved GM” if such an award existed. Much of the trouble he’s had to bail the franchise out of was his own doing. But he’s progressed from “learning” to “learned”, as evidenced by how sure-footed he has been throughout the Duchene ordeal, not to mention the targeted buy-outs of the dead weight and this team’s embrace (finally) of long-term development.

    • hockeyavs23

      Except those are all guys Patrick Roy wanted. I’ve said from the beginning it was Roy’s team. He was in charge of player personnel and hockey ops. When it became clear that Roy’s system was failing, Sakic stepped in and took control. Roy didn’t like that and left. Since then, Sakic has put the Avs in a direction, something that they hadn’t had since who knows when. He stated he wanted to get faster and younger. He went out and got guys like Matt Nieto and Barberio who can both skate. He got rid of Martinsen to get Andrighetto who has been ridiculously productive for the team. Found Nemeth on waivers, who has been a pleasant surprise when he’s not injured.

      • Jimbotronn

        I agree. Although it’s pretty much impossible to say with any certainty who did what when Roy and Sakic were essentially co-GMs, this team had Roy’s fingerprints all over it, and that carried through last season too even though he’d already left. Since Sakic took over, I’ve seen a pretty clear path forged to create the sort of team he envisioned… and a lot of that path includes some very obvious steps away from the way things were done when Roy was in the fold.

        That’s not to absolve Sakic of his part in making the mess with Roy as his co-pilot, because as Randy and arrowsmith point out he was in charge and signed off on all of the moves that put them where they ended up. As the GM he had the final say on the players they brought in, and for that matter he was the one who gave a rookie head coach an unprecedented amount of power to shape the team beyond the coaching side of things in the first place. But obviously there came a time where Sakic believed in his vision of the team enough to really start push back against Roy’s vision, and that’s where Roy got frustrated and left. And since the day he started pushing back, I think Sakic’s moves have been good bordering on extremely good, and as the roster gets closer to the sort of team he envisions, the more competitive they get and the more fun they are to watch.

        • bob_w

          Instead of accusing Sakic of making the mess of the past few years I think that he was being patient. The new blood on this team this season was not yet mature enough or available to the Avs until this year. So he had to sign off on some less than optimal players while waiting for the right ones to become developed or available. Certainly a couple of mistakes were made with contract terms but that is part of the learning process for any new GM. There is no denying the fact that he is the engineer of the talent in our farm system. The real measure of Sakic as a GM will be in how well he continues to keep new talent flowing into the development pipeline even as the currently developing players mature and move to the NHL.

  • Charlie Anderson

    Great point about EJ. I’ve been thinking the same this whole season. He seems like he’s right now turning into the player the Avs were hoping for when they traded for him. And he looks like the obvious leader of the team at this point. The way he conducts himself on and off the ice is reminding me of how the best athlete’s in the world carry themselves. He’s got the conditioning now, and that look in his eye. I’m WAY impressed by him this year. Gotta be one of the top 10 players in the league so far, IMO.

    • hockeyavs23

      He’s looking like the player the Blues thought they were drafting in 06!

    • Colorado Gary

      Plus EJ is the one who essentially said to Duchene “don’t let the door hit you on the a$$ on the way out!”

  • Ace O’Dale

    Alexander Kerfoot compared with Adam Oates? Interesting. Hadn’t thought of him in that respect. When I was first watching him, two other players came to mind: Paul Statsny and Peter Bondra.

    There’s definitely potential for any of those. But he really needs to work on winning face-offs and shooting the puck more.

  • Daniel Henderson

    All good points!

  • OCMS

    Good combo of optimism and reality (with a little more in the way of optimism which I am OK with). The players you mention will hopefully keep improving and the team gets better as the season progresses. If they are within spitting distance of the playoffs with 5-10 games to go, that will be a huge success for this team.

    Sakic deserved the criticism he received and he deserves praise for the trade. What he got for Duchene was not what he was trying for during the past season. BSN/Dater regularly reported that Sakic wanted a NHL ready top 4 D-man 25 years or younger. Sakic deserves credit for getting so much, but let’s not pretend that he stuck to his guns and waited everyone out when he changed what he was asking for.

    Don’t forget that Sakic’s first major move as a GM was to hire Roy, so if people want to blame Roy for all of the past ills of this team, then Sakic by extension, owns that blame, as well. Sakic was lucky that Roy quit, because if he hadn’t Roy would still be coach and this team would still be in neutral.