Paul Stastny knows what it’s like to be a miserable player with the Colorado Avalanche. He was part of some of those dismal teams that helped land lottery picks in the NHL draft, part of the post-Sakic-Forsberg-Roy player days that propelled a swift decline from the glory days.
But even Stastny has to admit it’s something of a shock when he looks at the standings and sees just how far the Avs have fallen again. After another dreadful effort in a 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues Sunday night, the Avs’ record dropped to 17-44-3.
It’s not that Stastny is chuckling about it, not like he’s eager to publicly proclaim, “Told you so”, after leaving the Avs as an unrestricted free agent in 2014. He still has friends on the Avs, still keeps in touch with several of them. True, he’s a competitor now, a division rival.
If a word could best describe how Stastny feels toward the plight of the Avs, it might be: Empathetic.
“You look at the standings, and you don’t think that a team…”
Can have that kind of record in this age of parity, Stastny seemed to want to say, before realizing that might come off as too haughty.
“On any given night, (Colorado) can beat the best team, but if you’re not ready, if you don’t play up to top standards. … I’ve been in a situation like (that). You’re a fragile team and you don’t have a lot of confidence. As an opposing team, you just try to get that first one and take the will of that team.”
Stastny was the Blues player who did just that Sunday, scoring three minutes, 56 seconds into the game to give St. Louis the only goal Jake Allen would need in the end. He tapped in a chance around the crease and punctuated the moment by jumping into the glass behind the net where his wife and 18-month-old daughter sat.
Yes, Stastny is a father now, no longer the peach-fuzzy kid who came out of the University of Denver as a sophomore in 2006, after winning back-to-back NCAA titles for George Gwozdecky, and posted 78 points in 82 games of a marvelous rookie season with the Avs.
He’s 31 now, in his third year of a four-year, $28 million contract he signed after a 60-point season for the Avs in 2013-14. It’s not like it’s been all champagne and roses for Stastny since going to his hometown of St. Louis, as the Blues entered Sunday out of the Western Conference playoff picture (the win got them back in, by a point).
He posted only 46 points in 74 games his first year with the Blues, not quite the production they hoped probably from a $7 million-per-year player. Yet, the Blues have been a playoff team the last two seasons, coming within two wins of the Stanley Cup Finals last spring in what was an improved second season personally.
His goal Sunday was his 17th, which would lead the Avs, and more already than he scored those first two years in St. Louis. It was his first goal against the Avs since leaving.
“I think every year is more and more comfortable for me,” Stastny said. “We’ve had some changes too though. There’s always so much change in this league.”
The Avs were caught between a rock and a hard place when it came to Stastny’s situation that final year in Denver. He was eligible to become a UFA when it was over, and the Avs almost certainly would have tried to trade him at the 2014 deadline instead of risking losing him for nothing. But no one counted on the Avs being a division-winning team to that point, and a trade would have made for very bad optics for Avs management with the fans.
So, the Avs kept him with the attitude of “We’re going for it” in the playoffs, but things ended after one round. It’s not like the Avs didn’t make a good-faith effort to re-sign him either. My sources at the time said the Avs offered $6.6 million per year on a new, multi-year contract for him to stay. But the Blues offered more, and off he went to the city where he spent much of his youth, as the son of former Blues and Quebec Nordiques Hall of Famer, Peter Stastny.
The Avs have gotten steadily worse since he left. Meanwhile, he’s enjoying life with a winning organization. But there is nothing he’ll gloat about.
“The whole situation that happened this summer, I think it kind of was tough on them,” said Stastny, alluding to Patrick Roy’s sudden departure. “But things always keep changing. It’s always great to be back here in Denver, where I had a lot of great memories.”
It all seems like such a long time ago now.