Time to shake off the dust (and smoke) from August and the hazy Labor Day weekend and gear up for the start of the Colorado Avalanche season. In case you were busy relaxing in the summer sun or conquering the nearest mountain, today’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly will focus on the Avalanche’s moves – or non-moves – in August. Believe it or not, stuff actually happened.
1. The best part of the offseason - it’s almost over. Rookies will officially be skating this Friday, September 8 at Family Sports although many of the players are already skating with some veterans in the mornings.
2. The Avalanche elected to participate in their second Rookie Showcase, this year hosted by the San Jose Sharks. Colorado will face off against the San Jose Sharks, the Arizona Coyotes, and the Anaheim Ducks, in order, from Sept. 9-12. At least two of their opponents – the Sharks and the Coyotes – will be streaming the games on their websites so people can actually see what the future holds for the teams.
3. On Sept. 15, the Avalanche will begin their two-day training camp, also at Family Sports. Beyond the smoke, one can smell the chill of fall and the whiff of hockey season approaching. The best part of training camp, aside from the hockey, will be having actually hockey stories to read instead of rumors. Is there any way to speed up the next ten days? Put them on fast forward or something?
4. The Avalanche actually picked up a couple of college players, both centers – Alexander Kerfoot, 5’10”, a 23-year-old from Harvard and Dominic Toninato, 6’2”, a 22-year-old from Minnesota-Duluth. Both players were captains on their respective teams so there should be an abundance of leadership at camp. While people were upset about not signing DU defenseman Will Butcher, Colorado managed to take advantage of other teams’ similar losses. One has to appreciate the irony.
5. Colorado will break with tradition and actually broadcast two preseason games, both against the Vegas Knights. Since no other Avalanche matchups will be televised, one has to think the NHL encouraged the change to help promote the new NHL franchise. Regardless, fans should take the win, and perhaps the ratings and/or ticket sales will encourage the Avalanche to re-consider their position for next year. Spread the word, people!
6. Don’t look now but a couple of the players who were on try-outs last year earned spots on the San Antonio Rampage and the Colorado Eagles and are at camp again this year. Could this mean Colorado's scouting has improved? Could the Avalanche actually be developing depth? What will the national media do if Colorado actually improves? Oh, the humanity!
7. Forward Tyson Jost represented the Colorado Avalanche at the NHLPA Rookie Showcase at the end of August. While mostly a promotional opportunity for the NHL to introduce the new up and comers, by all accounts Jost comported himself with class. And, since they Avalanche did not have a representative last year, the appearance signals the league’s recognition of Jost’s value. It’s always nice to have other teams covet your players.
1. The most distressing issue going into September revolves around the lack of a signed contract for defenseman Nikita Zadorov, a linchpin of the Ryan O’Reilly trade and one of the few bright spots from last year. Reports of their negotiations range anywhere from a bridge deal to a long-term contract and at one point included the possibility of Zadorov playing for the KHL instead.
Hopefully, the contract discussions are not as contentious as the rumors. But if they are, even when/if they reach an agreement, will Zadorov want a future with an organization he feels low-balled him or will he bolt as soon as he becomes an unrestricted free agent? These are tricky waters and one hopes the front office knows what they are doing. Cross your fingers and maybe offer a prayer or two.
2. First-round draft pick Cale Makar will not be attending the rookie camp, nor will four other Avalanche draft selectees on college teams. The NCAA rules only allow college players to attend one development camp, for 48 hours, on their own dime. While not technically bad, it’s definitely disappointing.
One would think colleges would benefit from their players being around NHL staff focused on developing players for a professional career. So while people may have wanted to see how Makar partnered with Erik Johnson or tried to shut down Mikko Rantanen, it’s not happening this fall.
3. Former Avalanche star defenseman Adam Foote left the organization. Foote was not a full-time coach. He worked part time helping players develop. Whether he simply wanted to spend more time helping his sons with their hockey careers, or if it portends of more off ice upheaval to come, only time will tell. Foote offered a skill set the Avalanche are going to miss. Between not knowing exactly why he left nor who will be filling the development gap, it looks bad.
1. All the issues surrounding the Avalanche losing draft pick DU defenseman Will Butcher were ugly. First, Butcher apparently had the impression Colorado wasn’t interested in signing him a couple of years ago, which hampered negotiations this year when they did try to sign him. Second, the NHL seriously needs to revisit the idea of college players being able to wait out their draft selection to become free agents before the players who worked their way up through the minors. Third, there needs to be compensation for teams who spent a draft pick on a college player who chose to finish school (which should be a good thing) but then decided to sign elsewhere. Both players and teams need a more equitable system. Ugly.
2.The Avalanche continue to ignore the 21st century and are not set to stream any of the Rookie Showcase games, even though they had quite the turnout when they hosted the competition last year. Seems like a great way to generate interest in the development of a team that recorded 48 points last season. If young and fast is the future of the team, maybe tease some of their play with the Showcase games to generate interest.
It’s interesting their opponents feel differently, as two teams are streaming all of their games. Hey, marketing people! Want a relatively easy way to sell tickets? Grant the fans access to the early development process so they become vested, then they are more likely to buy tickets to see how their favorite players grow. It’s not rocket science.
A couple of items present themselves as a mixed bag – good, bad and ugly.
1. The Avalanche have yet to trade Matt Duchene. Are you stunned by TGBU’s keen observational skills at stating the obvious? Actually, though, there’s more going on than the lack of a trade.
The ugly - the rumors of Duchene’s imminent trade started last spring and every few days this summer, someone signaled another alarm. The trade – or the lack of one – has become the standard argument for why the Avalanche front office is incompetent, however unwarranted that may be.
The bad - EVERYONE knows the front office is taking offers. How that impacts the coaching, the other players, Duchene, that’s anyone’s guess. But limbo is a tough place to be going into the start of the season.
The good - the lack of a trade means the Avalanche haven’t settled for any of the lowball offers slid their way, a refreshing improvement.
Unfortunately, Matt Duchene never looked the same after his concussion mid-November last season, nearly three weeks before Erik Johnson’s devastating leg break. Whether it was because Duchene took awhile to recover, the team went off the tracks after Johnson’s injury, or he lost heart, no one seems to know.
However, it’s become clear other teams are reluctant to shell out top dollar trades and picks until they know which Duchene they are getting. Whether other injuries may change the negotiating dynamic is uncertain. But the front office for the Avalanche made a good decision to get full value for Duchene – whether he plays for Colorado or for someone else. GM Joe Sakic has shown an ability to play poker with the best. Thus, a mixed bag.
2. Colorado extended a professional tryout to oft-injured defenseman Jared Cowen, who was a top 10 2009 draft pick, selected six picks after Duchene. The Toronto Maple Leafs bought out his contract and Cowen spent the last year rehabbing his hips after undergoing surgery on them.
The good – some people recover from surgery and find they can do more, they are stronger, and the surgery not only alleviated pain but eliminated a movement problem.
The bad – the Avalanche just added another defenseman to camp who will eat up minutes.
The ugly – affording Cowen a shot at the team may come at the expense of developing the young talent on the blue line. The Avalanche can ill afford to clog up their system with players who aren’t capable of meeting the organization's much-touted vision of “younger and faster”. If they do, Colorado will start to become the team that cried wolf once too often.
The best scenario involves allowing Cowen a chance to earn a spot by making him compete with the young prospects like Lindholm, Bigras, and Boikov. If he can keep up with them, it’s worth considering. But under NO circumstances should he be given preferential treatment because he’s a veteran NHL’er. The Avalanche have traversed that path too often, frequently at great expense.
WHAT TO WATCH
1. The Rookie Showcase will have two Avalanche games streamed on the opponents websites – the San Jose Sharks on September 9 and against the Arizona Coyotes on September 11.
2. Training camp officially hits the ice on September 15.
3. The Avalanche will compete in six preseason games, two each against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Dallas Stars, and a back-to-back matchup against the Minnesota Wild. The first preseason game is on September 19, taking on the Vegas Golden Knights at home, which will be, wait for it, TELEVISED. Wonders never cease.