As an eventful November comes to a close, the Colorado Avalanche continue the serial drama. The Good, Bad and Ugly breaks down another soap opera week for the Avalanche.

Breaking with tradition, let’s go directly to the latest hot topic. The NHL Department of Player Safety suspended Avalanche Captain Gabriel Landeskog four games for cross-checking Matt Tkachuk in Saturday night’s matchup against the Calgary Flames. First, did Landeskog cross check Tkachuk? Yep. Second, was the infraction worthy of a suspension? Probably. Third, was it worthy of a four-game suspension? Not by a long shot. There’s a lot to break down in this argument, so let’s start with context.

1. If all someone did was look at the clip of the hit, there’s little doubt a cross-checking occurred. But within the context of the game, the referees on the ice determined the infraction was worthy of a two-minute penalty. Not a game misconduct. In their opinion, the infraction didn’t merit throwing Landeskog out of the game. Those are normally the hallmarks of plays earning a four-game suspension. Within how the match was played and officiated, the hit merited two minutes in the box. Tkachuk was not injured and didn’t miss a shift. If anyone watched the game, there was a fair amount of physicality throughout the night and some questionable hits against Avalanche players as well, which set up the play in question.

2. The Avalanche have suffered more than their share of injuries from dangerous plays to the head already this season, many of which never even led the perpetrators to penalty minutes, let alone suspensions.

If high sticks to the head are the concern, then certainly Anaheim Ducks’ Derek Grant should have been suspended for his stick under Nathan MacKinnon’s visor which slashed his eye. He didn’t even receive an in-game penalty, let alone a suspension.

Other Avalanche players injured this season by dangerous plays to the head – Alexander Kerfoot (10/13 – shoulder to head hit by Vegas Gold Knight Brayden McNabb – no penalty or suspension), A.J. Greer (in preseason 9/21 – Dallas Stars Greg Pateryn hit Greer in head during a fight, Greer out a month), and Dominic Toninato , the only one when where a suspension occurred (11/17 – shoulder to head hit by Austin Watson –  major penalty, game misconduct, two-game suspension). Tyson Jost suffered a lower-body injury on Oct. 11 when he was cross-checked into the boards from behind by Boston Bruin Adam McQuaid which left him limping off the ice, but neither a penalty nor a suspension occurred. Jost is just now returning to the Avalanche lineup over a month later. And that doesn’t include the complete lack of calls on plays that left Mikko Rantanen lying flat on his face behind the net bleeding.

One could make the argument that if Grant, McNabb, Pateryn, and McQuaid can level players with dangerous play without getting a penalty, fine or suspension, then the NHL set a precedent for what constitutes dangerous play. Within that context, Landeskog’s hit doesn’t even come close to a suspension.

3. The NHL has set a risky standard with their inconsistency in what constitutes hazardous play. If hits to the head are the measure, then why was only one player out of four whose reckless play actually injured Avalanche players this season fined or suspended?

The problem with inconsistency rests with the thought process arbitrary discipline breeds. If defenseman Nikita Zadorov is going to get called for essentially being big every game, why not make a hit and earn that two-minute penalty? If cross-checking is going to be called intermittently (see Niskanen’s hit on Crosby in the playoffs for an example), does one stop cross-checking? Or does one just continue to play, knowing they face a small risk of getting a call?

That’s not player safety. That’s Russian Roulette. If player safety is really the goal, then ALL hits to the head need to face a standardized system of penalties. Not arbitrary rule enforcement.  Star players need to be held to the same standard as rookies. And if that were the case, then Landeskog should have faced a one or two game suspension.

But consider this – Tom Wilson got a two-game suspension September 22 for dangerous play and less than two weeks later earned a four-game suspension on Oct. 1 for boarding. If being a repeat offender is the issue, Wilson’s infractions were only 10 days apart. Yet Landeskog’s previous infraction was a year and a half ago, past the CBA definition of a repeat offender. So, way to encourage players to reform – NOT.

If the NHL can’t follow its own guidelines, then the suspensions are just window dressing. They are doing lip service to safety while punishing a few players who don’t have the right connections to get them out of trouble. That’s arbitrary and dangerous, NOT protection. Build the fence – a uniform and consistently enforced fence for everyone all the time – and let the players compete by the same rules. Otherwise, let them live by the pirate code where the rules are more like guidelines, anyway, and enforcers will flourish. Pick your poison, but pick one.

Okay, rant over. Onto cheerier stuff.

THE GOOD

1. Forward Mikko Rantanen leads the team in power play goals with six tallied so far this season. His 20 points places him second on the team for total scoring and he’s tied for second in goals and third for assists. Not bad for a sophomore.

2. Defenseman Tyson Barrie moved up to tie Rob Blake with his 208th career point, fourth place among all franchise defenseman for scoring. Now, if only he could eliminate turnovers in front of his own goal. Guess one can’t have everything.

3. Nathan MacKinnon continues to earn his ‘A’ as he leads the team with 25 total points and also leads in assists with 19. He’s racked up 18 points in the last 11 games. He ranks 10th in the NHL for assists and 14th in total points. With Landeskog out, he could be a key player for how the team handles the next five games. Look out world, Big Mack is loose.

4. Something that may have been overlooked in the last three games, but J.T. Compher has been earning some serious respect, playing on both the power play and the penalty kill. The only other forwards playing on both special teams – Gabriel Landeskog and Carl Soderberg. He’s also been fourth in forward ice time for the last two games (behind Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Rantanen) and was fifth behind the same three players plus Soderberg in the Dallas Stars game. He must be feeling better, so keep sending gift baskets to speed up his healing process. The Avalanche are going to need him to step up in Landeskog’s absence.

5. Rookie Alexander Kerfoot has become a fixture on the first power play unit along with MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen. When I spoke to him at a recent event, all he could talk about was the need for the team to get more wins so seeing that drive translate to his on-ice play has been refreshing. Since he’s likely becoming a fixture on the team, it’s important to find an appropriate nickname for such an intense, well-educated competitor. How about Kerfy? Footy? Alexa? Bueller?

6. It may be early in the process, but the Avalanche seem to have found their top four defensemen, running Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Sam Girard, and – place your bets – Nikita Zadorov. Yes, that Zadorov. The guy working his way out of the dog house. Not only is Zadorov in the top four in ice time among defenseman for the past week, he’s also giving Mark Barberio a run for his money on penalty kill minutes. And, hey, he finally scored a goal the referees didn’t call back for some weird reason. Wonders never cease.

7. Forward Tyson Jost has been recalled from his five-game rehab stint in San Antonio. While he’s still working on finding his timing, it’s looking like coach Bednar will be running him on a line with J.T. Compher and Alexander Kerfoot. The rookies will have an opportunity to show what they can do with all that speed and smarts. Since they all attended college but are still rookies, do they become the smarty pants line? Just wondering.

8. Yeah, it was covered last week but, it’s worth mentioning again. Defenseman Erik Johnson seems to be going full beast mode on the ice right now. He’s fifth in the league in average ice time, logging over 26 minutes a night. He’s also second in number of shifts per game (32.2) and in shorthanded ice time (averaging four minutes per game). Get that guy an energy drink, or ice cream or healing salts. Whatever the Condor needs to stay healthy, do that.

9. It may come as a surprise to some but Colorado’s defense has done something right. The Avalanche are allowing an average of 32 shots per game, placing them in the middle of the pack at 15th place among all teams.

10. Happy belated birthday to Gabriel Landeskog whose special day fell on American Thanksgiving this year! Hopefully he enjoyed all the stuffing he could eat. He may need the energy for all the wedding planning he suddenly has time to do. Have fun discussing stationary and flower arrangements while serving your suspension. It will feed the fire for a speedy return.

THE BAD

1. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov missed all last week with an illness. Nevertheless, his record and Jonathan Bernier’s aren’t stellar this year. While both have made some spectacular saves, they rank 47th and 49th respectively for average save percentage. Bernier ranks 43rd in goals against average while Varlamov sits at 53rd. Not all of that rests on the goaltenders. The defense needs to take some responsibility for those numbers as well.  However, a young team – the second youngest in the league – needs the goaltenders to help out more.

2. The Avalanche have only scored seven goals in their last three games. For a team that lives by playing fast and loose, relying on scoring to help propel them to victory, one hopes that’s an anomaly.

3. Coach Bednar unleashed his blender against the Calgary Flame in an attempt to ignite a spark for a comeback. At one point, Rantanen was demoted from the top line and replaced by Compher, while Kerfoot seemed to be playing musical linemates and what happened to Dominic Toninato? One hopes Bednar has a better idea how to roll the line combinations for the remaining portion of the homestand because the team needs to make better in-game adjustments, and wins at home would help their confidence. And the fans.

THE UGLY

1. Losing Captain Gabriel Landeskog for four games looks like a challenging blow. Landeskog leads the forwards in ice time as well as special teams play. He’s arguably one of the Avalanche’s most responsible players with the puck and plays a two-way game. One player alone will not be able to compensate for his loss. It will take the entire team to kick it up a notch. This could get ugly.

2. The penalty kill still has a way to go. The team surrendered two goals in eight shorthanded opportunities. But it’s not all bleak. Blake Comeau managed to score another shorthanded goal so there’s still a silver lining in there somewhere.

3. It may be time for the Avalanche to go full on rogue and raise the jolly roger. Play the fast, skilled hockey the front office wants yet be ready to defend themselves. Don’t expect fair officiating – so far it’s only led to injuries and questionable calls. Prepare to get hit and to stand up for themselves. Keep their heads up and their feet moving. See if the other teams can keep pace. Expecting the league to enforce rules consistently won’t work.

WHAT TO WATCH

1. The Avalanche finally have a sustained homestand, taking on the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night at Pepsi Center at 7 pm MST, then hosting the New Jersey Devils on Friday also at 7 pm MST before a 6 pm MST start on Sunday against their division rival – the Dallas Stars.

2. Jost is returning to the lineup so where he slots in with Landeskog’s suspension should prove interesting. Also, there should be additional information on Anton Lindholm’s status, which could provoke some movement of defensive players. New line combinations should give the rookies plenty of opportunities to rise and fall, and pick themselves back up again.

It’s time for the Colorado Avalanche to prove their resilience. Strap on those helmets, ready those hockey sticks, and fire away!

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J.D. Killian

J.D. is a CSU alum who first became entranced with hockey while watching the old Colorado Rockies hockey team. Years of watching, cheering, and a love for intelligent analysis has brought J.D. to BSN Denver. You can follow JD on Twitter at @JDKpirate

  • Charlie Anderson

    I’ve been noticing massive prejudice from the league, against the Avs, for years now. I guess the Avs market share is large enough? Anyone remember that one late last year where Nieto was left without a stick because the Blues player was holding it for him out in the middle of the zone? No call. Or perhaps when Duchene got punched/high sticked in the head behind the play last year (November, Avs were 9-9), his first concussion, and the Avs season went down the toilet? No call. No suspension. WTF????? Hockey seems to be as fixed as wrestling :/ Still quite entertaining :/

  • Charlie Anderson

    On the subject of poor goaltending. I don’t think Varly or Bernie have been bad, just not good enough with those numbers to help this young team. Maybe we should try the hamburgler (Hammond)? What has this guy done wrong exactly? His numbers in the NHL are insane. I wish we’d played him instead of Bernie against the cheesy flames.

  • OCMS

    Conspiracy theories about the league are just silly. I look at how badly the NHL is run and I cannot imagine them being able to pull off a conspiracy. The Avs have gotten the short end of the officiating stick this year, but I’d venture to say that every team does, because the officiating in the NHL is just not that good. It is an accepted part of the culture of the league that officials will “manage the game” through their calls and that the rules fluctuate based on a variety of in game conditions.

    Landy deserved 4 games. He pounded on Tkachuk 3 times and the last one was in the head when Tkachuk was out of the play. How about Landy use his body to play defense rather than his stick? I hate that he was suspended 4 games, but I’m much more bothered by Gabe getting himself into this situation with past suspensions rather than ticked that the league for saying “enough is enough.”

    • Charlie Anderson

      So how do you explain the lack of a call, or much more importantly a suspension, for the – behind the play – punch Duchene took to the head last year? He was concussed for the first time in his career and missed like 9 games. NO SUSPENSION. That’s not a “refs managing games” situation. Landeskogs hit was NOT behind the play and did NOT result in injury. I envy you living in a world where those in positions of power have no interest in taking advantage of you. Must be nice. Here I am stuck being “paranoid” due to a clear understanding of what the words “for profit” mean.

      • Jimbotronn

        OCMS: NHL officiating isn’t that good.
        Charlie: Then how do you explain this one missed call?
        Jimbotronn: …..?

        Bad/inconsistent officiating aside, I fail to see how punishing a Colorado player who hit a Calgary player, while not punishing a Winnipeg player who hit a Colorado player, nets the NHL any “profit.” That’s not a move the NHL makes if they’re biased towards the larger markets, as the Winnipeg and Calgary metro markets added together are still smaller than the Denver market. You might argue that the league obviously favors Canadian teams, but since 2010 the Maple Leafs have had the second-most fines and salary lost to suspensions in the league (just a tad behind Philly, and well over twice what Colorado had). You might then throw out Toronto as an outlier and argue that the league still favors its “marketable” teams, but A) neither Calgary nor Winnipeg fall into that category, and B) in addition to Toronto and Philly, the Caps, Bruins, Ducks, Sharks, and believe it or not even the Pens and Blackhawks have all been fined/suspended more than the Avs have over that timeframe. And Arizona and Florida, who you might assume the league views as a punching bag for the popular teams, are two of the lowest-fined teams.

        source: http://www.spotrac.com/nhl/fines-suspensions/all-years/

        • Charlie Anderson

          No man. I’m saying that all big sports are somewhat rigged depending on how the league wishes to GROW markets in general. So I think it’s more likely that they favor teams with smaller markets as those teams markets might need to be grown with victories. Also I’m not talking about a blown call. I’m talking about when Duchene was punched in the head behind the play last year and there was no suspension although he was concussed and missed multiple games. As opposed to the current Landy suspension, where it wasn’t behind the play and no injury resulted but there IS a suspension.

          • Jimbotronn

            You might want to go look at the Duchene video again. I assume you’re talking about the Trouba hit as that’s the only one I know of that led to a concussion. It wasn’t behind the play, in fact Duchene had shot the puck a fraction of a sec before the hit, whereas Tkachuk had been removed from that play for a couple seconds before Landy finally pummeled him. I didn’t like that Duchene hit at all, but it seemed to be more of a split-second reaction thing than a conscious decision. Suspensions seem to be handed out more often to deliberately reckless acts rather than split-second reactions (although I think more suspensions for the latter would help make the game safer as it would eventually change habits).

            I’ve honestly never heard a league bias theory that has them favoring the small market teams over the big ones, so props for originality. Still not buying it, and the stats don’t support it. There is no rhyme or reason to those fine/suspension statistics other than that some teams play a type of hockey (and employ a type of player) more likely to draw penalties, fines, and suspensions.

          • OCMS

            Jimbo, I appreciate the attempt. The beauty of conspiracy theories is that they hold up under any amount of scrutiny, because it is the scrutiny that reinforces the conspiracy. It’s a wonderful use the action research cycle. Even some fans of the Pens think the league is out to get them. (because they are)

            Last year there was a good interview on either MvsW or Puck Soup with 1 -2 guys from the DOPS. It was a good listen and while I’d like to see bigger suspensions for more stuff, because I think it changes behavior, they did a good job of outlining how they do their work.

          • Charlie Anderson

            So OCMS, are you positing that no one in a position of power would ever want to take advantage of you? If I’m at a board meeting with the other members, are we not “conspiring” to profit off of others? Conspiracy to take others money/time/energy isn’t a theory, it’s the very premise upon which a for profit economy works. Whether we like it or not it’s what’s up yo.

          • OCMS

            Right. Because that’s exactly what you were talking about when you said the NHL is rigged against the Avs.

          • Charlie Anderson

            Precisely. The NHL is a for profit enterprise so assigning them any sort of altruistic motive such as an interest in player safety or a desire to keep games fair is really quite fantasmical, if that’s a word. There’s nothing to prevent them from doing any kind of sneaky, cheaty, underhanded stuff to grow customer base.

          • Charlie Anderson

            That’s not how I remember it and I went back and watched it a few times. That was a Jets game right? The puck was already out of the zone when he got punched in the head for no reason. Do you have a video link or something? Because I would love to be wrong on this. Still don’t understand how it’s not a suspension one way or another.

          • Jimbotronn

            http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/matt-duchene-still-sidelined-vicious-jacob-trouba-hit/

            The NHL, or any other business, is certainly not above doing things, sneaky things as well, to grow its fan base. And of course, individual teams are going to try to grow their fan bases even if it means taking fans away from other sports or even other NHL teams. But the idea that the NHL has a policy–official or not–to screw its profitable and popular members over to create wins and therefore fans for the teams that need some help is perhaps the wackiest conspiracy theory of them all, which is saying quite a lot.

            Even if true, the Avs have been somewhere between mediocre and terrible over the last decade, their attendance is bottom 5, and they aren’t a great TV draw. So your unique reverse-bias-for-profit theory is especially odd when used to gripe about calls and suspensions that don’t go the Avs’ way, considering that under your theory they would be one of the teams that the league should be most interested in helping out.

          • Charlie Anderson

            Do you sir, have a better theory to explain the incongruency of decisions made by the league? Perhaps they have dancing clowns deciding the challenges and who gets suspended for what? Or maybe unicorns?

          • OCMS

            And this is exactly how conspiracy theories are born and thrive. It’s the, “I can’t explain how something fits into my world view so it must be a conspiracy.”

            You getting out maneuvered at a board meeting is not a conspiracy, so to equate that to “the NHL picks winners and losers and uses the officiating to grow certain fan bases” is a conspiracy theory. We’re all mad Landy got suspended, but the ref gave him 2 wacks at the guy and finally made the call on the third cross-check. We wouldn’t even be having this discussion if Landy showed some composure.

            You want a better theory? It’s that the NHL is poorly run and the CBA doesn’t help. The CBA appears more designed to come to the defense of players who commit suspend-able acts than it is to protect players from dangerous play.

            The NHL is an old boys club that keeps making the same mistakes year after year. Just look at their attempts to increase scoring, it’s a joke. Watch games and see how many rules the officials ignore because they have decided that they don’t want to make the judgement call. (icing is can be waved off if it is an attempted pass- never called; slashing has turned into an automatic call when a stick breaks even if there was no real slash; puck over the glass is not supposed to be an automatic call- but it is called that way; look at the goalie interference challenges… they make no sense)

            It’s not a conspiracy, it’s incompetence.

          • Charlie Anderson

            All heads if big business conspire to profit off of their customers & employees. It’s not a theory, it’s business. And no, the NHL hiring blind mental patients to make the calls on challenges, and who gets suspended for what, does NOT fit my world view. It’s also possible to be so afraid of anyone trying to take advantage of you that you will live in denial of the plain facts that are the foundation of our social/economic system. I never said that has to be what is wrong with the NHL though, only that it’s a way better bet than incompetence. I think it’s also quite possible that it is something completely political, as in some portion of the group that runs the decision making has a personal grudge against some or all of the Avs management. Though usually that sort of thing would also have some sort of monetary motive at it’s base if we’re talking about big business.