It’s been a tough time to follow the Colorado Avalanche but with a New Year comes a new perspective.
In honor of the New Year, the Colorado Avalanche should take the opportunity to sit back, take stock of their situation, re-evaluate some of their basic assumptions, and shift their approach. As fans, it’s time to re-set expectations. The team has not performed up to pre-season hopes. So instead of re-hashing the depressing fact the Avalanche won only three of 15 games in the month of December, it’s a good time to adjust the talking points.
Before everyone starts throwing everything under the bus, (oh no, too late!), step into Peabody & Sherman’s way-back machine to a time before the regular season started.
1. General Manager Joe Sakic launched into the offseason with some important player negotiations and the need for some quality draft signings.
a. Laying the groundwork for a positive offseason, the Avalanche signed a group of quality prospects to entry level contracts, including J.T. Compher, A.J. Greer, Julien Nantel, Anton Lindholm, and Sergei Boikov. They also extended defenseman Duncan Siemens for a year.
b. The team traded goaltender Reto Berra, who had a habit of self destructing whenever the door to a starting role opened, for forward Rocco Grimaldi, who has been an excellent addition playing on the San Antonio Rampage’s top scoring line, tied with forward A.J. Greer for points leader.
c. They traded defenseman Nick Holden, who struggled making quality decisions as a top-pairing partner with Tyson Barrie, for a fourth round draft pick. Many people were hopeful for an upgrade on defense.
d. By all accounts, the Avalanche managed to draft well, adding forward Tyson Jost, Cameron Morrison, Adam Werner, Nathan Clurman and Travis Barron. Jost currently is playing for the Canadian World Junior Team in addition to the University of North Dakota.
e. The Avalanche signed 11 players on the first day of free agency, eight to flush out the farm system (after relinquishing a number of minor league players who didn’t pan out) and two defensemen and a forward for the NHL club. Of those 11 players, only three were signed to two year deals, the rest were for a single year. Not a single extended contract to an aging 35 year-old veteran. Most people considered it a huge improvement over previous years.
f. Shortly thereafter, the organization hired Eric Veilleux as the new head coach of the San Antonio Rampage. After a series of devastating injuries near the beginning of the season (as many as nine starters out), and a rash of call-ups to the Avalanche, the team still managed a .500 record and are starting to generate some quality wins as more of the players return to their lineup.
g. The team signed forward Nathan MacKinnon to a reasonable seven year contract, extended Mikhail Grigorenko and Andreas Martinesen for a year and goaltender Calvin Pickard for two years while locking up defenseman Tyson Barrie to a four year contract just as his arbitration ruling was due to be released.
h. Oh yeah, they also bought out Brad Stuart. While in hindsight his signing represents a low point, putting an end to the misery looked wise.
At this point, the offseason looked promising. Which of the above moves were mistakes?
2. On August 12, Coach (and Avalanche legend) Patrick Roy resigned in unorthodox fashion. Preseason games were only a month away. And the World Cup of Hockey loomed on the horizon with a number of Avalanche leaders slated to compete in the tourney.
Sakic hired a promising coach from the AHL ranks two weeks later, selecting someone from outside the Avalanche organization who would hopefully bring in a new perspective. But with only two weeks to prepare before prospects reported, Bednar had his work cut out for him.
Remember, all of these moves laid the foundation for this season.
1. The Avalanche made a lot of offseason moves to help re-stock the farm system, maintain some of the promising talent, and secure their best players. It looked good; it looked wise. Who knew?
2. The organization shifted from signing aging veterans to long contracts to signing younger free agents to short term contracts. Again, it seemed very promising to see the front office learn from their mistakes.
3. The team drafted well, adding prospects to fill areas of weakness. For example, how much would it help the team to have a couple quality wings right now?
4. The team showed faith in it’s core and extended the forwards to reasonable contracts. One wants an organization that believes in their players and can secure their talent to reasonable long term deals. MacKinnon for seven years at $6.3 million certainly fits the bill.
6. Colorado continues to win faceoffs, winning 53.2% and ranking third among all NHL teams. Maybe that statistic doesn’t correlate to wins as much as one would think.
1. The players have struggled. ALL of them. Even those with good individual stats don’t seem to have found the chemistry on their lines to build good units of play. They continue to struggle with playing as individuals instead of as a unit. Towards the end of last season, with a potential playoff berth on the line, the team showed a tendency to move towards individual play instead of team.
Not being a coach and not being inside the locker room, it’s hard to figure out how to shift such an ingrained mindset. But it’s clear Bednar faces an uphill battle.
2. The goaltending, which no one really was concerned about, now appears to be a weakness. Why? Has Francois Allaire lost his touch? Did Roy add that much to the goaltending? The team has allowed the most NHL goals giving up 124. Not all of that is goaltending, but it’s a far cry from two years ago. With the league-worst save percent of 89.6, it’s a wonder the Avalanche have been able to compete.
3. SCORING. If one more Canadian sportscaster suggests the Avalanche trade a forward to shore up the defense, they should be punted into the nearest black hole as they obviously haven’t watched any games. Colorado has notched the fewest goals, scoring only 76 and rank dead last in shots. MacKinnon and Duchene did a fine job scoring when on teams with quality line mates during the World Cup of Hockey and they lead the Avalanche in scoring. Trading them doesn’t make sense. Finding quality line mates so the team runs four good scoring lines does.
1. The Avalanche rank dead last with 25 points even though they have one more win than the Arizona Coyotes. The loser point hurts.
2. Colorado owned a 9-12-1 record with 19 points going into the game when Erik Johnson was injured. The team has won only 3 of 14 games since. The team has averaged 2.23 goals with Johnson, 1.92 without. They also allowed 3.09 goals per game with him and 4 without him. That’s nearly one goal per game difference. Still not sure why he doesn’t wear an ‘A’.
1. The Avalanche are not as good as everyone hoped. But they aren’t as bad as everyone fears. They have been competitive in many games they lost and have had more than their share of unlucky bounces. Sometimes luck plays a part.
2. Since things can’t get much worse, now is the time to open up the playbook, and see what each player can do. Hopefully they can discover which players work well together, who are the ones who can effectively implement the new systems, who has talent but don’t add the spark the team needs, and re-assess for the future.
3. The Avalanche are developing some quality depth in San Antonio and their prospect pool is promising.
4. If the team is really going for a run and gun type game, maybe some of the offseason acquisitions really aren’t as adept at that style of play and should find another home next year.
5. Does the team have the players who can adjust their play during the game to overcome what the opposing team throws at them? Will they continue to move their feet on the power play? Will they overcome the poor decision making on the penalty kill?
Did it hurt to lose the coach right before the season’s start? Yes. Did the player moves work out as well as everyone hoped? No. Did the organization make obvious mistakes in the offseason? No.
Maybe instead of assuming everything is a dumpster fire, the New Year approach can be one of watching which players grow and adapt despite the score, which ones generate some unity on the ice and which ones continue to play as if the playoffs are still a possibility. Watching the games with an eye to where the true potential is instead of focusing on all things going wrong can make the season more interesting and a lot less frustrating. It’s a New Year thought to ponder.