It has been a tough season so let’s mix it up. If you are still reading anything about the Avalanche, then you suffered through some agonizing blow-outs and gut-wrenching last minute losses. You deserve a break. So for the season round-up, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly is going to act on a tip from a reader and go with the Ugly, the Bad and the Good. Despite the disappointing season, there is hope.
1. Let’s get the worst statistic out of the way first – 48 points. The Avalanche finished the season with 48 points. Hard to get any uglier than that.
2. NHL officiating continues to resemble a Looney Tunes cartoon instead of a professional level organization. The inability to correctly call an offsides on scoring chances, the inconsistencies around basic hooking and cross-checking calls, the bumbling over what does and does not count as a “head shot”, and the huge disparity in penalties and suspensions assessed on knee-on-knee hits or cheap shots (see Sidney Crosby’s groin shot), leaves one questioning if Toronto cares more about meting out power and protecting the “right” teams/players (whoever that may be) than creating a level playing field with everyone playing by the same rules, thereby limiting egregious acts and limiting injuries. If this keeps up, the on-ice enforcer may be the only way to protect players from egregious play. Think about it. Until then, maybe they need clown shoes. Is there such a thing as Clown skates?
3. Unfortunately, the abrupt resignation of former coach Patrick Roy needs to be included here. While a legendary hockey goaltender, resigning only a few weeks before the start of the season was bush league. He threw the whole organization on tilt and left his beloved players in a precarious position. One expects more from a legend.
4. While TGBU enjoys a good pirate salute, the black puck in the middle of the new Colorado logo looks more like the black spot of death each day, especially based on the progression of this season. While refreshing the Avalanche logo may make some marketing firm happy, this team can’t afford anymore black spots.
1. Timely injuries to key players did a lot to undermine this team. Erik Johnson’s broken leg seemed to take the air out of the Avalanche. Nikita Zadorov’s injury curtailed his ascension to the forefront of the team’s defense. And one can’t help but wonder how much of Semyon Varlamov’s poor season was related to nagging injuries that eventually led to TWO surgeries. Not good. Bad. Very, very bad.
2. The Avalanche offered few explanations for a number of questionable player moves. There had to be a reason for calling up San Antonio Rampage players for short stints – like a game – and then sending them down. Would it have really been a terrible thing to say – “wanted to see what A.J. Greer would do in this situation, and we got our answer”? Just so management knows, the more cloak and dagger stuff they do, the more rumors will be generated, potentially impacting players’ psyche, say, like around trades or something. The laws of sowing and reaping, kind of a thing.
3. In the “Not a surprise to anyone” category, the Avalanche special teams need some work. Colorado scored the fewest power play goals in the league this year even though they ranked in the middle of the pack for power play opportunities. Their penalty kill units also allowed the second highest number of goals.. The front office should consider those numbers when looking at assistant coaches for next year. Something needs to change.
4. Colorado scored three or more goals in only 28 of their 82 games. They ranked dead last in average goals scored per game, with only 2.01 goals average per game. The league average was 2.73 goals per game for the season.
But it’s even worse. The Avalanche also owned the worst goal differential in the league with a -112, the only negative triple digit team this year. They were outscored by 112 goals over the course of the season, on average surrendering 3.37 goals per game. The team allowed an average of 1.36 goals per game more than they scored. In six of the last eight seasons, Colorado has allowed more goals than they have scored and hit negative triple digits three times.
Every team in this postseason but one (the amazing Ottawa Senators, proof that miracles happen) – surprise, surprise – scored more goals than they allowed. The Avalanche have a long way to go, especially since the goal differential issue has plagued them for awhile. And while there’s been a lot of talk about acquiring a top line defenseman (like those are easy to obtain – ha!), there’s been not nearly enough discussion on how to improve their anemic scoring. It’s a simple game. The team who scores more goals than they allow generally wins.
1. The Avalanche stayed away from fines and suspensions this year. Yes, even Captain Gabriel Landeskog managed to avoid any untoward attention from the NHL department of player safety. It’s encouraging to think maybe the gift baskets helped SOME.
2. Last offseason, the Avalanche front office made a number of changes in player movement. They quit signing aging players to long contracts. They signed a few experienced players to short-term contracts to fill in temporary holes so younger players had time to develop in the AHL or NCAA. They avoided egregious mistakes. And they released or bought out players who no longer fit the vision for the team. One can hope management will continue to move in this direction in the offseason.
3. During the year, the Avalanche made some solid acquisitions with the likes of forwards Matt Nieto and Sven Andrighetto and defenseman Mark Barberio. They also traded away valued players who no longer fit with the team’s future. Nick Holden, Cody McLeod, Andreas Martinsen and Jarome Iginla all moved onto other teams where their style of play blended with those teams’ strategies, instead of continuing to force the team and the players to function in systems not suited to their abilities. That’s significant growth from management. Kudos!
4. Colorado signed explosive forward Tyson Jost to an entry-level contract shortly after his college season ended and then PLAYED him for the remainder of the season. He started off centering a line and contributed on the power play, penalty kill and overtime. They didn’t slowly work him into the rotation, making him wait behind the more seasoned players. Colorado threw him in and let him rise to the occasion. Anyone who has watched the team at all in the last few years should recognize Jost’s playing time represented a HUGE shift in the organizational approach, and something that deserves praise. More of this, please.
5. In the “Wow, I could have had a V8” department – the development strategy with the San Antonio Rampage deserves some serious recognition when assessing the performance of the call up players like center J.T. Compher and defenseman Anton Lindholm. The short NHL stints of Rocco Grimaldi and Duncan Siemens further exhibited promise from the AHL. All four young men performed well and forced the question – why did the Avalanche wait so long to add these guys to the lineup? We could have all had V8’s. I mean, exciting hockey. For longer than a couple of weeks. It’s an idea.
While the Rampage win-loss record didn’t look much better than the Avalanche’s, the coaching shifted, as all of the call-up players seemed ready to play at the NHL level. That is a HUGE improvement from last year. The Avalanche are starting to build depth and may actually have some quality development coming from the minors. Granted, they have a ways to go. But they started. When was the last time people could say that?
6. Is it crazy to be excited about the defense next year? Consider this. Nikita Zadorov, who found beast mode prior to his season ending injury, will be returning. Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Mark Barberio, Anton Lindholm and any combination of Chris Bigras, Duncan Siemens, Sergei Boikov, Andrei Mironov (currently in the KHL), should be an upgrade, based on end of season performances. And if Francois Beauchemin returns, playing him fewer minutes on the third pairing may help revive his play. Could there be quality defense in the Avalanche’s future? Cross your fingers.
7. Rookie Mikko Rantanen hit a landmark, scoring 20 goals in his first full season and finishing fifth in goals and 10th in points among all NHL newbies. In a normal year, one without the likes of Auston Matthews or Patrick Laine, his performance would have received more attention. As it is, he led the team in goals scored, and finished third on the Avalanche for total points. He also won 58% of his faceoffs. Not bad for a rookie.
8. Center Nathan MacKinnon earned his ‘A’ this year as he led the team with 53 points for the season, scored 16 goals, and contributed 37 assists on a team that scored 165 goals for the year. He owned the lion’s share of the faceoffs, winning 50.6% of his 1,521 matchups. He also took 251 shots, the most on the team and nearly 70 more than the next leading candidate, Tyson Barrie. For a 21-year-old who only moved into a full time first line center this season, his development is impressive and his work ethic in a disheartening season showed through it all. Hope, people, for the future. And, maybe, just maybe, a little grit.
9. Few people had as rough a start to the season as defenseman Tyson Barrie. But he earned respect in the second half of the season, as he stepped up his defensive play and started taking quality shots. Barrie managed to finish second on the team in assists, tied for third with Rantanen in total points and ranked second for shots.
10. The last three weeks of the season, when the Avalanche started calling up their younger players, unarguably provided the most hope for next year. J.T. Compher centered the second line and suddenly Matt Duchene managed to get quality scoring chances. Tyson Jost centered the third line and the team managed to put pressure on their opponents for a majority of ice time. 11 of the Avalanche’s last 12 matchups were against playoff contenders and they scored three or more goals in six of those games and went to three overtimes (on a team that only played in 12 OT tilts all season). While they only earned five points during that period, they played the most exciting hockey of the season against the top teams in the NHL. Rookie mistakes are much easier to tolerate than veteran turnovers on their own net because the young guys bring energy, excitement and a will to win, something missing for most of the season. Please, more of this, Avalanche. Would a gift basket help? We could get you a nice one, with chocolates, and margaritas, and chips. Lots of chips. We will take up a collection.
11. Matt Duchene, who struggled to score this year, still finished second for goals – tied with Landeskog – and second in points. He also dominated in the faceoff circle winning 62.5% of his 1,097 matchups, leading the NHL. While trade rumors continue to swirl, one hopes whatever happens, he rediscovers the joy of hockey.
12. From the “In case you missed it” files, injured Nikita Zadorov led the team in hits with 153. Remember, he only played in 56 games. In case you need a reminder of what one can look forward to next year, here’s a refresher. Imagine him next year with a full NHL season. All teams will kneel before Zad and thus fulfill the Avalanche plan for total ice domination. Mwuhaha!
13. Landeskog logged 143 hits, second on the team and finished second in goals scored, tied with Duchene at 18 a piece. His play on the ice as well as his off-ice attempts to lighten the mood of the locker room showed he earned his captaincy this year. And maybe a few stiff drinks. Skal!
14. Remember last year when Francois Beauchemin led the league in blocked shots? This year, Beauchemin placed 22nd among all NHL players with a mere 156 blocked shots, although he did lead the team in that category. Last season, blocked shots were the primary defensive strategy. Thank Lord Stanley that’s no longer a Colorado tactic. Here’s to something new for next year!
WHAT TO WATCH
1. The NHL will hold the draft lottery April 29th. Owning the worst NHL record earns the Avalanche an 18.0% chance of earning the first pick. The time to start sacrificing your live chickens is now, or fried ones, whatever works. The results should be announced after 6 pm mountain time.
2. The Stanley Cup playoffs are here! For those not yet watching, there have been 10 overtime games already. The NHL offers the most exciting postseason of all the sports as the teams elevate their play to unbelievable levels. Don’t miss it!
3. Despite a dismal season, a number of Avalanche players will be competing in the IIHF World Championships in May. J.T. Compher will be returning with team USA, with whom he won a bronze medal last year. Mikko Rantanen will be playing for Finland for the second year as well. Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie and Calvin Pickard will all be playing for Team Canada.
4. In case you haven’t had enough hockey, the IIHF under 18 World Championship is currently underway. A lot of people looking at future prospects will be checking out the competition.
While the offseason brings a bit of a break from the regularly scheduled ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, TGBU will continue to check in periodically to bring a slightly off-tilt angle on all the post-season activities. So stayed tuned to BSN for the latest hockey news, same bat time, same bat channel.