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.

THE UGLY

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.

THE BAD

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.

THE GOOD

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.

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

  • mikeladen

    good article. Thanks

    • J.D. Killian

      Thanks for taking the time to read it!

  • WyoX

    Wow. Four “Bad” items, four “Ugly” items, and fourteen “Good” items. From this team?? This is the problem with Avs fans. We should not be happy about the future!!! Those players you were so gleeful about had ten losses in their last twelve games. Is that the glimpse of the future that you are so excited about? The Avs were not bad… they were historically bad!! And as it sounds now they are going to make permanent those part time players that lead to that atrocious record. Fans should be furious, demanding changes in everything from the very top executives to the guys who empty the wastebaskets at night!!! But no,the Avs fans don’t demand anything. They live on their past glory and a reverence for management that has proven time and again to be completely incompetent. What team in the history of any sport has broken records for poor play and basically stayed intact?? None. Until now. Same management, same coaching, same core, same rotators from San Antonio! Where is the accountability!! What does Joe Sakic have to do to lose his job?!? Burn down the Pepsi Center!!! It has been said by smart people that, “supporting a bad team does not make you a good fan; it makes you a poor consumer.” It’s about time Avs fans realize that!

    • J.D. Killian

      I understand your frustration and I too believe there should be changes. However, burning everything down doesn’t fix the problem unless there’s a clear solution. Changing a coach or a GM doesn’t solve the problem unless you have something better in mind. Neither does jettisoning all the players. In case you missed this (and many people did as they stopped watching the team after January – who could blame them?) since the trade deadline, the Avalanche scored three or more goals in 8 games (which they only did 28 times all season); that was an improvement largely due to adding the players you mentioned. There are systemic challenges in the organization which the sum total of 48 points for a season indicate. In the land of ugly, you can’t get uglier than that. Previous articles have listed some of those challenges – feel free to read them. I tried to highlight the worst bits and point out some of the few instances where there was some overlooked good stuff. There’s plenty to be negative about and there is plenty out there calling for the Avalanche to fire Sakic, Bednar and most of the players. One has to dig a little deeper to find the positive. But fear not, I’m sure there will be plenty more articles over the summer calling for heads to roll. As for me, I’m waiting to see what – if any – action will be taken before screaming to burn everything down. I hope management is waiting to acquire talent from the teams actually IN the postseason so they can draw on some quality expertise instead of rushing headlong into change for change’s sake. But that’s me. I get your frustration. It was an ugly season and everyone deserves better. So scream away!

    • The Crash

      Easy there, sourpuss. It’s impossible for even the most optimistic supporter to ignore how awful this past season was, but it’s not completely naive to look for the positives. There was a clear shift towards a skilled, faster style of play to support the quick, young talent in our core and watching players like Zadorov and Mikko find there stride provided some hope for a fresh start next year. I realize it may come off as ignorant, but I still did my best to watch every single game this season. I haven’t supported every decision that our management and ownership has made, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to walk away until they fix the problems, nobody likes a fucking fairweather. You look at teams like Columbus, Edmonton, Toronto, etc.. who struggled for years before finding success, seemingly overnight. I’m sure things seemed pretty dire from a fans perspective during the down years, but you persevere along with your team. I’m not suggesting that the Avalanche will will end up a top seed, or even make the playoffs next season, but you stick around to support the players who are working their asses off regardless.

    • Special Ed

      Well… it was 4/20… so perhaps you were smokin a bit. But let’s face a couple of things.
      1) this team did NOT stay intact. it started out this year as one of the oldest teams in the NHL, and dropped down to one of the younger ones by end of season.
      2) The final games of the year WERE significantly different than the rest of the year. So.. there is reason to think the youngsters can be better as the author said. 3) I don’t think the author nor anyone else is claiming a cup for next year, but there should be improvement, and that was the point
      3) Some of the existing players (barrie) did improve over the year. IMHO Barrie is not nor will he ever be a first line defender. But he’s fine as a 4/5/6 guy who can help with PP and some O. But he sucks as a top line defender, always has. Having said that… he DID get better near the end of the year. Instead of being a nightmare, he’s just a bad dream now. who knows? Maybe he CAN improve more.

      Sakic and the rest of the front office should be held accountable. But this team is VERY different from last year. New coach, new styles of play, new players. I’m expecting more player changes this summer, and some more coaching changes. Which is more than fair.