The Stanley Cup playoffs are well under way for NHL teams. The Avalanche are not one of the 16 that qualified. They will be watching for the third consecutive season. Last season they went 2-8 down the stretch and missed out on the final playoff spot to the Minnesota Wild. The same Minnesota Wild team that fired their coach Mike Yeo (who just beat them as the Blues head coach). The same Minnesota Wild team that beat the Avs in Denver in game seven a few years back.
That should have sparked a new rivalry for the Avs. But the Avs have…well, they turned into the worst team since the expansion Atlanta Thrashers. People are abandoning ship and saying to blow the whole thing up. Trade EVERYONE. Fire EVERYONE. Re-start. Joe Sakic did NOT give in to outside influences telling him to trade Matt Duchene and Gabe Landeskog. The outside influences seemed to think he needed to make a move to well…make a move. Joe stuck to his guns and was right. Don’t trade known commodities when they are at an all time low. Joe has made mistakes in his first tenure in the front office of an NHL team, but a bigger mistake would have been to panic in a vain attempt to rebuild during the trade deadline. It would also be a big mistake to send Joe packing.
Let’s rewind to the off-season. Patrick Roy was the coach, but his seat was as hot as his temper. He was a losing season away from being fired by his best friend. Joe didn’t make the moves he wanted, namely Alexander Radulov, previously discussed in the Playoff Primer. Patrick looked at the roster and said “I can’t win with this roster.” Then he quit. Right before camps were supposed to open up. Was he RIGHT to quit? At the time, the answer was no, but after this season, he had every right to do so. He knew he couldn’t win, so why delay the inevitable?
The timing was less than ideal, but would it have been better to do it in the middle of the season? That would truly be seen as quitting on your players. He could have quit earlier in the off season, but he had faith that Joe would make the moves he wanted and give him the roster he wanted. It was not until late in the process that he saw the writing on the wall. Still, a lot the guys on the roster now that are not holding up their end of the bargain are Roy guys. They worked well with him and have been a disaster underneath Jared Bednar. Guys like Blake Comeau, John Mitchell, Cody McLeod, and Carl Soderberg. These guys should be gone (Cody Mac already is) and Bednar should stay.
Jared Bednar took over the Avalanche and was already behind the eight ball. He was basically given a job at 10:30 Sunday night and had to make a presentation at 6 am the next day. He was doomed from the start. Sakic’s moves in the offseason were made for Patrick Roy’s system, not Bednar’s. Bednar’s system had worked wonders in the AHL with it’s use of speed. Colorado did not have that. They had Jarome Iginla and Cody McLeod. When the Avs finally added SPEED late in the year. They won games or were at the very least, competitive in games. That did not happen for much of the season.
Then again, Erik Johnson, their best defensemen, was hurt for most of the season. It did allow the emergence of Nikita Zadorov…who got hurt days before Johnson returned in a bizarre tie-up in practice. Former all-world goaltender Semyon Varlamov also got hurt…again and missed most of the season with his nagging groin injuries. A healthy team would have done better. A Roy coached team would have also done better. But they still would not have been a playoff team and the team would still be stuck in square one. Worse actually, because Roy would be gone and a new system would have to still be addressed. At least with this horrific season, you could see the glimpses of what worked and what did not work.
The narrative of the defensive woes continued. Though, the Avalanche do seem to have a lot better hope on the defensive end going forward. Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie did not have ideal years, but they are still great top defensive players. Nikita Zadorov became the bruising defensemen the Avalanche have missed since Adam Foote and Rob Blake. Mark Barberio was a waiver wire pickup that hopefully the Avs can keep long term. He does what Francois Beaucheman could not do. Namely skating, puck handling, playing defense, keeping the puck in the zone on offense, and clearing the puck on defense. CLEARING THE PUCK has been an issue for several years in Colorado. It cost them a the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Wild and has plagued them ever since.
Beachemin was great when he was brought on, but was a disaster being too old and slow this year. Sakic HAS to buy him out in order to protect Zadorov, Barrie, Johnson, and Barberio in the expansion draft. Few Avs fans would have thought they would be worried about losing a defenseman to the Las Vegas Golden Nights, but it’s a realistic concern.
The rest of the veteran defensemen have been…invisible at best. Eric Gelinas was sent to the AHL, where he became a healthy scratch. Cody Goloubef and Patrick Wiercioch offered nothing of value, and Fedor Tyutin somehow found his way on the ice for a few of the Avalanche goals this season, but is not a reliable defensemen. He is a bottom pair guy at best and best served as a healthy scratch. It does leave the door open for guys like Anton Lindholm and Duncan Siemens to make a case for the bottom two defensive pairing going forward.
Lindholm seems like a lock next year, Siemens seems stuck in the purgatory that Tyson Barrie resided in for so long. Chris Bigras looked great last year, but injuries slowed him down this year. The young guys HAVE to get their shot next season. Signing another old veteran with “playoff experience” is going to keep the Avalanche from moving forward. They need speed and youth, even if they make mistakes. It’s not like they can play any worse as a team.
The forwards were disappointing. Jarome Iginla, Cody McLeod, and Andreas Martinsen were all sent packing. The were all Roy guys that slowed down Bednar’s system and held the team back. Joe was smart to move these guys and even got an absolute steal in Sven Andrighetto from Montreal. Sven put up 16 points in 19 games for a hapless Avalanche squad. In fact he outscored even Matt Duchene in the final 19 games of the season. His speed and tenacity is exactly what Bednar needs as a coach, and guys like Nathan MacKinnon need on his line. If Sven can do this for the worst team in the NHL,what could he do with a real roster around him?
Back to the disappointing forwards. Matt Duchene grew up an Avalanche fan his whole life. He has been one of the most consistent and exciting players for the Avalanche. Yet, this season was the most frustrating he’s ever had. For him, and for the fans. He failed to score 20 goals and netted only 41 points. He had 70 a few years ago. Impressive though, is that he still got over 40 points when his season was such a disaster. Fans wanting him gone might want to check the numbers and heart again, before they are so quick to move him.
Gabe Landeskog was the youngest captain in the history of the NHL until Connor McDavid arrived. Gabe earned every bit of being a captain this year. He had to answer all the tough questions all season to the media and try to keep the locker room from falling apart. Once again, fans wanting him gone need to reconsider. His points dropped from 53 to 33. It was ugly but when you have to play with guys like Rene Bourque when you are used to the Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly’s of the world, your numbers SHOULD drop.
The Avs wasted a lot of money on AHL guys. They missed on some free agent guys they counted on being there and then scrambled to find guys to replace them. Rene Bourque had played under Bednar before and would be a great bottom 6 depth forward. Instead he was asked to play top minutes and looked overwhelmed. Joe Colborne began opening night with a hat trick and then….scored one more goal the entire season. Mikhall Grigorenko was also another Roy guy. He shows flashes but is far from consistent. Blake Comeau had a break away and turned around to pass the puck…to the other team this year. That sums his season up well. You can watch it below.
Nobody has added “Yakety Sax” or that stupid Titanic song to it yet. Carl Soderberg went from being a great player on the Bruins to a great 3rd liner on the Avalanche last season, to a multi-million dollar disaster this year. 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points for $4.75 million. That’s only $339,285.71 per point. Blake Comeau found the back of the net only 8 times, John Mitchell had 7 points. 3 guys that were great as 3rd liners under Roy looked like D-League 3rd liners this year. The fact they looked so great last year but terrible this year is more indicative of Bednar’s new system than Sakic being a bad GM. It’s more the square piece in a round hole problem.
Some guys DID look good though. Matt Nieto got sent from the Sharks who are competing for a Stanley Cup to the Avs who are competing for…ummm. But he proved to be a depth forward that could jump into a top line (though sparingly) and could help out on a power play that has been a dumpster fire for seasons. JT Compher was part of the Ryan O’Reilly trade that Joe Sakic allegedly loss. It also gave them AJ Greer, Mikhall Grigorenko, and Nikita Zadorov. Compher played in 21 games and scored 5 goals. He SHOOTS THE PUCK unlike half of the Avs roster. He has a quick release and has also shown to be good defensively.
Tyson Jost was the Avs top draft pick last year and only played in 6 games after graduating college early. He showed a ton of potential and a reason why many thought the Avs getting him with a #10 pick was a steal. Me MAY start off in the AHL next year, but has the look of a great NHL forward. His grandpa became an internet sensation as well. Mikko Rantanen started off slow early on, fighting the puck, and looking inconsistent but caught fire late in the year. He led the Avs with 20 goals and also began to prove he was worth his high draft pick. So the youth is there, and Bednar does well with youth.
Sakic has managed to acquire some great pieces to build for the future through trades, drafts, and waiver wire. His forwards should look like, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Mikko Rantanen, JT Compher, Sven Andrighetto, and possibly Matt Neito. AJ Greer is expected to join the fold next season and he had the most success while playing with Compher and Rocco Grimaldi. Rocco SHOULD get his shot to make the team next year but he’ll probably be deemed too small for the NHL. Jost could play in the NHL but the AHL might be best for him. That’s not a bad starting place for forwards. Add in some speed guys for the 3rd and 4th lines and the Avalanche will be turned around really quickly.
Defensively, as stated before, the Avs need to go younger, not older. Johnson – Barrie – Zadorov – Barberio are good for being Top 4 defensemen. Beauchemin HAS to go. No matter the cost. Sakic must find a way to protect Barberio, Zadorov, and Andrighetto in the expansion draft. He might need to update his resume if he fails to do so.
Back to Bednar. This season should be seen as wash. The minute he got the job so late in the process does matter. The fact his best players and leaders were busy taking place in the World Cup of Hockey. His captain Landeskog as gone, along with some of his best scorers in Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. It’s tough to get a new team to buy into a system, it’s nearly impossible when your best players are gone for a couple weeks and only have a few weeks to prepare for the season. The Avs got a taste of Bednar’s system, and an off-season should help the team understand the system even more and hopefully with players that fit that system.
The final 10 games were against playoff teams (except Dallas). Colorado lost 3 games by two goals, 2 games by a single goal including a shootout loss, and won 2 games. They managed 3 or more goals 5 times in that span as well. For a team that finished scoring 112 goals LESS than they gave up and a shocking 100 goals LESS than the season before, this was quite an accomplishment. They were close in each game and it was the youth that led the way. It might be a small sample size but it should be enough to give Avs fans hope and Bednar and Sakic job security going forward. For most of the season the Avalanche didn’t even LOOK like a hockey team. For the last 10 games, they looked like they could BEAT playoff hockey teams.
It’s going to be an interesting off season for most of the NHL with the expansion draft. Player will be bought out, trades will be made. The NHL Draft itself does not have the sex appeal it did in years past, with no franchise prospects like Connor McDavid in this years draft but there is still plenty of talent. Colorado has the #4 pick. They could instantly help themselves out. Maybe Sakic makes a move to get Nathan MacKinnon’s buddy Jonathan Drouin? The Avalanche fans have a right to be nervous and hopeful. A fan favorite may be gone but the return may be great. Look at Ryan O’Reilly.
Bednar should be safe. Sakic will be safe but needs to get rid of the aging expensive veterans and find young hungry guys like Andrighetto. The Avs were terrible, but the Avs are also not far from being in the playoff picture again. Fans just have to continue to have faith and patience. It won’t be easy but the Cavs just won the NBA Title and your World Series Champions are the Chicago Cubs. ANYTHING is possible. Just gotta wait and see.
While you are waiting, here’s a funny video. This might be the highlight of the Avs season. Drunk idiots bang on glass. Kids…well…they have other ideas.