Did Joe Sakic Make the Right Moves this Summer?


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  • By adding a new crop of veteran forwards as well as an aging defenseman, Colorado Avalanche Executive Joe Sakic altered the identity of his team. The Avalanche will be sporting a new look in 2014, now a team filled with veteran role players and devoid of that indecipherable glut at center. However, making major changes to an already talented team — the Avs finished third in the NHL in points last year — does not always work right away. With that said, did Joe Sakic make the right moves this offseason?

    Even though at a superficial level the team looks much better, once one digs further into the recent acquisitions, it becomes apparent that this team is actually a tad worse than last year. Taking a look at Colorado, one has to wonder how bright the team’s future will be in 2014.

    Starting on offense, Colorado sent P.A. Parenteau packing to Montreal in exchange for Daniel Briere just before free agency. In his past two seasons, Briere played in 103 of a possible 130 games, amassed 19 goals and 12 assists, and maintained a horrendous +/- at -12. Prorate those statistics to an 82-game season and Briere finds his way onto the scorer sheet just 32 times. In just 55 games last season, Parenteau surpassed that total. Even worse, Daniel Briere’s play last season showed an aging veteran that no longer had game-breaking speed nor was he able to avoid defensive gaffes.

    Then, after an unsuccessful attempt to keep Paul “Pauly Walnuts” Stastny locked up in Denver, Sakic and co. went a bit unorthodox in free agency, pouncing on low-speed power forward Jarome Iginla. Though not done yet, Iginla, now 37, has considerably cooled down since his prime seasons in Calgary. True, he could be a 50-60 point scorer — not to mention a tremendous role model both for his style and off-ice leadership — but the days of him scoring 40 goals are long gone. Did Sakic justify losing Stastny, a 28-year old, 65-point, speedy center, by signing Iginla?

    The Colorado Avalanche failed to sign Paul Stastny. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

    To me, Stastny is the far more valuable player. Keeping him in town with an long term deal would have been a much better move than bringing in Iginla. Stastny is able to set up plays from anywhere on the ice, a skillset that no player on Colorado can currently match (even Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon). Additionally, Colorado is chock full of physicality in the bottom-six and also boast Gabriel Landeskog, a great defensive forward who can light the lamp on occasion. Physicality is not necessarily a bad thing, but replacing a 65-point playmaking center with a slow 55-point power forward will do a lot in changing the identity of this hockey team. At some point, with so many power forwards and two-way forwards, Colorado will no longer be a fast team that can score and will more closely resemble the New Jersey Devils, a tremendous goalie masking a ragtag defense with a few forwards that can score and a collection of middle-six players.

    In their last pro roster move at forward, Colorado replaced ineffective Bradley Malone with Jesse Winchester. On the one hand, Malone, at 25, showed little promise. After being victimized by the NHL-AHL yoyo treatment, Malone left Denver and signed with Carolina. In his place will be Jesse Winchester, who should center the fourth line between Max Talbot and fan-favorite Cody McLeod. However, such a small transaction will do little to help Colorado aside from leaving the team with a reliable face-off specialist on the fourth line.

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    Overall, it is safe to say that Colorado downgraded at forward over the course of the offseason.

    Last season, Colorado’s forwards were scoring crucial goals, much to the fortune of the defense. At the moment, the team’s blue line corps remains mediocre. Though basic team stats paint one picture, the consensus, aided by an eye-opening array of advanced statistics, shows that  Semyon Varlamov constantly had to bail out the blue liners, creating the illusion that the defense was turning a corner. Sakic’s tall task this summer was to upgrade the defense by adding a left-handed linemate for Erik Johnson. Colorado tried to answer that need by trading for Brad Stuart in exchange for a second round pick and a late round pick. Brad Stuart fits the bill as a south-paw, but does he have the skill to be a top-pairing defenseman in Colorado?

    The simple answer to that is no. He is unreliable in the defensive zone. Not only does he struggle to set up offensive plays (his point shares and totals are uninspiring), but his defense leaves a lot to be desired. At best, Stuart’s talent would deem a top-six role with some time on the second penalty killing unit. If that is the case, Colorado vastly overpaid for Stuart’s services.

    As is the motto for Colorado’s offseason, no acquisition is complete without losing an equally important piece. Such was the case when Andre Benoit signed with Buffalo after not receiving an offer from Sakic and company. Not only was Benoit strong on offense, but he also took care of a lot of rough minutes on defense, going up against opposing teams’ first and second lines. While the drop-off in talent is not too steep, Colorado lost a second round pick and valuable cap space in order to downgrade on defense.

    NHL analysts and fans alike expect Colorado to make another serious push towards the playoffs this year, but such might not be the case when considering that the 2014-2015 Avalanche squad will be a slower, older, and overall worse team than its 2014-2014 counterpart. At this point, the question is: did Joe Sakic make the right moves this summer? That is for you to decide.

    Thanks for reading!