The recent three-game-skid for the Colorado Avalanche has put a spear through the hearts of many fans hoping to see their Avs compete in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Avalanche aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs just yet, but we are beyond simple arithmetic with this team. To get to the playoffs, the Avs are going to have to bust out some advanced calculus with pages of algebra to simplify in order to find a solution. They need to delve into the depths of complex algorithms, and computer simulations. The math is scary! Additionally, they need a whole lotta teams to bomb a few tests to make up ground.
In other words, put some bacon and eggs on the griddle, because I want something tasty to enjoy with my Avalanche – they are toast.
Before I start sipping on orange juice, let’s throw some blame around! Well, not exactly. But I want to dive into what has led to this disappointing season. I want to get to the bottom of this, and find a concrete foundation that this organization can build on.
Roy and Sakic have been a polarizing conversation on the internet as this season has progressed. You have their defenders, who don’t doubt anything that the Avs’ brass does. You also have people who are frustrated with certain aspects of this team, and point the finger at the people making the decisions.
This has at times divided us as a fan-base, which is unfortunate. The whole good fans vs. bad fans war is incredibly silly.
The problem with a forum like Twitter, is you have a finite amount of characters to convey a thought. You don’t have paragraphs to support an argument, give counter-points, or develop thoughts and ideas. Instead you get a blunt, opinionated snippet of emotion.
The world isn’t black and white, and yet Twitter inherently forces people into making very black or white comments. Usually those comments are made from a place of passion, not hatred. In sports, winning and losing is everything. We should embrace the passion, and try to understand the basis of those comments, rather than judging people for caring deeply about the team we all root for.
Obviously there are exceptions, but 95% of us are all just fans who want to see this team succeed. Some of us think with our minds, and want to logically break apart the roster and find ways to fix it. Others think with their hearts, and want to believe in the players who are here. They want to see their favorite players improve and correct their flaws, and grow into a winning team.
Neither of these avenues of fandom are wrong, because in reality, most situations are a hue of grey. The Colorado Avalanche are no exception. Beyond the burgundy, is storm cloud grey, and that’s a much better approach to evaluating Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic.
After the success of last year, this season has had many failures. There is no denying this, and Patrick and Joe shoulder a lot of the blame for this fact.
There are also many silver linings to those storm clouds, and Roykic deserves credit for those successes as well.
The rest of this article will be a commentary on finding the grey when it comes to the most black and white views on how Roy and Sakic have done since taking over the Colorado Avalanche.
The Dark Cloud
The Colorado Avalanche defense is subpar. Some may even say it is a catastrophic collection of AHL talent, with a few bright spots sprinkled in.
The failure of Roy and Sakic has been identifying and securing quality defensive pieces to fill this unit. Erik Johnson has blossomed into an exciting player to watch, and a high quality option as a top-paring d-man. Tyson Barrie is a smooth rover-type, whose superior offensive skills make up for his diminutive size.
Aside from those two, the Avalanche don’t have any standouts on the blue-line.
Jan Hejda is one of my favorite personalities on the team, and he is solid on most nights. He also has some nice chemistry with EJ. Jan’s downfall is his age at this point. His physical skills aren’t comparable to many of the explosive younger players in the league. Jan is a nice piece as a fringe top-4, but more ideally bottom pairing type guy at this point.
The Avalanche also employ Zach Redmond and Nick Holden. Both of these guys have fun personalities off the ice, and are extremely easy to root for. Their play is too inconsistent to be trusted in a top-4 role. You see flashes of talent with each, followed up by costly errors.
Brad Stuart is a guy the Avalanche paid a heavy price to acquire. He hasn’t been anything but a steaming pile of mediocrity. Stuart is no longer the feared hitter he was in his younger days. His other tools are all exposed as weaknesses, particularly his passing and skating.
Nate Guenin rounds out the regulars. Poor Nate is everyone’s favorite whipping boy, and it’s unfortunate to see. Guenin is a hard worker and has paid his dues to get a shot in the NHL. Unfortunately, this isn’t a league of sentiment. Guenin has significant positional and decision making deficiencies that are exposed on a nightly basis. This is in addition to his very limited skill-set as a puck-mover. The recipe is a player who is often pinned in his own zone, and will often end up in the wrong spot on the ice once he is pinned, which leads to enemy scoring chances.
The stubbornness or failure of Roy to recognize this is the frosting of the failure cake when it comes to this defense. The harsh reality of the situation is that having Guenin in the lineup on any occasion, is an organizational failure. Sorry Nate. It breaks my heart to type things like this, but objectively, I think it’s the truth.
All in all, you have a solid first pairing guy in EJ, and a nice offensive specialist in Barrie who can each play big minutes. Aside from that you have a muddled mess of fringe NHLers, old guys whose skills are in decline, or AHLers who are receiving a huge favor from this organization.
The Silver Lining
The Colorado Avalanche may very well be protecting their future on the blue-line. The frustrating drought of this season may reap much juicier fruit in future seasons.
Duncan Siemens, Chris Bigras, and Mason Geertsen, among others, are all receiving significant playing time to develop as defenseman. I believe that Roy and Sakic have made a decision that they don’t want to rush their defensive prospects to the NHL level.
The future of this team is going to rely on a few of these guys becoming above average players on the NHL roster, so it makes sense to give them every chance to succeed.
A marginal improvement by swapping out Duncan Siemens for Nate Guenin this season, may not be worth the potential stunt in development that Siemens may experience if he gets in over his head too soon. I believe this is why we saw the Stuart acquisition, and many of us are banging our heads on the wall when we see the same defensive shortcomings in the lineup every night.
Building an elite defensive core is no easy task, and instead of throwing sticks of dynamite into the current roster to make it happen, they are being patient with what’s in the pipeline.
It’s a safe approach for the Avalanche. The key will be pulling the trigger on some of these young guys at the right time, so they can begin the NHL learning curve and don’t fester in the minor league systems for too long. If the plan works out, and helps these youngsters succeed down the line, then I’m on board. The onus is on Roykic to maximize the talent and potential of these youngsters, and bring in outside talent to fill any remaining holes.
The Dark Cloud
The Avalanche haven’t seemed to have the best track record with managing assets since Roykic took over. They haven’t done anything catastrophic, but there have been a number of decisions where they probably weren’t as efficient with their resources as they could have been.
I highlighted this concern prior to the season, and think that the results of this year have given some pretty solid credibility to my theories.
Reto Berra, Brad Stuart, and Daniel Briere were all recent acquisitions for the Colorado Avalanche. All three have been low-impact players for the Colorado Avalanche, and have not addressed significant needs.
The resources expended to acquire the trio are PA Parenteau, two second-round draft picks, a fifth-round pick, and a sixth-round pick. In many ways, the Avalanche may as well have just given all of resources away.
I often hear people defend Roy and Sakic by saying that this team has a bare cupboard, so you can’t blame them for the lack of depth. Acquiring low-impact, past their prime players, for second-round picks is how that cupboard stays bare.
Danny Briere has shown some flashes of offense, but his role within the team isn’t well defined. The Avalanche also have the second-from-worst power play in the NHL, yet Briere hasn’t been given much of a fair shot on that unit this season. He certainly has the finishing ability and nose for the net that might spark that unit.
Instead, he has been left out to dry. The Avalanche gave up a player in PA Parenteau, who had shown nice chemistry with this roster, and the returning player wasn’t at a position of need, and hasn’t been utilized in a way to maximize what value he could potentially bring. Bad asset management.
The potential was there for the Avalanche to re-allocate those assets and actually acquire a nice defensive piece for their roster. The NY Islanders managed to do this, and look at the results they are experiencing. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to say that the Avs dropped the ball.
The Avs also signed Marc-Andre Cliche, Nate Guenin, Reto Berra, Brad Stuart, and Cody McLeod to contract extensions. Extending players of this caliber, especially to multi-year deals isn’t how you build a cup contending roster.
You can spin any angle you want on it, or try to come up with reasons for why they did it. That’s fine. Give me all of the excuses you want. Fact is, you don’t build a Stanley Cup winning roster by handing out ANY of those contract extensions. Period. The first three guys shouldn’t have NHL contracts to begin with, and Stuart and McLeod were given too much term. This is an organizational failure, and hopefully a learning experience for Roy and Sakic.
For those wondering why the Avalanche offense has come to a screeching halt this season, the removal of the passing prowess of Parenteau and Stastny from the core of forwards is a good place to start. Both players played an integral role to this team’s success, and both players represent mismanaged organizational assets.
The Silver Lining
Letting Stastny walk got lumped in above, but I actually appreciate the Avalanche allowing last year’s team a crack at the playoffs. They took a chance knowing that Stastny may or may not return, but I actually don’t blame the Avalanche for playing their cards the way they did. It was a tough situation, and in retrospect you wonder what you may have gotten if you traded him, but hindsight is 20/20.
I think the Avalanche have done a nice job at identifying some players who were either un-noticed overseas, or stuck in a log-jam in other organizations.
Dennis Everberg and Borna Rendulic have both already cracked the Avalanche roster, and are big, talented forwards. I am excited about the future of both of these guys, and the Avalanche acquired both just be being diligent in their overseas scouting. This is a huge organizational success.
The Avs also brought in Zach Redmond and Nick Holden in back-to-back years. I know I was harsh on the defensive core above, but both of these guys came in on the cheap, and have had some nice moments. They also give the team some nice depth and offensive upside. Are they perfect players? No. However, they do speak to the ability of Roy and Sakic to find some promising pieces on occasion.
I think a lot of the moves the Avalanche have made are to try and take shortcuts, because this team doesn’t have a lot of NHL talent in their minor league system. Rebuilding an organization takes several years, so you can’t judge Roy and Sakic after a year and a half.
I don’t think the Avalanche have hit the nail on the head with all of their moves, but they certainly have tried. Credit them for that. Now they just need to learn that you can’t fix broken bones with band-aids, and paying out the wazoo with assets to purchase said bandaids is bad for business.
Team Systems and Chemistry
The Dark Cloud
I’ll begin this section with a small caveat. Chemistry is a tough thing to quantify or describe. It’s one of those things that when a team is playing well, they have good chemistry. When a team isn’t playing well, gosh darn-it, they must have bad chemistry.
There is some truth to that, but it is also a bit of a myth and cover-up for teams who don’t have talent.
The Avalanche have pockets of talented players, but also have a lot of areas of weakness on their roster. This team is an interesting blend of promising youth, as well as veteran old-timers. Much of the offensive power of this team is stacked in the top two lines.
Third and fourth lines aren’t meant to be high scoring units, but the offensive impact and cohesion of those lines for the Avs is well below average.
Couple this with the scoring struggles of the big guns, and it’s not hard to see why the Avalanche aren’t consistently winning games.
The current Avalanche squad seems to be missing something. My theory is that the collection of players aren’t proficient enough at passing to consistently compete at the NHL level.
The Avs added Jarome Iginla to replace Paul Stastny in some ways, but the passing talent of Stastny wasn’t truly replaced. The loss of PA Parenteau stripped another creamy passer from the roster. The result is that the Avalanche have roster with some talented pieces, but not enough passing to connect the dots.
The defensive core, as stated above, is in need of an overhaul. Crisp passers from the backend to help ignite this team in transition are a must.
The Silver Lining
Patrick Roy seems to be a coach the players love playing for. He is aggressive and puts himself on the line for his guys. He is also very patient in practices and with the media.
While the Avs may struggle with their systems and execution at times, there is no denying that this team has heart. Patrick Roy is the blood that fuels this team’s heart. His passion and will to win are going to bode well for this franchise.
The Avs are also still stacked with talent that makes me drool. Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Semyon Varlamov, Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Gabriel Landeskog, and Ryan O’Reilly. Yowza! The core of this team is young, and the best years of their careers are still on the horizon.
I still believe in Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic. They were the breath of fresh air this organization needed, and I think that they have the potential to bring this team to the top.
Certain aspects of this team’s play have been frustrating at times, but I’m willing to have faith that Roy and Sakic will learn from this season and adapt. I don’t think that they have been perfect, and I think it’s fair to give some criticism to certain elements of their handling of this roster. I think it’s fair to be a bit critical of a coach who has given the green light on Marc-Andre-Cliche suiting up for 123 NHL games.
Growing pains can be a part of improving, but this season didn’t have to happen this way. This team has too much core talent. I really believe that Roy and Sakic did a poor job filling out the roster, and that based on their available resources, this team should be playoff bound.
My overall interpretation is that this season has been a failure. Roy and Sakic are tasked with bringing winning hockey to Denver, and they didn’t accomplish that this year. I don’t think you can blame fans for identifying what they believe to be reasons for why this team is failing.
It’s also still acceptable to root for the guys who are here. You can believe in this team. The beauty of sports is sometimes convincing yourself in the delusion of belief, even when logic is screaming at you to be cynical.
Ultimately, the future is still bright in Colorado. Roy and Sakic haven’t been perfect, but as long as they are learning lessons and have a plan, I’m confident in the future of this team. After all, the silver lining of every dark cloud is snow. When your team moniker is the Avalanche, that has to be something that will get fans excited.