Colorado Avalanche: Final Thoughts on the Lost Season


We’re at about the mid-point of the Colorado Avalanche off-season. There’s been plenty of looking back to explain the disappointing 2014-15 season the Avalanche had. We’re still going to look at individual players, but only one last time at the season as a whole — this time.

One of Mile High Sticking’s long-time readers, who likes to go by Shaker, has agreed to let me publish some of his opinions on the Colorado Avalanche’s lost season.

Personnel Issues

I think it’s fair to say Avalanche fans like all the players as people — they all seem like reasonable, even likable men. However, there are certain players Avs fans simply can’t stand being on the team. Quick — who do you think they are?

Shaker identifies them perfectly. Quite succinctly, Shaker remarks that “holding onto and extending players” such as defensemen Nate Guenin and Nick Holden, who are, by his estimation, “terrible or terribly inconsistent most of the time” is a big mistake. This is a fairly popular opinion, especially concerning Guenin. In fact, some have gone so far as to call him a “traffic cone” because he’s considered a stationary object that just directs traffic.

To my mind, Nate Guenin played a specific role last year, and, yes, it was a little bit traffic cone. Head coach Patrick Roy stated that he wanting defensive pairings that mixed a skill player with a shut-down defender. Guenin was the shut-down to Tyson Barrie‘s skill.

Nick Holden had an off year, no doubt. He started out very weak, but he improved by the end of the season.

Shaker (along with a lot of Avs Nation) is having none of that:

"“Neither of them are good enough for steady NHL duty but Roy is loyal to them. He ‘believes in them.’ Even through 50+ games of Guenin being completely lost and behind the play, Roy believes something other than his eyes.”"

That’s a little harsh to my mind. I don’t know what coach Roy sees, but I firmly believe he had his [good] reasons for keeping Guenin in play. As for Holden, coach Roy likes his work ethic and was willing to give him a chance.

Brad Stuart is another defenseman who catches a lot of flak. Shaker says of the veteran defenseman:

"“Until the last 1/4 of the season, he did nothing that was expected of him and slid down the depth chart. But Roy believes in him.”"

Brad Stuart was initially slated as a partner for #1 defenseman Erik Johnson, and it’s true that he washed out of that. However, coach Roy used him as a teacher for some of the younger players — Holden especially. And even Shaker admits that Holden got better.

The goal tending situation is another favorite sore subject for Avs Nation. The Colorado Avalanche extended goalie Reto Berra before ever seeing him play in an Avs uniform. He did not have an auspicious beginning. However, he had come highly recommended by goalie coach Francois Allaire, so there had to be some potential.

Berra didn’t see a lot of playing time last season either, as Shaker points out:

"“Berra, also extended for good money, was glued to the bench because Roy didn’t have any faith in him but we’re stuck with him regardless.”"

Shaker also points out that starting goalie Semyon Varlamov “and his wonky groin played ridiculous stretches and back to backs” because Berra seemed so unreliable.

Quick aside — I love that phrasing of Varlamov “and his wonky groin.” That said, coach Roy likes to play his starting goalie a lot. And he blames all those starts on the goalie himself. Just recently he remarked that he expected Varlamov to play a lot this season “because he’s going to want to.” Berra or no Berra, Varlamov’s going to play a lot of games.

Coaching Issues

A point of contention between other Avalanche fans and me is coaching — or, specifically, Patrick Roy’s decisions. Does Patrick Roy make mistakes? Absolutely. Am I going to be the one to catch them? Sure thing — when his French-Canadian heritage skews his English-speaking skills. When it comes to hockey, though, I consider Roy the expert of experts in his field.

I don’t know that Shaker and Avs Nation necessarily disagree with that point. However, many fans, Shaker included, saw issues with the coaching. Shaker’s thoughts:

"“It’s the coaching staff that sets the pace and demands for the team and clearly they couldn’t do that, or come up with a strategy to fit the players they had. Short of ‘get the puck and go like hell to the other end of the ice’ there was nothing.”"

Now “get the puck and go like hell to the other end of the ice” isn’t terrible for a team with speed like the Colorado Avalanche. However, though I’m no hockey coach, even I realize there has to be more game plan than that. I’m not saying there wasn’t — heaven knows coach Roy and his assistants had that white board out all the time to show the Avs what plays they wanted to see. To me, the failure for the plays was a lack of chemistry on the players’ end.

One of the favorite gripes — here on Mile High Sticking included — was the failed Avalanche power play. Midway through the season it became an almost grim joke how scoreless the Avs’ power play was.

Shaker thought a lot of the problem stemmed from a lack of rush and breakout. A lot of Avs fans thought the team didn’t have enough puck-moving defensemen — especially once Erik Johnson went down with his injury.

He also blames a lot of the positioning of the defensemen:

"“No one seemed to know where to be or who to cover or what part of the ice was their responsibility. Johnson, [Jan] Hejda and Barrie are included in that. The fact is that this team and its coaching staff relied far too much on individual talent and far too little on strong team play. While it’s fun to watch Johnson, [Matt] Duchene, Barrie, [Alex] Tanguay, single-handedly dissect a defense and score, it’s absolutely vital and necessary to score on the power play and win puck battles in all three zones.”"

Well, I can’t really argue with any of that. A team, especially one as offensive-minded as the Avalanche, has to score on the power play. It’s also loads of fun to watch those skill players score those pretty goals.

When it comes to the power play, the forwards didn’t escape scrutiny. On this subject Shaker and I agree — it’s mental. However, Shaker was a little less… forgiving:

"“The forwards were flat out lazy on the power play as well as even strength through the first 20 or 30 games, and when they did win, they let up on the work ethic almost immediately.”"

Now, while coaching could be partially to blame, I also point to leadership. And when I say leadership, my finger is aimed straight at Jarome Iginla. He came in as the veteran and one-time captain. I was disappointed that he couldn’t display enough leadership to get the youngsters moving in the right direction. After all, if we’re going to point to players getting contract extensions before proving their worth in burgundy and blue, let’s point to a player taking on the alternate captaincy before doing the same.

That’s the biggest criticism I’m going to put forth.

Final Thoughts

More from Avalanche News

I love to talk hockey and do so anytime I get the chance. Sometimes I’m talking to people who generally like sports but don’t necessarily follow the Colorado Avalanche closely. When we talk about the lost season, they sometimes ask me what I think happened.

Well, it’s as complex as there are players on the team and games in the season. On any given day, you don’t know what a player is bringing to the ice and what the ice is bringing to the player. That’s true of any team, though, and the “youth” argument can only take you so far.

This is what I tell people, and this is what I firmly believe. I think that, in the back of their minds, some of the movers and shakers on the team thought the 2014-15 season was going to be easier than the “Why Not Us?” season. Not only was that not true, it was a harder season. Those two, much-anticipated opening games threw them for a loop. Before they could really get their bearings, Varlamov’s wonky groin started taking him out.

And then the injuries just got ridiculous. By the time the Avalanche players overcame that, and started playing as well as they did in the second half of the season, it was too late. The season was lost.

Like I tell people when I opine thus — that and $4 will buy you Starbucks.

What do you think, Avs Nation?

A big thanks to Shaker for providing his viewpoints for this post.

Next: Early Games and the Lost Avs Season

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