Why Nathan MacKinnon is not the Avalanche’s Most Important Player


The Colorado Avalanche struggled mightily as a whole in the 2014-15 campaign, and Nathan MacKinnon was no exception. Nevertheless, ESPN’s Katie Strang said in a blog post that the team’s most important player is not Erik Johnson, not Semyon Varlamov, not Matt Duchene — but Nathan MacKinnon. Well, she is wrong.

This is how she described what a team’s most important player is:

"Declaring your team’s most important player is not a simple thing. It’s not always the most valuable guy or the highest points producer. It is the player who makes your team go — the one you can’t afford to lose, even if all he contributes can’t be measured by fancy stats."

It is true, hockey is a team sport and it’s hard to pick that one guy who classifies as more important than anyone else on the team. It is also correct that an aging veteran could be a team’s most important player, while not being one of the top scorers or the player with the highest trade value. The really important part is the last sentence: the most important player is one you can’t afford to lose, no matter what his stats say.

Now here’s the deal. How does MacKinnon fit the bill?

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All Strang talks about in her evaluation of MacKinnon is his stats — which, as she said, aren’t too important in determining a team’s best player. She even goes on to say that “with Mackinnon set to enter training camp healthy, his production will be essential this season”. That sounds a lot like “if he is the team’s top scorer, he is important for the team”. She also mentioned that he is used on the power play, which is a nice thing for him, but doesn’t really catapult him to being the team’s most important player.

That issue aside, there is no doubt that another season like his rookie campaign — which he finished with 24 goals and 63 points in 82 games, plus 10 more in seven playoff contests — would greatly help the Avalanche and MacKinnon himself. He just wouldn’t fit Strang’s description of the most important player.

Strang also mentions that MacKinnon wasn’t all that bad in his sophomore year. One of her main points there is that he created a lot of chances, ranking fifth in shots per 60 minutes (11.01). That stat is obviously a fact, but when you actually watched some Avalanche games, you could see that it doesn’t tell you too much.

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MacKinnon’s main move was to skate into the offensive zone, go to a full stop, and fire a shot at the net, without it ever having a good chance of going in. That also didn’t create too many scoring chances for his teammates. Furthermore, he tried a lot of shots from bad angles, which doesn’t do much for the offense either. It may create rebounds, but that playing style is generally not very successful — as seen on MacKinnon.

All this isn’t about bashing Nathan MacKinnon — it really isn’t. He is an insanely talented player, who I still believe can turn into one of the league’s very best. However, after that past season, there is no way that he is the team’s most important players.

One of the criteria was that a team can’t afford to lose their most important player. MacKinnon may turn into that in the future, but he isn’t it right now. Instead, imagine taking goalie Semyon Varlamov off the team for one of the past two seasons. With a defense that bad, Varlamov was about as important for the Avalanche as Carey Price was for the Montréal Canadiens.

You could make a case for someone like Erik Johnson or Jarome Iginla as well, who are both important players and leaders on the team. I will leave the decision to everyone individually. Just please don’t say it’s MacKinnon (yet).

Who do you think is the Avs’ most important player? Let us know in the comments!

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