Do Avalanche Players Lack the Will to Win?


Colorado Avalanche greats such as Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy were renowned for their will to win. Both players were known for pushing through both illness and pain to play.

Now, several current Avalanche players have also been known for playing through pain and illness. Captain

Gabriel Landeskog

has played through wrist pain, and and defenseman

Erik Johnson

through knee pain. Both also played through flu so bad they had to take IV liquids during breaks — in fact, that’s how Landeskog developed his famous “Landeskogging” celebration:

Plus there was that time center John Mitchell took a puck to the face that left him looking like this but came back to score a goal in the game.

But can the team as a whole improve their compete level?

Tanking for Draft Position

“A culture of losing is hard to unlearn.” ~Harrison Mooney

With the new lottery system, having the worst record in the NHL no longer ensures a team has the #1 draft pick. However, the worse a team’s record, the higher up their draft pick is likely to be. The Buffalo Sabres, at #30 in the NHL, may not have gotten that elusive #1 draft pick, but they still picked much higher (#2) than the Colorado Avalanche (#10).

I don’t like the idea of tanking for a draft pick. Hockey is a team sport, and a single player can’t change the makeover of a team by himself — especially right away.

On the flip side, motivation and team culture are delicate entities. Hockey blogger Harrison Mooney agrees:

I understand that players who have worked their whole lives to reach the NHL level are unlikely to completely lose their compete level after a year or even two of tanking. However, NHL hockey is a highly fast-paced sport, and dulling a mental edge even a little can make the difference in close games.

Plus, even if teams change several of their players during the off-season, rosters tend to stay somewhat the same. And, as Mooney points out, a culture of losing is hard to unlearn.

Player Compete Level

Recently a reader who goes by Sweetmamalou made an interesting observation in the comment section of a post:

"“Wild 4th line guys are busting their asses for playing time on the top lines! The Wild aren’t looking for guys to play on their 3rd and 4th line. The [young players] are not better than Parise, but they want his job. There is real competition on this roster for spots! The Wild players are way hungrier than the Avs! It starts with internal competition.”"

You might know by now that I hate the Minnesota Wild, and I certainly don’t like any comparison that places the Wild as better than the Colorado Avalanche in any way. That said, Sweetmamalou makes some interesting observations.

It all starts with that internal will to win. These players are working not only for spots on the roster but top minutes.

Now, does Mark-Andre Cliche ever have the possibility of replacing Matt Duchene as the top center? Stop laughing, of course he doesn’t. However, might his play improve if he was playing to earn that spot instead of just any spot on the roster?

Forget Cliche, as I know you’d like to, and consider some of the young prospects. Joey Hishon, Borna Rendulic and Mikko Rantanen all want spots on the team. Should they be fighting instead to replace Carl Soderberg, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog?

How about Nathan MacKinnon? He was the #1 draft pick two years ago. However, should he automatically be placed in the top six, or should he have to fight for it?

Of course, last season MacKinnon did have to fight for a top-six spot, and it’s hard to say that competition much improved his play. However, Duchene got benched from the power play for a game, and suddenly he was drawing on reserves he may have forgotten he possessed. He went from one of the non-shooters to finishing second on the team for shots on goal. (MacKinnon was third.)

Look at Landeskog. He struggled at times last season — hello, December and lack of any goals — but he never stopped fighting. In some cases, he literally fought if that was all that was working for him. He finished second on the team for scoring and first for shots on goal — and second in penalty minutes.

Have the Avalanche learned a culture of losing? Some of the players perhaps did. However, witness the conclusion of last season. The Avalanche were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, and that night they lost a bitter game to the LA Kings. Yet there were three games left.

Some fans were hoping the Avalanche would tank those games and jockey up the draft list. Instead, Landeskog promised the team would play their best hockey to the very end for the fans. The Avs did just that, winning all three of the final games in front of the home crowd.

In other words, if there are any vestiges of the losing culture left, they are being burned out by that will to win. Maybe no one, from Rantanen to Duchene, should feel secure in his position, if competition for a roster spot is what’ll inspire that player to dig a little deeper.

Next: Early Games and the Avs Lost Season

Next: Final Thoughts on the Avs Lost Season

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