Is Colorado Avalanche Hockey Going Goon Style?


Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy and GM Joe Sakic were not shy in one of the qualifications new team acquisitions had to have – size. They mentioned it on more than one occasion going into and during the off-season.

Avs execs got that and so much more. Over the summer, they signed three defensemen and three forwards, not to mention their #10 draft pick. Check out the size of these players:

  • Blake Comeau (left wing) 6’1″ and 202 pounds
  • Mikhail Grigorenko (center) 6’3″ and 209 pounds
  • Carl Soderberg (center) 6’3″ and 216 pounds
  • Francois Beauchemin (defenseman) 6’1″ and 208 pounds
  • Nikita Zadorov (defenseman) 6’5″ and 220 pounds
  • Brandon Gormley (defenseman) 6’1″ and 196 pounds
  • Mikko Rantanen (center prospect) 6’4″ and 209 pounds

Of those players, Comeau, Beauchemin and Gormley are the smallest. Yet Comeau and Beauchemin are both renowned for displaying a gritty playing style.

That begs the question, then — does the Avalanche’s emphasis on size means the team is in the process of becoming a goon squad?

 Colorado Avalanche Hockey

I find it interesting that teams seem to have characteristic profiles through generations. The Philadelphia Flyers earned the nickname “The Broad Street Bullies” decades ago, yet they seem to be still living up to that gritty reputation. The New Jersey Devils have ever been a trap team. The Montreal Canadiens are snoots who rely on — and abuse — their goalies.

The Colorado Avalanche have had a consistent reputation as a team that relies on scoring prowess. Avalanche hockey always been about speed and sharp shooting with a heavy side of goalie brilliance.

So, Avalanche hockey has always been about scoring, often mixed with speed. However, from the earliest days, with enforcers like Chris Stewart and Scott Parker, with instigators like Claude Lemieux and even with power forwards like Peter Forsberg, the Avalanche have been a team that’s not afraid to get dirty.

This is a team that employs three smallish players who are all about speed and scoring — Matt Duchene, Tyson Barrie and Nathan MacKinnon. Every one of these players is willing to go toe-to-toe with an opponent, but they’re in no way goons. They’re not even power forwards (or power defenseman in the case of Barrie).

Is the style of Avalanche hockey changing with the new emphasis on size and grittiness?

New Emphasis

“Is it wrong to have a 6’3, 6’4 center?” ~Patrick Roy

This emphasis on size came at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season after the team had lost a record number of man games to injury. Head coach Patrick Roy talked about some of the smaller forwards such as Joey Hishon (5’10” and 170 pounds) and compared them to similar players on the Anaheim Ducks.

The Anaheim Ducks have a behemoth of a center in Ryan Getzlaf — 6’4″ and 218 pounds. His wingman, Corey Perry, is no shrinking violet at 6’2″ and 213 pounds. Even center Ryan Kesler comes in at a very respectable 6’2″ and 208 pounds.

The Los Angeles Kings are another team coach Roy has talked about as one he wanted to pattern Avalanche hockey after. The top two centermen for the Kings are 6’4″ and 212 pounds (Jeff Carter) and 6’3″ and 220 pounds (Anze Kopitar).

Coach Roy mentioned those players and asked “Is it wrong to have a 6’3, 6’4 center?”

Considering all three centers acquired by the team are exactly that, the answer must be “no.”

Both the Anaheim Ducks and the LA Kings are known for being gritty, puck-possession teams. While Avalanche hockey certainly can get gritty, no one’s ever going to accuse the Avs of being a puck-possession team.

Either Colorado would like to change that, or maybe they’re going to focus more on the physical nature of the game.

Goon Tendencies?

Hockey is a sport filled with grace as well as violence. Perhaps Avalanche execs would like to see their team be able to stand up to the more physical aspects of the game.

That said, both Sakic and Roy emphasized that the new acquisitions had to have speed and skill as well as size and grittiness. There may be a player or two (Cody McLeod, Patrick Bordeleau) who are more grit than skill. However, the character of the team is still based on speed and scoring.

That’s shown in their very recent acquisition of Brandon Gormley. The defenseman is neither big nor particularly gritty. He’s known for being a puck mover.

Indeed, the young core of players includes just the one power forward — Gabriel Landeskog. Otherwise, there’s the speedy scorers in Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon — and possibly Mikhail Grigorenko and Mikko Rantanen. There’s a two-way defenseman who’s not afraid to get physical in Erik Johnson and a straight up offensive defenseman in Tyson Barrie.

So, no, the Colorado Avalanche are unlikely to turn into a goon squad anytime soon. After a season of so many injuries, it’s far more likely Avalanche execs wanted to see the team get bigger and grittier so they could protect themselves while speeding around and scoring.

What do you think Avalanche hockey is going to be like this season?

Next: Top 5 Avs Hockey Fights of 2014-15

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