Colorado Avalanche: Dissecting a Winning Formula


Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Avalanche Head Coach Patrick Roy and General Manager Joe Sakic are smart men.

As it relates to hockey, they’ve seen more minutes of more games than I’ll ever watch in my lifetime, and see things in players that I’d never know to look for. They can compartmentalize all of the information that they’ve accumulated about the game over their life-times and draw comparisons to current and future players in an instant.

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They’re also true professionals of their craft. They see the game differently than you or I. Some of that is dictated by their respective roles with the team, as a coach and general manager, but a lot of it is probably just from being around hockey for their whole lives and knowing what works and what doesn’t. I honestly don’t think they’d even be capable of “turning it off” if they tried.

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It’s like the difference of how a seasoned tax accountant looks at Government filing forms compared to how most of us do it in Turbo Tax – they just know the system inside and out better than we do. That knowledge can pay literal dividends if you know how to apply it.

I see a box to fill out. A pro will find a loophole to exploit.

So, the thought occurred to me that Roy and Sakic and their staff must view the hockey world outside of the Colorado Avalanche with pretty acute lenses. What they think of teams like the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks or recent other winners, the Los Angeles Kings, is likely fascinating in scope and detail. What made those teams champions? And what can we as fans take away from what Roy and Sakic have assembled this off-season in their efforts to return to champion form?

Does success in the modern day NHL have a formula to it? And if it does; what variables and factors have the Avalanche tweaked from last season to get closer to the result that the ‘Hawks and Kings have shared recently? I’ll probably never see the game as Roy and Sakic do, but here’s what I’ve recently seen that a champion team needs:

  • An elitely talented player or two.
  • A better than average goaltender.
  • More than one consistent scoring line.
  • A stingy defense.
  • Above average puck possession stats.
  • A system of hockey that is difficult to play against – especially in the Playoffs.
  • A smattering of vocal veteran players to help guide the team.
  • Smart drafting and positional depth.
  • Special Teams Units that get the job done.

There’s more to it than that, but it feels like the perennial teams that go on deep playoff runs possess at least that much. Forward speed and strength are adjustable and certainly nice to have, but don’t immediately condemn teams without them.

The New York Rangers are certainly a fast team, but can adjust to their opponent if a heavier game is called for. They certainly qualify in the above criteria (maybe less on the penultimate point) and it seems like no surprise that they’ve been favored to win for the last several seasons.

With those bullets in mind, I’d like to take a macro-perspective stab at what the Colorado Avalanche have calculated going into training camp this year after making quite a few decisions organizationally and see if what is underneath the surface of this scratcher lottery ticket could be a winner. Of course, we’ll all see how it pans out over the course of the season, but before that, maybe it aligns with what we’ve also seen around the league’s champions.

Is the 2015-2016 roster truly Roy and Sakic’s interpretation of a winning formula?
Let’s dissect the formula some and preview the Colorado Avalanche’s potential fortunes for the 2015-2016 NHL season!

Colorado Avalanche: Champions in the Making?

The difference between the good and elite is pretty stark. Jonathan Toews, like him or not, is better than good. He’s phenomenal. He makes a difference on the ice before he even sets a skate blade on it. Opposing coaches are aware of his skill and build their game plans around minimizing his involvement. Coaches do this because if you don’t – and you give Toews and his line-mates free range to do what they like during a game; it usually doesn’t turn out so great for your team.

They’re difference makers and they come around less frequently than you’d think in pro hockey. It’s the reason why NHL franchises covet their 1st Round draft picks so preciously. Luckily for the Avs, we’re not devoid of those either.

Must-Have Variable #1: An elitely talented player or two.

Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Semyon Varlamov, Erik Johnson and Gabriel Landeskog were all very coveted players before they ever set a blade on an NHL ice arena’s surface. So coveted in fact, that they were all selected before the 23rd overall pick in the 1st Round – in fact, besides Varly, the rest of them all went in the top three of their year’s draft.

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If you take a look around the NHL for other teams that have also amassed such an arsenal of high 1st Round talent on their current roster, you’ll find that there aren’t too many others. Most teams need to make do with turning some upper and mid-level prospects into solid, serviceable pieces on their roster.

While that is also certainly a big part of being successful; few teams have the solid core that Roy’s Avalanche do. Edmonton, Buffalo and Arizona certainly try. Better yet though with the Avalanche – their young guns are entering their still relatively-young primes of their careers and are NHL ready right now.

To pogo stick bounce to another NHL team with elite talent, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins have shown what can be done when the elite pieces on their roster really get going. Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin were all taken in the 1st Round and have all improved the play of those around them. Guys like Pascal Dupuis and Kris Letang would be better than average on other teams, but on the Penguins’ roster, they work synergistically to what their elite counterparts are doing.

Fleury has shown that he can steal games just as Semyon Varlamov has done. While Crosby or Malkin are on the ice, it forces opposing defensemen to pay their respects positionally when they have the puck, thus opening up gaps for their line-mates. Their contributions to their team extend more imperceptibly, almost ethereally beyond their box-scores.

The difference, in my humble opinion, between a Sidney Crosby and a Nathan MacKinnon on most nights is how consistent we see the jolts of elite electric game-changer-ness from them and who plays on the wings beside them. Crosby has simply had more time to evolve as a player at this point, but we will certainly see MacKinnon catch up to him with time, and perhaps one day, he may surpass him. My fingers are crossed. Roy and Sakic are figuring out the best way to deliver that road to him and his team-mates.

 Stay tuned to Mile High Sticking as we continue to break down the Avalanche’s winning formula.

Next time: Goaltending

Next: Is This Matt Duchene's Year?

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