Colorado Avalanche: You Can’t Spell Challenge without Change


The Colorado Avalanche has gone back to losing games like they did last season. Does the team need a shake-up to go back to winning or should they keep doing what they are doing? The answer is so simple yet difficult.

Avs Nation is getting divided in their opinions on the Colorado Avalanche’s future. Some think the team has all the tools to be successful, others are hoping for a major shake-up. It may not have to be either extreme, but one thing is a fact: you cannot spell challenge without change.

The Avalanche is at the very bottom of the standings. Last in the Central Division, 26th in the league. Playoffs? Far, far away. There is technically enough time to get back to the top, but whether it happens this season, next year or in five years, it will be an incredible challenge. With the Avalanche’s current roster and club culture, it almost seems impossible to get back into the playoffs anytime soon.

Too many things are currently wrong with the team and the club as a whole. The offense, the defense, the system, the mentality. It’s not like it’s all negatives either — there are different bright spots throughout the team every game. But none of that really matters when the final result is a loss. Again and again. But, where do we even start?

The Colorado Avalanche’s Offense-First Style

Patrick Roy — a hockey legend taking his first steps in the world of coaching. In fact, he was a surprisingly quick toddler, winning the Central Division and the Jack Adams Award in his first season. However, his strides were maybe a little too quick, causing struggles in his second and third season. What seemed to work in that first year just won’t lead to success anymore. The reason is quite obvious, and many analysts predicted just that over a year ago.

In 2013-14, Roy’s first season, the Avalanche was 26th in Corsi-For percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations at 46.7 percent. Just like this and last season, the club had great defensive struggles, ranking 26th in Corsi Against in 5-on-5 close situations at 2,658. In this case, it might be even more interesting to look at the Avs’ Corsi Against in all situations regardless of score, which was at 4,225 in 2013-14. Therefore, the Colorado Avalanche had 51.53 shots directed at their net per game. Out of those 4,225, 2,253 actually hit the net/goalie Semyon Varlamov — 27.48 per game, good for 27th in the league.

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Still, the Avalanche won the Central Division that year, arguably the toughest division in the entire NHL (right now, the remaining six Central Division teams are in the top seven of the Western Conference standings). The question that remains: how? Ah, right. Coach Roy wants his team to play a fast-paced offensive style of hockey. So, they must have taken a ton of shots when they won the Central, right? Wrong.

The offense worked better than the defense, as Colorado finished the season 17th in Corsi For at 3,662. But is that enough to a) classify as an offense-first style team and b) deserve to win the toughest division in the NHL? Probably not. That doesn’t mean 2013-14 wasn’t an awesome season. It simply means people who called it a fluke may not have been entirely wrong. High scoring percentages, outstanding goalie performances and a few other factors allowed the team to have one great season. But especially after the loss of top centers Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly, the current state of the team is in no way surprising.

Eight games into the season, the Avalanche is ranked 30th in Corsi-for percentage at terrible 40.5 percent. As a comparison, the Detroit Red Wings are second at 45.6 percent. This time around, the Avs are 30th in Corsi For and 24th in Corsi Against. Whatever this is, it is not a fast-paced offense-first hockey team. As of right now, it is a team that completely neglects the defensive side of the game and still fails to produce offensively.

Coach Roy doesn’t believe in Corsi — he wants enough high-quality scoring chances, rather than an overload of low-probability shots. He may be right in the assumption that high-probability shots are better than those “from the red line”, but it’s also a fact that good Corsi teams tend to win games. Shots and rebounds are better than, well, no shots at all. Time for a change?

The Colorado Avalanche’s Roster

2013-14 Lineup

Jamie McGinn — Matt Duchene — P.A. Parenteau
Gabriel Landeskog — Paul Stastny — Ryan O’Reilly
Alex Tanguay — Nathan MacKinnon — John Mitchell
Cody McLeod — Marc-Andre Cliche — Patrick Bordeleau

Jan Hejda — Erik Johnson
Nick Holden — Tyson Barrie
Andre Benoit — Nate Guenin

Semyon Varlamov
Jean-Sebastien Giguere

2014-15 Lineup

Alex Tanguay — Matt Duchene — Jarome Iginla
Gabriel Landeskog — Ryan O’Reilly — Nathan MacKinnon
Max Talbot — John Mitchell — Dennis Everberg
Cody McLeod — Marc-Andre Cliche — Daniel Briere

Jan Hejda — Erik Johnson
Nick Holden — Tyson Barrie
Brad Stuart — Nate Guenin

Semyon Varlamov
Reto Berra

2015-16 Lineup

Blake Comeau — Matt Duchene — Jarome Iginla
Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Alex Tanguay
John Mitchell — Carl Soderberg — Dennis Everberg
Cody McLeod — Mikhail Grigorenko — Jack Skille

Francois Beauchemin — Erik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov — Tyson Barrie
Nick Holden — Nate Guenin

Semyon Varlamov
Reto Berra

Why did I write down lineups of the past three seasons? Because I want you to take another look at them and decide for yourself: is the Colorado Avalanche’s 2015-16 roster better than that of 2013-14? Is it better than 2014-15? Which one out of these three is the best? When you do so, don’t pay too much attention to the line combinations — we all know how often they’ve changed and still are changed. Just judge the roster composition and depth, and perhaps think about each roster with your preferred lines.

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This is an important process because it’s extremely hard to tell if the roster as a whole is better or worse than last year. A positive thing that jumps right into the eye is that Marc-Andre Cliche and Patrick Bordeleau are now in the AHL. Instead, the Avs have Mikhail Grigorenko and Jack Skille on the fourth line. One negative thing that can’t be ignored is that the team went from Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Paul Stastny, Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Tanguay as top-six level players to Landeskog, Duchene, MacKinnon, an older, struggling Tanguay and an even older Jarome Iginla. Not terrible, but two old wingers came in for two very promising young-ish centers.

To be completely honest, the 2013-14 team wasn’t even good enough to do what they did. It was a combination of decent play, luck, outstanding goaltending and win-related confidence. Today’s roster may not be better, it may not be worse, but its current position in the standings isn’t surprising. The defense is basically fixed, especially if Roy finally gives Brandon Gormley a full-time spot, and the bottom-six depth is much, much better than the prior two seasons. However, the top six is now a gigantic problem.

For an offense-first team — or any team with high aspirations for that matter — the top six is extremely weak. As of right now, it’s a combination of struggling offense and bad defense. When you have to put Blake Comeau, Dennis Everberg or even Skille on the top lines, you know you don’t have good top-six depth. How is that going to change? Difficult question, but one that demands to be tackled.

The Colorado Avalanche’s Losing Mentality

When you lose, and lose again, and lose again, you get used to losing. It’s that simple. There isn’t really much you can do about it, except for getting back on the winning track — which is an extremely big challenge. Losing is like digging a hole. The more you lose, the deeper you go. At some point, you might be so used to losing, the hole might be so deep, that it’s almost impossible to get back out. In that case, something needs to change.

Related: The Colorado Avalanche Culture Is Poisoning the Players

Again, you can’t spell challenge without change. But what is there to change, really? That’s the million dollar question. One thing is certain, though: if nothing changes, the Avalanche could easily end up like the Edmonton Oilers — at the bottom of the standings with a bunch of high draft picks that are born into the losing mentality. Once you get there — and the Avs aren’t that far off — it gets close to impossible to get out of the hole. That often calls for a major shake-up in different areas.

Now, there are a few different things that could be changed.

  1. Try a different system. Get away from that “offense-first but we want to carry/pass the puck into the net” style. Maybe transfer to a “let’s focus on defense, learn how to play D and shoot the puck when we have it” style. No guarantees, but it would be promising change.
  2. Fire the coach. Oh no, not our beloved Patrick Roy! Give the guy time! True, give him time. But if nothing else works and if he keeps on making questionable decisions, it may be time. Great coaches get fired too. That doesn’t mean they’re bad coaches, it just means their teams want to try something new and need change. A new coach and a new system can quickly turn things around. But caution: there are no guarantees here either.
  3. Trade important players and go full rebuild. This may be the most difficult possibility of them all. Of course the Avalanche shouldn’t trade away a guy like Landeskog, who is their captain, best player and still only 22 years old. That said, trading someone like Duchene or Erik Johnson may not be the most terrible idea. It would hurt, but it could help. Keep Calvin Pickard, Chris Bigras, Tyson Barrie, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog as your untouchable core, put everyone else on the trade block and see how it all unfolds. That likely goes hand in hand with drafting someone like Auston Matthews (2016 eligible, ZSC Lions, Switzerland), Jakob Chychrun (2016 eligible, Sarnia Sting, OHL), Nolan Patrick (2017 eligible, Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL) or Max Gildon (2017 eligible, US NTDP, USDP) along the way. Again, no guarantee for success — just look at the Oilers.

So, of course there are no guarantees that any of the above measures would be successful. But there is a guarantee for something: if the Colorado Avalanche can’t turn it around quickly, it may take much longer to turn it around than it would if they changed something now. You cannot spell challenge without change.

(All stats from

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