Colorado Avalanche: Team Leaders Looking Forward

Dec 1, 2015; Newark, NJ, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Reto Berra (20) is congratulated by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (6) and Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9) after their 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 1, 2015; Newark, NJ, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Reto Berra (20) is congratulated by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (6) and Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9) after their 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

Two of the Colorado Avalanche’s team leaders, Erik Johnson and Matt Duchene, talked about their expectations for the team next season.

Right now, Colorado Avalanche news is mostly focused on the World Cup of Hockey. I’m not a big fan of this upcoming spectacle. However, I hadn’t realized that the 2016-17 season was being postponed, meaning the participating players won’t miss training camp and the pre-season. Now I’m just apathetic instead of hostile toward this artificial construct.

To give you a brief history, the World Cup of Hockey was founded in 1996. It’s a joint venture between the NHL and the Player’s Association. It’s kind of like a holding point between Winter Olympics. The 2016 World Cup runs September 17 to October 1.

In any case, all the Colorado Avalanche core players are representing their countries (or continent — see, it’s weird) in the World Cup:

In addition, Carl Soderberg is playing for Sweden, and Mikkel Boedker is representing countries not big enough to have their own team — aka, Team Europe.

Don’t ask me why there’s a team comprised of players from different countries and one comprised of under-24-year-olds mixed in with proper country teams. That’s not my focus for this post — and, I don’t know.

Anyway, because Johnson and Duchene were just named to the World Cup rosters, they spoke with the Denver Post.

Naturally, they spoke a lot about representing their countries. However, thank goodness, they also talked about a topic near to my heart — the Colorado Avalanche.

Back at the end of the season, Johnson also spoke to the Denver Post. I really appreciated that he did that and that he came out with the message that he did:

"“Every night we have a great game plan and we try to execute it. It’s definitely not a system issue with what the coaches put out there. It’s definitely on us players, on the core of the team, that we didn’t make the playoffs, and we have to look in the mirror and realize we have to be better.”"

I thought it showed a lot of leadership to come out in support of the coaches and the team as a whole at a very difficult time. This was when the team was imploding and head coach Patrick Roy in particular was taking a lot of flak.

Speaking of flak, Matt Duchene was in the center of all the turmoil because of his controversial goal celebration. He also spoke in support of the coaching:

"“I totally understand where [coach Roy] is coming from, what he’s trying to do. I’m on board with it, I think we all are. I know exactly what he was getting at, I know what the message was, and I believe in that message.”"

Those were exactly the right words at the right time — and difficult words to say at a difficult time.

Duchene has also talked more about what he thinks went wrong at the end of the season. To him, it’s all about the fear factor. During an interview with Altitude Sports Radio, Duchene stated that he thought the Colorado Avalanche had been “a little afraid” and that they “put too much pressure” on themselves.

During the Denver Post interview, he elaborated:

"“We had a little too much fear, I think, of losing and what we had to lose.”"

I talked about this fear factor in a post at the beginning of the season:

must read: Are the Avs Choking

This is clearly an issue for the team. One of the factors tagged as a problem for the collapse at the end of the season was the awful loss at the beginning of the season. Indeed, the team succumbed throughout the year to the exact same problem — failure at game management. This is a group of players who can’t get out of their own heads.

In any case, the Colorado Avalanche management are probably going to focus more on changing the roster. Indeed, both Duchene and Johnson have had to acknowledge that significant changes might be made in the roster — changes that affect them directly. However, they’re still looking ahead to next season for the team.

Johnson was pretty blunt:

"“We have to treat this year as a year we have to make the playoffs; otherwise there’s going to be huge turnover because Patrick [Roy] and Joe [Sakic] and the Kroenke family aren’t going to let this team slide and not make the playoffs.”"

It sounds to me like he doesn’t think the roster’s going to be blown up over the summer, but that it could be during the season if it looks like the players are tanking again.

Duchene offered his own insight:

"“It’s a change of mindset. All the tools are there. We have a very good team, so we want to challenge for a playoff spot next season and hopefully a Stanley Cup.”"

More from Mile High Sticking

Ok, it’s highly unlikely the Colorado Avalanche are going to challenge for the Stanley Cup next season — though not impossible, as the San Jose Sharks are showing. However, the first step to becoming legitimate contenders is becoming relevant again — by becoming a regular in the playoffs.

To me, this shows a lot of leadership from Erik Johnson and Matt Duchene. This sounds like they’re taking the responsibility on themselves for ensuring the Colorado Avalanche succeed. Indeed, I think a lot of us want to see one or both awarded a letter next season. (I’ll talk about what I think the leadership should look like for the Colorado Avalanche in another post.)

However, this is exactly the type of leadership from the core coach Roy was preaching about last season.

Next: Duchene's Player Grade

Let’s finish on a positive note from our cornerstone defenseman:

"“We have such a good group of guys, we should make the playoffs going forward.”"

Ok, he tempered that by pointing out again that “things will change” if the playoffs don’t happen again. Nonetheless, it sounds as if the team leaders understand very well what their challenges are moving forward.