Colorado Avalanche: ‘Staying the Course’ is Fine, Maybe


The Colorado Avalanche have committed to only making small changes during free agency. This could work as long as the defensive systems get an overhaul.

Recently, as reported by Mike Chambers of the Denver Post, Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic stated that no big signings will be made July 1st, when the free agency market opens.  Instead the team will look to the draft and trades for ways to improve the team.  This was met with a roar of negative responses, with one Facebook comment on Terry Frei’s critique stating “So you’re saying next year isn’t worth watching”.

While I share some of the skepticism of other fans, I do believe that ‘staying the course’ could work. But this faith is predicated on one condition — Patrick Roy’s defensive system needs to be overhauled.  And yes, I realize this isn’t exactly an original sentiment, so I may be beating a dead choir or preaching to the horse here.

For the past few years, the mantra chanted throughout Avs Nation has been something along the lines of “The team is good, but we need more talent on defense”.  While adding more talent  certainly wouldn’t hurt, here’s an opinion on the Avalanche defense that might be unpopular with some — talent-wise, they’re not that bad.  

Sure, the Colorado Avalanche defense might not be jewel of the NHL, and improvements could be made, but personnel-wise, the Avs are positively average. However, even the best defensive players in the league will struggle when being asked to do what the Avs’ defense has had to do since coach Roy took the helm.  

Francois Beauchemin led the league this season with 256 blocked shots, according to ESPN.  To put that into context, that’s forty-six more shots blocked than Kris Russell, who placed  second on the list.

This is the biggest gap between any two places on the list, and for good reason — the Avs gave up a ton of shots. This year, they surrendered 2073, second only to Ottawa’s 2088.  So bravo to Beauch for blocking all of those shots, but why on earth did he have to?

The answer is Patrick Roy’s commitment to a passive, collapsing-style defensive strategy that involves protecting the slot area, taking away inside passing lanes, and forcing shots to be low quality on the edges of the zone.  This is an excellent system for penalty killing, but not so much for 5-on-5 play.  

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Watching the playoffs this year, that style of defense was almost non-existent, the exception being where it should be — on the penalty kill.  The defensive systems of the San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins were aggressive and in-your-face, pressuring and annoying the opposing team until they turned the puck over or made an errant pass.  

On the other hand, the Colorado Avalanche’s system is about preventing high-quality shots. The multitude of low-quality shots they allow ensure that probability will eventually work against them — even a stopped clock is right twice a day.  What’s more, the systems of Stanley Cup contenders go a necessary step further — preventing any shot at all.  The clock can’t be right if the clock doesn’t exist.

Now, the good news is that Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic have already had conversations on how to do things differently, and I’m sure they will have many more before the season starts.  I like to think Roy has studied the flaws in his own system, and will look at the systems of successful teams this offseason.

Next: Avs Need Depth Over Stars

Since it doesn’t look like any large talent upgrades on the Colorado Avalanche backend will take place through free agency, our hope right now for 2016-17 lies with a systems upgrade. This will hopefully be an aggressive upgrade that takes full advantage of the team’s speed and youth.