Colorado Avalanche: Growth is Still the Priority

October 18, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) moves the puck against the Los Angeles Kings during the first period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
October 18, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) moves the puck against the Los Angeles Kings during the first period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche are committed to being a young, growing team for a while yet, as indicated by their recent moves.

The Colorado Avalanche are a young team. That’s something we’ve heard so much that it’s almost a cliche in Avs Nation. However, after witnessing the moves Colorado made in the NHL draft and free agency, it’s more true now than ever.

Draft and Free Agency

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Last year Colorado drafted players who seemed NHL-ready or soon would be. First-rounder Mikko Rantanen signed with the team right away and even played a few games before being relegated to the minors to learn North American style hockey — and to get seasoned.

Of the remaining six picks, Colorado has already given entry-level contracts to A.J. Greer and Sergei Boikov as well. Head coach Patrick Roy has mentioned J.C. Beaudin specifically, so I imagine he’ll be offered an entry-level contract within the year, if not this summer.

By contrast, all six of the picks from the 2016 draft are viewed as long-term projects — even #10 selection Tyson Jost. The soonest he’d be offered an ELC is next year — but two years is more likely as he’s headed to college.

This year’s free agency frenzy looks the same. The Colorado Avalanche acquired eight players to refill their depleted San Antonio Rampage roster:

  • Reid Petryk, F (2-year)
  • Trent Vogelhuber, F (2-year)
  • Ryan Stanton, D (1-year)
  • Jeremy Smithand, G (2-year)
  • Turner Elson, F (2-year)
  • Jim O’Brien, F (2-year)
  • Mike Sislo, F (2-year)
  • Joe Whitney, F (2-year)

By contrast, they picked up just three free agents clearly marked for the NHL team — and all three of them more role players than anything. Read more:

Related Story: Avs Add Size in Free Agency

This tells me the Colorado Avalanche are committed to developing more than showing relevancy right now.

Fallacy of the First Year

Another cliche in Avs Nation is that the winning 2013-14 season was actually detrimental to the Colorado Avalanche’s development. People usually mean because it set fans’ expectations too high.

I think it set expectations too high for GM Joe Sakic and head coach Patrick Roy as well. They looked over a team made up of talented youngsters, dogged role players and a smattering of veterans and thought they had a contending team — or at least a relevant one.

That and perhaps their inexperience in the big leagues of NHL management led to some rookie missteps. Sakic made some contract blunders — which he has since rectified. Roy has relied too much on his goalie, and the new emphasis on defensemen suggests that’s being rectified, too.

Immaturity of the Colorado Avalanche Core

The Colorado Avalanche have tried to make moves that proved they believe relevancy is an option now, even as recently as a few months ago. That’s why they acquired forwards Shawn Matthias and Mikkel Boedker. They thought they were making a push for the playoffs.

However, the Colorado Avalanche core players are immature. I don’t mean that disparagingly — I mean they still haven’t gotten the winning kind of experience. For players like Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon, I feel like the winning attitude that led to their being high draft picks has dissipated — more so for Matt Duchene and Erik Johnson because it’s been so long since they were expected to be winners.

Future of the Colorado Avalanche

Former Denver Post beat writer Adrian Dater said something during a recent radio interview that stuck with me — Sakic and Roy are in the middle of a five-year plan with the Colorado Avalanche.

That first, Why Not Us season was a fallacy. Why do teams play better for a little while when you first make a coaching change? Because they’re invigorated — and maybe because they have to prove they weren’t really the problem. New coaches usually get just a few good games — Patrick Roy got a whole season.

Now we’re seeing the reality of the five-year plan — that it’s going to actually take five years. (In case you’re wondering, that’s the length of Patrick Roy’s contract, including the extension.)

Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy inherited a broken team. Former management and coaching had run them with little vision — something like what the Edmonton Oilers are doing right now. In fact. while doing research for draft articles, I found instances in which former Avs GM Greg Sherman had traded down in the draft for no good reason! We can also see that former Avs scout Rick Pracey was wrong more often than he was right.

Sakic and Roy may not have made the right moves in the first year-and-a-half because they thought they were building on something. I’d say that, by at least the 2015 draft, if not sooner, they both realized they were not building on a solid foundation. The Colorado Avalanche have some very pretty window dressing in a core of talented youngsters but no foundation or house to support them.

By last draft, and certainly with this draft and free agency, Sakic and Roy are acknowledging they must start from scratch.

Luckily, the pair seem to be operating with the same vision that carried them to the winner’s circle as players. They see what type of players and systems around which they want to build the team, and they’re sticking to it.

Next: Sakic and Roy's plans for the Team

Personally, I believe in the vision. I don’t like the setbacks, but I appreciate that the direction seems pretty clear. Colorado is going to be built around players who exhibit some combination of the following skills and attributes — size, speed, grit, two-way play, leadership.

That is the identity of the Colorado Avalanche. At this point we are more than halfway through the five-year plan. We might as well strap in and see what’s at the end. Sure, it could be a bust — but can you really think of any other context that puts Sakic and Roy in the “bust” category?

Plus, are you really ready for a whole new management system with new vision — and a restart on the rebuild? I’m not.