Colorado Avalanche, Should We Believe In The Core?

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 /

The Colorado Avalanche boast a strong core of forwards and two defenseman on paper. Joe Sakic has repeatedly shown through his actions that he believes this is a core that will win games, but how long should we trust in this group of players?

The Colorado Avalanche seemingly feature a strong core comprised of three young forwards and two young defensemen. GM Joe Sakic clearly believes this is a winning combination.

Core players Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Erik Johnson are in the midst of long-term contracts. With center Nathan MacKinnon locked up for 7 years as of last Friday and defenseman Tyson Barrie apparently having received a long term offer (despite going to arbitration), the Colorado Avalanche seem to have their core in place for the foreseeable future.

This is exactly what Sakic has wanted, and he’s mainly gone building peripheral players around the main stars. But today we’re going to discuss the crux of all criticisms or praise of Sakic’s moves — is the current core good enough to win?

Define The Core

One of the things that I think has hurt the ability of Sakic to make moves is the scope of players he considers part of the core. With most teams you think of two or three players: Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang; Ryan Suter and Zach Parise; Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby; etc, etc.

However, with the Avs it seems like the core consists of five players (definitely something to debate in the comments.) But judging on contract size and lengths, as well as the overall impression Roy and Sakic give, the Colorado Avalanche core seems to include Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, and Nathan MacKinnon. (It used to include Semyon Varlamov as well, but his struggles combined with Calvin Pickard’s recent deal and the expansion draft have removed him in my opinion.)

I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing to have such a big core, but it often strikes me as odd how many players Sakic seems to want to keep at all costs, especially when trade values may outweigh value to the team (which I would argue is the case with Barrie).

And the contracts make it pretty obvious, per, all of the above mentioned players are making  at least 5.5 million and are locked up through 2019. (Barrie being the exception as they to go arbitration.

Sakic obviously believes in this core. He hasn’t made a big splash free agent wise or with a trade in years, and looks to continue to sign the same young players over and over. For at least since MacKinnon came aboard ,we’ve seen nothing but depth players –and shoddy ones at that — added to the team. Now the question comes to be, can this group win?

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So Much Skill

I think a big reason that Sakic, along with a lot of Colorado Avalanche fans, believe in the core is because on paper it is a ridiculous group of guys.

Landeskog is a great power forward; MacKinnon and Duchene both have incredible speed, hands, and shots; Erik Johnson is confident with the puck and is a solid –if not great — number one defenseman, and Tyson Barrie is a great offensive mind in a league where everyone is looking for a puck-moving defenseman.

If I hadn’t seen this group of players together for the last three years I would bet a lot of money on them to be regular playoff contenders.

At the same time their all still relatively young. EJ is the oldest at 28, and Duchene is still only 25, while the rest are even younger. So the group still has room to grow, both as hockey players and as teammates. In addition, they haven’t had much big game experience, aside from the 2014 playoff run this core hasn’t had to play many pressure games.

So with all the skill and potential to grow, it’s easy to see why Sakic still believes in the core.

But Where Are The Wins

Here I’m going to call back some snippets I wrote from one of my first articles here at Mile High Sticking when I compared the young Avs group to the Edmonton Oilers skilled forwards. Back then I compared a recent quote from Taylor Hall to a remark Alex Tanguay made in the beginning of last year:

"Consider what Oilers forward Taylor Hall said to Sporting News after winning IIHF Worlds this year:“You kind of forget how fun it is to be a part of a group of guys who win and have results.”And compare that to this short quote from forward Alex Tanguay during a post-game presser, “We keep finding ways to lose. It’s unacceptable.”"

And that’s my fear with the Avalanche. If you would have asked me MacKinnon’s rookie year if the core was stacked, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say yes. But since then, as the players should have been developing, the results have been backtracking.

In my mind the argument that the core just needs time to mature is no longer relevant: MacKinnon is now making north of 6 million a year, Barrie is surely looking for a big raise, Duchene is 25, and Landeskog is our captain and has been around long enough to know the NHL.

If the players were making progress it would be one thing, but the last two seasons (three really if you take out Varlamov’s outstanding play) have been nearly identical. And the apparent stagnation is what scares me the most.

Next: Avs Lack Stanley Cup Attitude

Poll Time

I’ve laid out my arguments for both sides, and I’m guessing it’s pretty apparent that I’m leaning towards not trusting the core. I do want to clarify though, that it may not be the players’ fault. Bad development, player mismanagement, bad systems all could have played a hand in it. But in my opinion this core has not shown they are capable of supporting a winning team.

I don’t do this much, mostly because I view it as a cheap way to get responses, but I’m very interested to see what you guys think on this matter because ultimately, it shapes your opinion on every move Sakic makes.

Do you think this core can win? If so when will they start winning, and why haven’t they been? If you don’t think they can win what do you think is the reason holding them back. I’ll be watching and interested to see what the consensus seems to be!