Colorado Avalanche: Reflection and Moving Forward

Mar 26, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy on his bench in the first period against the Minnesota Wild at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 26, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy on his bench in the first period against the Minnesota Wild at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Reflecting on the Colorado Avalanche under Patrick Roy and gearing up for the upcoming season.

For the Colorado Avalanche, this is the most important season of the new era. When Patrick Roy was hired as the head coach and Nathan MacKinnon was taken with the #1 overall pick in 2013, we all rejoiced. There was no way Roy could be worse than Joe Sacco, and MacKinnon looked like a can’t miss player who some believe had a ceiling as high as Sidney Crosby.

The first season was everything we as fans hoped it would be. An exciting team filled with comebacks wins, rush offense, and thievery goaltending. The team won the hardest division in sports and, despite falling short in the playoffs, showed a lot of promise.

Two years later, the team is at a crossroads. They’ve missed out on the postseason in back-to-back seasons, the coach has criticized core players, trade rumors involving top guys pop up every day, and they have trouble signing their own restricted free agents even though the last one isn’t really true.

It’s all on the line this year. A slow start could doom the coaching career of Roy, end Gabriel Landeskog’s captaincy, or cut short Matt Duchene’s time as a member of the team he grew up loving.

Before the Avalanche moves forward, I would like to reflect on how they got here.

The Outlier Season

We all enjoyed the 2013-2014 season. It was lightning captured in a bottle. Unfortunately, it also set expectations a bit too high.

The team was still too young and the coach’s tactics weren’t going to work over the long term. Semyon Varlamov played out of his mind, but that wasn’t sustainable or a recipe for consistent success. The defense had too many holes and the offense couldn’t solely rely on rush chances. In all honesty, the 13-14 season might’ve been the worst thing to happen to the team.

After the playoff appearance, Roy and Joe Sakic thought the group was one step away, when in reality they were at least a mile from the finish line. Paul Stastny left and was replaced with Jarome Iginla, giving the team less flexibility at center. The team brought in Daniel Briere and Brad Stuart, two guys who didn’t fit with the identity that the 13-14 team had carved out. Roy and Sakic looked for band-aids without an eye on the future.

The Defensive Dilemma 

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In Roy’s first two seasons, he had Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, and a bunch of guys who are bottom pairing defensive players at best. Until they signed Francois Beauchemin last year, Roy was working with a bunch of guys who might not be on NHL rosters this upcoming year.

I’m not blaming the players. They were simply miscast and overrated by management. Jan Hejda, Nick Holden, Nate Guenin, Brad Stuart, Andrew Bodnarchuk, etc… weren’t meant to play the role that Roy and the Colorado Avalanche wanted them to play. Some of them weren’t meant to be on an NHL roster at all.

It wasn’t until late last year when Roy started playing Chris Bigras and Nikita Zadarov that the team started to look towards the future. It didn’t exactly work out, but it did give the team a glimpse into what they had and who they could count on coming into this year.

This offseason, the Avs signed Patrick Wiercioch and Fedor Tyutin to help fill some holes on defense. I think Tyutin is another Hejda/Guenin waiting to happen, but Weircioch could be a valuable bottom pairing defenseman.

Along with Johnson, Barrie, Beauchemin and the young guys that will hopefully take the next step, Roy finally has a defense that won’t have to rely solely on the acrobatics of Varlamov and Calvin Pickard.

Related Story: Analyzing Possible Defensive Pairings

Paul Stastny Leaving

Stastny isn’t exactly performing up to his contract in St. Louis, but don’t trust any Colorado Avalanche fan who says that the loss of Stastny wasn’t a tough pill to swallow. He was the veteran forward who allowed Roy to get creative in how he used Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, and MacKinnon. Iginla was a solid replacement, but Stastny’s defensive and face-off abilities along with his leadership are still missed to this day.

The Ryan O’Reilly Situation

The Colorado Avalanche did what they felt they had to do with Ryan O’Reilly. I can’t blame them for dealing the troubled forward to the Buffalo Sabres. There was a clear odor on the 2014-2015 after the way O’Reilly and Avs management battled over a new contract in the offseason. O’Reilly had seemingly lost the trust of his teammates and his coach.

Dealing O’Reilly was the right call. Unfortunately, they lost two responsible centers in back-to-back seasons and replaced them with an aging veteran and young players who have yet to make a real impact. Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadarov, and JT Compher might turn into good players, the Avs and fans certainly hope they do, but they failed to make up for half of O’Reilly’s production last season.

Related Story: 30 Under 30: Gone Players

Core Trade Rumors

Following a slow start last year, Matt Duchene’s name immediately popped up in the rumor mill. It made sense. Duchene was supposed to be the franchise player, but he had yet to take the next step and was underperforming.

Duchene turned things around and went on to score 30 goals in a season for the first time in his career. However, that didn’t stop the rumors in the offseason as Roy criticized #9 for his over-celebrating his 30th goal in a 4-1 game.

Along with Duchene’s name, the names of Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Barrie surfaced on the trade front. Landeskog has never quite lived up for his power forward potential, and his leadership skills as the captain have been questioned throughout his tenure. Barrie’s name was bantered around because it looked like Barrie and the Colorado Avalanche were headed to arbitration before settling on a new four-year deal.

To his credit, Joe Sakic said that the core would remain intact throughout all of the rumors.

Related Story: How Barrie Can Improve


Whether it was Varlamov’s groin in the past two seasons, Barrie’s knee in the playoffs, MacKinnon’s foot two years ago and his knee last year, Duchene’s knee last year, or Johnson’s knee two seasons ago and last season, there’s no denying that Avs players should just stop walking to preserve their knees (and groins).

There’s also no denying that injuries played a part in the Colorado Avalanche collapses the past three years. All teams deal with injuries. They are apart of the game, and no team is going to feel sympathy for the Avs. But had MacKinnon and Duchene stayed healthy during the stretch run last year, it’s possible that the team could’ve grabbed a Wild Card spot and not be in the position they’re in today.

All of these things played a part in where the Avs currently stand and why this season is so important for everyone in the organization. Sakic needs to prove that he’s made the right personnel decisions with his signings and trade, Roy needs to prove that he’s a good head coach who can get the most out of his players and is tactically sound, and the core needs to prove that they can make the leap and carry the franchise on the ice.

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Failure to do so could lead to heads rolling in Denver.