Colorado Avalanche Lack the Forward Core to Succeed

Nov 28, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) celebrates his goal with teammates on the bench in the first period against the Winnipeg Jets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 28, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) celebrates his goal with teammates on the bench in the first period against the Winnipeg Jets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche forward corps has shrunk in skill and numbers. That means the team lacks the firepower to succeed.

Ever since free agency frenzy — which was more fizzle for the Colorado Avalanche — I’ve been worried the team didn’t do enough to augment the forward corps. I know general wisdom has Colorado needing to shore up the blueline. However, as of right now, the forwards seem more worrisome to me.

Shrinking Forward Corps

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In the last three years, since Joe Sakic started making the decisions, the Colorado Avalanche have lost more than they’ve gained. They lost two valuable two-way centers — Paul Stastny to free agency and Ryan O’Reilly to trade. At the time I understood — and even praised — the moves. However, let’s look at what the team acquired in return.

The summer Paul Stastny left, Colorado signed future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla. At the time Iginla was 37 years old, and it was safe to say his best years were behind him. Now it’s confirmed — last season was his worst points-wise and goals-wise among any in which he competed for most of the year.

The Avalanche traded O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn for Mikhail Grigorenko, JT Compher, AJ Greer and Nikita Zadorov. Every single one of those players has proven himself less at the NHL level than McGinn, much less O’Reilly. They did pick up Carl Soderberg, though.

Last season at the deadline Colorado traded the valuable but aging Alex Tanguay — along with two prospects — for Mikkel Boedker. Boedker left this summer in free agency. Colorado also lost short-term rental Shawn Matthias to free agency. They declined to sign role player Jack Skille.

To make up for those those forwards, Sakic signed Joe Colborne. He’s very large — 6-foot-5, 220 pounds — but he’s still just one person. He also has just 38 goals and 68 assists in 233 games.

The Avalanche also let Dennis Everberg go in free agency. However, they basically replaced him with Andreas Martinsen, making that a wash.

Role Players

Role players never carry a team. However, when a team has four solid lines to roll out, it’s generally successful.

The Colorado Avalanche have some decent role players, especially in John Mitchell and Cody McLeod. Both are excellent for a checking line.

Martinsen and Colborne are bruising players who can pot a few in. Rocco Grimaldi… I don’t think anyone expects him to make the big team. However, that leaves Mikko Rantanen, the 20-year-old first rounder from last year. He didn’t make a huge splash in his few games with Colorado. He needs time to learn the NHL game.

Colorado’s best role player is probably Blake Comeau. He’s a heart and soul guy, and he can play on the top lines if necessary.

Forward Core Composition

As of right now, the Colorado Avalanche’s top-six consists of a true top-three — Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon.

Duchene is Colorado’s best player. He’s led the team in scoring more often than not. However, his best season in seven years was 70 points, and he has only one 30-goal season. Right now he’s considered in his prime, but no one outside of a diehard fan would call him elite. (He’s really good, and Duchene on a breakaway is a thing of beauty, but that’s it.)

Landeskog has been playing as the Avalanche’s second-best player. By that I mean he pretty consistently comes in second in scoring. His best season was 65 points (26 goals, 39 assists). In his sixth year, he’s probably just striding into his prime, so he might improve. Again, it’s doubtful he’d get to elite status.

MacKinnon is Colorado’s best hope for an elite player, but he’s just entering his fourth year in the NHL. After his rookie year, when he won the Calder Trophy, he hasn’t seemed to live up to his potential. Like I said, though, it’s still somewhat early days for him.

After that, it’s the top-three and some guys. The Colorado Avalanche’s best hope is to augment that top-three with a single solid player — Carl Soderberg (51 points was his career high) and either two unproven players or one and the aging Iginla. In other words, this is the best-case scenario for the Avalanche’s top-six:

Mikko Rantanen/Jarome Iginla-Nathan MacKinnon-Gabriel Landeskog

Mikhail Grigorenko-Carl Soderberg-Matt Duchene

Those two lines aren’t even taking into consideration that Duchene, MacKinnon or Soderberg would have to play outside his natural center position.

Basically what that lineup means is that Joe Sakic is either hanging his hat on Grigorenko or Rantanen suddenly catching fire or Iginla having one more fantastic season in him. Possibly all three.

What it all really comes down to is Sakic conducting an experiment. Can the Colorado Avalanche succeed with a top three supported with a bottom nine?

I can’t imagine. However, apparently Avalanche ownership is content to let him try.