Colorado Avalanche Rebuild: Blowing Up the Core

Feb 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9) and left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) and goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) celebrate the win over the Montreal Canadiens at Pepsi Center. The Avalanche defeated the Canadiens 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9) and left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) and goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) celebrate the win over the Montreal Canadiens at Pepsi Center. The Avalanche defeated the Canadiens 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche must make changes to get them back to competitiveness. One option is to blow up the core and rebuild.

Doesn’t it seem like the Colorado Avalanche have been in a rebuild since, like, 2003? Or at least since 2005, when the salary cap was implemented.

Well, it looks like we might be in for another rebuild of sorts. Or a tweaking of the original rebuild.

You know the score by now. The Avalanche are dead-last in the NHL. According to NBC Sports, the Avs have a points percentage of .329. The only other team that has been worse in the salary cap era were the 2013-14 Buffalo Sabres, who were .317. That was a major rebuild year for them.

Colorado has six players who will be unrestricted free agents after this season:

They also have five players who will be restricted free agents at the end of the season:

Which, if any, of the above players the Colorado Avalanche keep depends largely on what pathway for rebuilding the team decides to take.

For this post, let’s consider if the Avs decided to blow up the core entirely. What would that look like?

Two Untouchables

In a way, the easiest method for effecting a rebuild might be to blow up the core and start from scratch. This is more or less what the Toronto Maple Leafs have been doing.

According to conventional wisdom, the only untouchables on the team are center Nathan MacKinnon and young right wing Mikko Rantanen. No matter what else the Avalanche plan on doing, they’re building around that duo.

That tells me the team values elite skating ability, especially speed. Some size is still good, as is a bit of gritty play. (I’d add goofiness since it’s true of both players, but that’s probably just a coincidence than chosen trait.)

Get Younger

For this method, the Colorado Avalanche would probably get younger. That means that the Avalanche would not only fail to sign any more aging veterans, but they’d probably unload some as well. What’s more, of the potential free agents listed above, probably only Nikita Zadorov would get an offer. Mikhail Grigorenko might if he took a pay cut — as well he should after his performance to date.

Andreas Martinsen might get another try, too, but he hasn’t really been a favorite with the new regime. It’s too early to tell if Matt Nieto will develop chemistry with the team.

Concerning journeymen who might get moved, I think they might try to unload players such as Blake Comeau and Carl Soderberg. They might try buying out Francois Beauchemin as well.

In place of departing guys, they’d want to let some of the young prospects in the AHL take a shot. We’d definitely see AJ Greer and Chris Bigras skating with the big team. They might trade for some young journeymen as well or utilize some that are currently with the San Antonio Rampage.

Part of this strategy is drafting especially well. Unless something radically changes, Colorado should draft top five or even top three — first overall is well within their grasp. I could see them trading for some more draft picks as well to rebuild young.

Speaking of trades, now for the painful part — core players.

How the Core Gets Blown Up

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It may seem strange to say “get younger” in conjunction with “blow up the core.” The perception has always been that the core is young and talented.

Well, core players such as Matt Duchene (25), Erik Johnson (27) and Semyon Varlamov (28) are young in people years, but not so much in hockey years. If you’re blowing up the core to start fresh, you’re looking more for prospects than for players currently in their prime.

In this scenario, I could see the Colorado Avalanche trading Matt Duchene for a stud defenseman. (I dream about Zach Werenski. Hey, our Columbus Blue Jackets connection should show some benefit to the Avs.)

Erik Johnson, once he’s healed from a broken fibula, would probably yield a mid-level forward prospect and a draft pick — at least second or third round, though why not first round? If you’re a playoff bound team in need of a solid two-way defenseman, you’d probably give a first rounder up for EJ. (In case you’re wondering, his No Movement Clause includes 19 teams to which he’d accept being traded.)

Varlamov might be harder to unload. The Avalanche might have to give him up just for a late draft pick to relieve cap space — and make room for their young goalie to take over the lead. Calvin Pickard would be the starter, and they’d be looking to draft another goalie or pick up a prospect, maybe even from the European leagues.

Though Gabriel Landeskog is young at 24, his name gets bandied about for trade talk. Again, Colorado would have to get a good, young defenseman for him.

Tyson Barrie is another one who might get traded. However, I’d see that happening only in a blockbuster, multi-player deal. Not because he’s more valuable than any of the other players on this list, but because he essentially fits the target mold of being young and a great skater, plus a right-handed offensive defenseman.

Probability of Success

First of all, I hate this option. Erik Johnson is my favorite player, followed closely by Matt Duchene. The only one on that list I really want to see traded is Semyon Varlamov.

However, this strategy could work if Colorado rebuilt with vision. Instead of a catchall of talent, the team would have to be comprised of players who fit the mold in some way, or at least complement it.

So, the Colorado Avalanche would hang their hat on MacKinnon and Rantanen and probably Tyson Jost in a couple years. If keeping Barrie, he’d be the new cornerstone of the blueline along with whatever stud defenseman they got for one of their talented forwards.

This is also a strategy that would take a few years to manifest. That means the only way this plan truly works is if the Avs stick to it no matter what.

Because remember, Colorado had a strategy. They were looking to get big and mean, speedy and talented and to choose players with strong leadership qualities. Work ethic was often put on par with talent.

That strategy went by the wayside last summer and culminated in Patrick Roy leaving. It was faltering, but we’ll never know if it truly had a chance because it was only in the third year of a five-year plan.

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And that means that at best we could consider this season the first year of a similar plan. If the Colorado Avalanche decide to blow up their core and start fresh, we’re not going to see the playoffs again for at least a couple more years.

No, this really isn’t my favorite plan.

In our next post, we’ll look at how the Colorado Avalanche can keep the core and still improve.