Colorado Avalanche Must Find Their Pride

Dec 31, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16) and defenseman Fedor Tyutin (51) react following the loss to the New York Rangers at the Pepsi Center. The Rangers defeated the Avalanche 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 31, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16) and defenseman Fedor Tyutin (51) react following the loss to the New York Rangers at the Pepsi Center. The Rangers defeated the Avalanche 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

In order to stop embarrassing themselves, the Colorado Avalanche have to find their pride in themselves, the logo and the game for the remainder of the season.

The Colorado Avalanche are in a state of purgatory. The team has 18 meaningless games left to play. That would be bad enough except they’ve been playing “meaningless” hockey since the midpoint of the season when GM Joe Sakic declared the Avs weren’t making the playoffs. That wasn’t exactly a newsflash, but it’s hard to find your heart when your own general manager has declared the season a wash.

Well, I don’t know if the players can find their heart. The further along this season goes, the player with the biggest heart — Matt Duchene — seems to be getting more broken and battered in spirit. After the 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues, he said the following:

"“It’s painful. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s not fun.”"

One of the big problems here is that, as the Avalanche are trying to wind down their season, most of the rest of the teams are amping up. They’re trying to jockey for position in the playoffs or even get into the playoffs. It’s all heart, grit and desperation with those players.

That leaves the Colorado Avalanche with just one thing: pride.

Defenseman Francois Beauchemin summed it up pretty well. After the 6-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on March 4, Beauchemin remarked “At some point you got to start showing some pride.” He went on:

"“This is the NHL, and right now we’re just playing shinny hockey. It’s just embarrassing.”"

Captain Gabriel Landeskog echoed the sentiment after the same game.

"“It’s just frustration. Guys start to fragment and going off on their own pages. And all of a sudden you look like a Junior C team.”"

Landeskog added that the goal was to come back to the Pepsi Center and come out hungry:

"“…make sure that we prove to ourselves and our fans that the Avalanche that showed up here at the MTS Centre wasn’t the Avalanche that we want to be and that we should be.”"

Well, that’s not what happened in the 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

Usually this conversation doesn’t start happening until late March. As teams get mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, they start talking about playing for pride, playing for the logo, playing for each other. Every team that’s been eliminated from playoff contention has come up with some version of that in the last couple weeks.

It’s just so hard to keep that up for months on end. That’s why I’ve been so frustrated with Sakic’s off-hand remark all the way back in mid-January. It’s not that any of us realistically thought the Colorado Avalanche were making the playoffs this season with their 13-26-1 record. The point was to maintain the viability of the illusion.

Why? That gives the players a lie to spout right now. Maybe they would have been able to find a few more goals inside them. Maybe they would have won a few more — they only have four wins since that remark seven weeks ago.

Maybe Avalanche players wouldn’t be so low in confidence that when a clear breakaway is presented to them they try to pass the opportunity off to a teammate:

To me, that Blake Comeau play sums up the Colorado Avalanche season because that’s a player who’s so afraid to make a mistake in a meaningless game that he’d rather look foolish than appear to show effort — and fail.

Before you say it (or type it into the comments below — though fee free to do so) I know these players are very well paid. The least of them makes six figures. And, yes, they’re getting to play a sport they’ve loved practically since infancy.

I’m not going to give them a pass on either of those. Rather, I’m going to remark that these players have to work just as hard every night and during every practice as the players who actually have a goal. These are men who are hard-wired and trained to fight for a goal — both literal goals and the goal of winning.

Yet these players have been beaten down at every turn. They are failing, and, again, even the least of them didn’t make it to the NHL by failing.

I wish I could express confidence in the coach to help lead them through these difficult times. I can’t. To be honest, I doubt Patrick Roy would be able to pump them up any better than Jared Bednar — Roy doesn’t even comprehend the concept of losing, so he cannot empathize with what these players are going through.

Instead, I’m going to lob the ball back into Joe Sakic’s court. If he was so casual with remarking in the middle of January that the team wasn’t making the playoffs, he may have been putting off those vibes since the beginning of the year.

He’s made no secret of the fact that he’s waiting for the offseason when a lot of contracts come off the books, thus freeing him up. Maybe he was always willing to sacrifice this season.

Well, I’d like to see him make it up to the players. I’d like to hear that he’s going down to practices and to the locker room to pump up the players. He owes them that much after expressing little confidence in them for the majority of the year. (Especially Duchene.)

Failing that, hopefully team leaders like Landeskog and defenseman Erik Johnson can bolster the players’ confidence.

Honestly, I think Johnson might be the Colorado Avalanche’s best chance at leading the charge for pride:

Look at his glee at the prospect of playing spoiler against playoff-bound teams — or even to get to play hockey at all.

The only way for the players to make the last handful of Colorado Avalanche games even bearable is by finding their pride and their joy in just playing hockey.