Colorado Avalanche Might Finally Be Done Cutting Corners

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 27: Nathan MacKinnon
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 27: Nathan MacKinnon /

The Colorado Avalanche’s eagerness to be mediocre every year is part of why they’re awful now.

The Colorado Avalanche are a playoff team.

The evidence against it mounted year after year, but that never shook the front office’s belief.

Despite finishing 20th or worse 5 times between 2010-11 and this past season, the decision makers clung to the notion that those seasons were anomalies. The playoff berths of 2009-10 and 2013-14 were the true state of the team.

So they ignored the fact that elite goal-tending covered up the holes en route to those extra few games. And there were many holes. But rather than address them, management tried to keep the team in the playoff hunt by cutting corners.

They dangled lucrative contracts out for free agents. They traded picks and prospects for roster players 13 times between 2010-2015.

And it got them to the bottom.

Last season was, among other things, the culmination of seven years of the belief that the Colorado Avalanche were just one ingredient away from getting over the hump and contending. It’s an idea that first took root when Craig Anderson carried them to the playoffs in 2009-10, and it’s refused to die.

Until now. Maybe.

Seven years of the front office chasing that elusive element to keep their team in the playoff hunt might finally be coming to an end. Now, GM Joe Sakic appears ready to accept that this isn’t going to be a quick fix.

And it’s about time.

If It’s Broken, Fix it

Yes, it’s easy to get impatient and demand action from the GM. That’s his job, to get out there and fix the problems now.

It’s a fair reaction. But that’s exactly the mentality that’s kept the team hovering between the bottom and the middle. It’s time to stop aiming for mediocre every season and see the Avalanche for what they currently are — a team that’s nowhere close to contending.

The chances of the Avalanche rebounding to even make the playoffs this year are slim, to put it mildly. The final wild card spot in the West last season – won by Stanley Cup finalist Nashville Predators – took 94 points. Assuming a similar mark is required this year, the Avalanche would need to almost double their 48 points from last year.

46 more points, just to tie for the final wild card spot.

There is nothing to catalyze that turn around in one off-season. What moves could Sakic make to squeeze 23 more wins from this roster?

It took a 26 point improvement for the Toronto Maple Leafs to move from 30th in 2016 to the final wild card in the east last year. An identical increase for the Colorado Avalanche – accomplished without the help of a 40 goal rookie – might move them out of the bottom five.

And for what? To get a worse shot at the top of the draft? To placate a restless fan-base with the illusion of improvement?

The Kids’ Turn

Not all signs point in a new direction. Protecting Semyon Varlamov from the expansion draft instead of former back-up Calvin Pickard smells like a win-now move, one that doesn’t make much sense for a team in this position. Sakic is jealously holding on to Duchene and has hinted that he expects the team to have a good year next year.  To top it off, he was unable or unwilling to move veterans at the deadline and stockpile the picks and prospects one would expect the worst team in a generation to have.

But the moves they have made suggest they aren’t looking for an improbable bounce back season. Instead, they’re putting themselves in a better position for the future with smart depth moves, the kind that buy time for prospects like Tyson Jost and Cale Makar to develop.

At this point, it looks like the Colorado Avalanche will go into this season with one or no big moves. There’s no rescue coming from anywhere else in the league. Instead, they are finally turning their focus inward.

Which is exactly what they should be doing.

The New Team

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Though the giant moves are missing, make no mistake, there has been some significant turnover in the organization.

There will be seven forwards who played fewer than 22 games with the Avalanche last year competing for spots this year. While JT Compher and Sven Andrighetto seem to be penciled in, the addition of Nail Yakupov and Colin Wilson will give the front office the option of letting Tyson Jost and AJ Greer start the year in the minors.

The defence corps is in a similar situation, with at most four mainstays returning from last season’s roster, and only one of them, Tyson Barrie, played 60 games for Colorado. Andrei Mironov, Duncan Siemens, Chris Bigras and Anton Lindholm will be looking to earn full time positions come October. With Zadorov’s future still in flux, the Colorado Avalanche could be replacing half their blue line.

The guys behind the bench will be different as well. Sakic has decided on new assistant coaches, with an announcement soon to come.

The turnover will continue going forward. Blake Comeau and Joe Colborne will likely be gone this time next year, either via trade or through free agency. Barring an unlikely climb up the standings, Carl Soderberg and Jonathan Bernier could also be trade bait by the deadline.


The Colorado Avalanche have a long way to go before they’re good again. But after years of trying to cobble together a team from whatever was lying around, they might finally be shifting gears.

Instead of trying to be mediocre season after season, the front office seems ready to take a step back and commit to fixing the problems rather than paper over them.

It might not work. It won’t be easy or fun, and will mean even more losing. Sakic may well be the wrong guy to carry out it out.

Next: Avs to Rely on Youngsters

But at least they’ve had their eyes opened to where the team really is, and they would be smart to treat it accordingly.