Colorado Avalanche: Rebuild Fallacy and Why Missed Playoffs Would Disappoint

DENVER, CO - MARCH 24: Goaltender Semyon Varlamov
DENVER, CO - MARCH 24: Goaltender Semyon Varlamov /

The Colorado Avalanche should be seen as a team that deserves the playoffs, even after last year’s dismal finish.

The Colorado Avalanche are in a full rebuild. Yet, at the moment, they’re also challenging for a playoff spot.

Those two fact may seem to run counter to each other. In fact, they’re both true. Most people point to the fact that, at their current 93 points, the team is a sight better than last year’s 48-point season. Therefore, we should be happy with the progress even if the team doesn’t make the playoffs.

Horse feathers. Let’s look at the 48-point season as an anomaly. Then there’s no way we should be satisfied with getting close to playoff contention.

Fallacy of the Rebuild

The Colorado Avalanche decided to take a sharp right turn in the summer of 2016. They had been building toward one kind of team loosely based on the Anaheim Ducks and LA Kings. That summer, they decided to go smaller and faster in the manner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, only much younger.

Colorado Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche /

Colorado Avalanche

Unfortunately, because they had been building toward a different mold, they had a lot of pieces still in place from the old style as they started adding the new-style pieces. The result was a 48-point season, the worst in the salary cap era.

The Avalanche were never as bad as that record. They weren’t a team entirely bankrupt of talent. They had a coach still finding his NHL legs, but his systems weren’t completely incompatible to the roster he was given — and some of those incompatible pieces were movable.

And the Avs didn’t have an incompetent GM unable or unwilling to make changes. In fact, Joe Sakic surprised Patrick Roy by showing he was, indeed, willing to put his balls on the table for the vision he had, resulting in the coaching change.

Luckily, Colorado also didn’t have an ownership group that seemed to care one way or another what the team did. Patriarch Stan Kroenke was too busy pissing people off in the NFL. And Josh Kroenke has always preferred his basketball. So, the Avs were free to do what they wanted.

It just took a painful 48-point season to get us there. But that was a fallacy of hitting rock bottom. Colorado needed more than a re-tooling, but they didn’t need to dismantle the team and start fresh.

No, what they needed was a year to pull all the pieces onto the new track, leaving or burying the unneeded pieces along the way.

So, along the arc of their development, last year should have been a 70-something points year. Therefore, while the current 93-point season is still a stretch, it’s not quite as big as a leap as it looks in terms of the team’s development.

In other words, there’s no reason we should be shocked the Colorado Avalanche are still competing for a playoff spot after the 81-game marker. Bubble team in the Western Conference sounds just about right.

Playoff Disappointment

No one thinks the Colorado Avalanche are ready for a deep run in the playoffs — especially not with their starting goalie, Semyon Varlamov, and best defenseman, Erik Johnson, out with injuries. However, there’s no reason the playoffs shouldn’t be the goal itself, for now.

First of all, as the youngest team, the Avalanche have a lot to learn. Tyson Jost, Alexander Kerfoot, Samuel Girard and Dominic Toninato are learning every day more about what it takes to play in the NHL. Players like Mikko Rantanen and Nikita Zadorov are discovering how to take on more responsibility for driving games.

The core players left — Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Barrie — have to learn how to drive the entire team. They’re the core leadership group. They’re the best players on the ice. They’ve got the talent and put in the work to be skating amongst the best hockey players in the world.

It’s time for them to stop skating amongst them and start openly challenging them. It’s time for them to get out of their safe space of not living up to expectations and actually play in the even higher octane games of the playoffs. It’s time for them to teach Rantanen and Zadorov how to lead. And to guide the youngsters into being part of a successful NHL team, not just an NHL team. That shouldn’t be the end goal of any player.

I don’t want the Colorado Avalanche to turn into the Edmonton Oilers, perennially in a rebuild. I don’t want them to become a perennial bubble team like the Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes. And I certainly don’t want them to become the perennial runt of the litter like the Arizona Coyotes.

No, I want them to take a step up. First, become more like the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have a good chance most years of making the playoffs. Next, I want them to become playoff favorites, like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Winnipeg Jets. They can become playoff veterans, like the Anaheim Ducks.

Then I want them challenging for the Stanley Cup, like the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks. I want them winning the Cup, like the LA Kings and Boston Bruins. Hell, I want them to develop into a dynasty, like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks.

Next: Zadorov Developing Leadership Skills

But the first step is making the playoffs one year. And then doing it again the next year. That’s why it would be so disappointing to see the Colorado Avalanche fail to make the playoffs this season — it delays what I see as their ultimate destiny.