Colorado Avalanche Need to Let the Youngsters Play

DENVER, COLORADO - JANUARY 02: Erik Johnson #6 and Samuel Girard #49 of the Colorado Avalanche fight for the puck against Evander Kane #9 of the San Jose Sharks in the third period at the Pepsi Center on January 02, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO - JANUARY 02: Erik Johnson #6 and Samuel Girard #49 of the Colorado Avalanche fight for the puck against Evander Kane #9 of the San Jose Sharks in the third period at the Pepsi Center on January 02, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /
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The Colorado Avalanche are still a team for the future. We need to see the young players get more ice time so they can develop.

The Colorado Avalanche are at the halfway mark of the 2018-19 season and, maybe, the halfway mark (or more) of their rebuild.

Today, as part of both, I’ve embarked on a three-post event. I started out by getting a little pragmatic about the state of the team:

Related Story. Pragmatism about Avs Hockey. light

I’ve also remarked on a strategy that the team can consider as part of the rebuild:

Related Story. Avs Need Some Heavy Hockey. light

Now let’s look at a general plea: Let the kids play.

If the Colorado Avalanche are committed to a rebuild — and, according to both GM Joe Sakic’s words and actions they are — then they need to go all-in on the rebuild every day. That needs to be the primary focus of this season.

First of all, I’m not going to suggest we write off this season. That was for the purge year, the 48-point season. We’re in Year 2. We might have to write off the playoffs, but thanks to a hot start, even that’s not guaranteed.

What we need to do is think of making the playoffs as part of the process. And that process is to solidify the foundation Sakic has committed to building.

Not only does that solidification need to involve letting the youngsters play. The Avs need to develop those players to play properly.

It’s convenient to blame the coaches when matters go wrong with a team. A lot of times, it’s also not fair. The players are the ones on the ice.

However, here is an area in which the coaches have total control. They get a big say in who dresses every night. They get total say in what role players are assigned. They must develop their systems and teach the players to implement them. It is literally their jobs to ensure all of the above happens and is fully ready on any given game night.

How they go about it is up to them. Coaching is an art, which is why some are so wildly successful while others are pedestrian at best.

Need for Development

Sakic hired Jared Bednar. You can go on-and-on about how Sakic didn’t have much choice because Patrick Roy resigned so late in the offseason. Horse feathers. If Sakic didn’t like what he got in Bednar, he could have fired the man after the 48-point season and taken all the time in the world to find the guy he really wanted.

Instead, he extended Bednar’s contract last summer. Jared Bednar is the coach Sakic wants. I think his initial hiring might have at least partially been because Bednar is the polar opposite of Roy in temperament. However, I also think it’s because Bednar spent his coaching career in the lower levels of hockey, including the ECHL and AHL.

The expectation should be that Bednar knows how to work with and develop young players.

I say expectation because I’ve been pretty vocal about my lack of trust in the current coaching staff’s developmental abilities, especially when it comes to Tyson Jost. Now we’re seeing Samuel Girard start to falter, too.

Colorado’s weakness in developing players precedes Bednar and crew. However, those are the guys we have, and those are apparently the guys Sakic wants, at least for now.

You’ve got to think this current losing streak, with Jost and Girard faltering, has got Sakic turning an eye in the coaching direction. You can be winning with young players faltering, or you can be making an obvious commitment to developing said players.

You can not be failing at both on a team that’s rebuilding.

If Sakic has shown us nothing else, he’s shown us that he’s patient. I’m not going to howl for Bednar’s head because Sakic isn’t going to deliver it. If the season goes completely off a cliff in both regards, I’m sure the transition to a new coach, and maybe staff overhaul, will be as quiet as it was for Tim Army and Dave Farrish. Notable, but not a big splash.

So, some humble suggestions for the coaching staff while they still have time.

Work with the Current Roster

Sakic has said outright what he wants to see — the kids grow up together. They’re still growing. MacKinnon and Rantanen are precocious, but they’re still growing into superstars. Players like Tyson Jost, Alexander Kerfoot, and Samuel Girard are still growing into becoming consistent NHLers.

Players like Gabriel Landeskog, Erik Johnson, and Tyson Barrie, they’re supposed to be the star veterans leading the way. Landeskog has found his own fire, but Johnson and Barrie are struggling because they’re being asked to do too much.

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They can’t be the leaders of a playoffs-bound team while still teaching the youngsters the ropes while still filling in the gaps left by said youngsters. It’s exacerbating the errors that have always been parts of their game.

Bottom line is this: The kids need to play. Give a line more than one game — hell, more than one period would be a good start — to solidify and develop some chemistry. I’m talking about the second line and the roommates of Kerfoot, Compher, and Jost. Stop. Breaking. Them. Up.

Let the third line stand as-is, if you must. However, the fourth line should be a rotating cast of two youngsters and one veteran to show them the way. Give each youngster, guys like Sheldon Dries, Logan O’Conner and A.J. Greer (heaviness factor!) ice time and games until you see what’s what with that player.

And get Gabriel Bourque off that line and out of the lineup altogether. Your teacher in this instance is Sven Andrighetto as long as he’s healthy. He is much more in the Colorado Avalanche style than Bourque. And, you know, he has way more upside.

For the defense, it’s a little trickier. Johnson is a two-way defenseman who has total pizza moments. He was good early-on with Sam Girard, but things have gone south. Do we go all whack-a-doodle and put Girard with Barrie? What the hell, why not — defense has already gone out the window anyway.

Let Ian Cole and Erik Johnson be your shutdown pairing with a little scoring upside, mainly from Johnson. EJ won’t have the pressure of playing all the defense with a guy like Cole flanking him.

And keep Ryan Graves in the lineup. If any rookie has earned his stripes so far, it’s that big kid with the cheekbones. I’m as surprised as anyone.

And when feasible, get Patrik Nemeth out of the lineup when Nikita Zadorov gets healthy. Or, hey, why not call up Nicolas Meloche or Sergei Boikov for a few games? Yeah, they’re going to suck at first. But they might stop sucking. Why not find out?

Next. Jost Ends Scoring Drought. dark

The kids are supposed to be growing up together. We’re supposed to be solidifying the foundation of the Colorado Avalanche future. And that starts now, in Year 2 of the rebuild.