Colorado Avalanche: Some Pragmatism about the 2018-2019 Season

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 24: Matt Calvert #11 of the Colorado Avalanche warms up prior to the game against the Dallas Stars at the Pepsi Center on November 24, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 24: Matt Calvert #11 of the Colorado Avalanche warms up prior to the game against the Dallas Stars at the Pepsi Center on November 24, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Colorado Avalanche rebuild was not completed in one season. We’re still in it — time to acknowledge that.

The Colorado Avalanche are in a rebuild. We forgot that, didn’t we?

We all got a little blinded by the brilliance of the top line. Last year, Nathan MacKinnon and his wingman, Mikko Rantanen, pulled the team into the playoffs. That amazing season happened after the dire 48-point season.

But every season is a new chance, right? With all the parity in hockey, a team can go from last in the NHL to playoff contenders, right?

Obviously it can. It happened last year. It happened twice really. The Avalanche were dead-last in the Western Conference in 2012-13 and followed that up by winning the Central Division — the Golden why Not Us season.

However, that is not the recipe for sustained success. Unfortunately, we may have to acknowledge that the 2018-19 season is going to be a regression to the mean kind of year. No, it didn’t start out that way. However, it’s what we may have at hand.

Today, a day when the Avs are following their sixth-straight loss with a day off (CBA-mandated, I’m guessing), we’re going to indulge in a three-part series of the state of the team. It’s the halfway mark of the season, after all — the San Jose game was #41. No time like the present for a state-of-the-team address.

History of the Current Rebuild

GM Joe Sakic declared two years ago that the team was going into full rebuild mode. He followed that up by forcing out his fellow Hall of Famer — one does not simply fire Patrick Roy, but one does force the fiery personality to resign by stripping him of all power. He then committed the team to a painful purge year in which he declared before the halfway mark they weren’t making the playoffs.

Making the playoffs was never the goal in 2016-17. It was a purge year in preparation for the rebuild. The Avalanche had personnel and players from the old regime. They also had to give their new coach, who was brand new to the NHL, a chance to find his NHL legs.

We had the horribly embarrassing 48-point season. Blame was spread far and wide. And we moved on to the 2017-18 season hoping it would at least be better.

Sakic didn’t make any splashes in the 2017 offseason. By cruelty of the hockey gods, our 48-point season was “rewarded” with a coupe de grace, losing the draft lottery and falling to fourth-overall. No Nico Hischier. No Nolan Patrick. No Miro Heiskanen, whom the Avalanche really wanted.

Nope. Instead, Colorado went off track — and stayed on-brand — by drafting a relative newcomer to the top-five, Cale Makar. A player who absolutely was not going to be an impact player right away not least because he was already committed to playing college hockey at UMass.

And then a funny thing happened our way to the next step in the rebuild — both Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen caught fire. They dragged the baby Avs, comprised on any given night of up to five rookies, into the playoffs.

That wasn’t supposed to happen. Joe Sakic didn’t make any big splashes in the offseason because Colorado wasn’t in win-now mode. Wisely, he didn’t make any big splashes at the deadline either because apparently our HHOFer is stubborn. The team is in rebuild mode no matter what MacKinnon and Rantanen are doing.

Thank goodness for that stubbornness, that extended to a pretty quiet offseason again. As impatient as we all are, the Avalanche are just really in Year 2 of the rebuild proper. On any given night, the team is comprised of three or four sophomores and a rookie or two.


The Colorado Avalanche are still in the playoff bracket. However, they’ve dropped from second in the Central Division to first wildcard spot.

We shouldn’t be so surprised. Not only have the Avs lost six straight, they only earned nine points in all of December. That time period included two-and-a-half four-game home stands as well as games against non-playoff teams — including at home.

Indeed, the only reason it took Colorado so long to drop in the standings is the Central Division conveniently decided to implode. The Nashville Predators started losing, too, and the Dallas Stars were so bad their own CEO called their stars nasty names that I can’t repeat on a family site.

Well, just about a week after those comments, Dallas is the team that overtook Colorado in the standings. I mean, the NHLPA and commissioner Gary Bettman are still addressing the nasty words, and the Stars quietly overtook the Avs in the standings.

Right now the Avalanche have 46 points in 41 games (19-14-8). That record puts them in the number-one wild card spot. The Anaheim Ducks are the second wild card team with 45 points in 41 games (19-15-7). The Stars overtook the number-three seed in the Central with 46 points in 41 games, but their record is 21-16-4.

In other words, loser points kept Colorado in the standings, but loser points aren’t going to help them win back a Central Division seed.

Just to drive this home: The Dallas Stars, the stars of whom their CEO reamed publicly, climbed 10 points in two weeks to take that #3 spot. Colorado, meanwhile, just went into freefall while finally getting all the accolades we thought they deserved — Nathan MacKinnon as fan-elected All Star captain and Mikko Rantanen writer-named roster player. Gabriel Landeskog up for Last Man In voting. (Vote here.)

Let’s look at part of the problem.

Roller Coaster Hockey

We want to make the playoffs this season. We all want to see that happen, the players most of all. Playoffs are super-fun, and the players need to learn how to play in those big games.

In order to learn how to play in those big games, you need to learn how to get to those big games. Fits and starts can work once. It worked in the Golden 2013-14 season of our Cardiac Kids. It worked last season when MacKinnon went into god-mode.

Fits and starts don’t win games, and they certainly don’t win seasons. Colorado will be doomed to roller coaster seasons until they learn to stop playing roller coaster hockey. If you can’t play a full 60-minute game, and more of an 82-game season than not, how on earth do you expect to go Mission 16W when the, well, sh*t gets real in the playoffs?

Sometimes the Avalanche follow a bad shift by scoring a goal. Sometimes they follow getting beat despite being the better team by becoming the loosey goosey team that deserves to get beaten. Sometimes they answer a loss with a win streak. Sometimes they answer it with three more losses to bad teams while skating on home ice.

I don’t know why they play like that. Maybe because hockey like that is more exciting. It must be boring to play the stolid, tape-to-tape pass, machine-like hockey of, oh, the Washington Capitals.

It must be super un-fun to answer a bad loss by tightening up your play and getting back to basics. That’s not what highlight reels are made of.

I don’t know otherwise why players who have played hockey since they were toddlers are suddenly making egregious mistakes every game. And by egregious, I mean game-costing mistakes. And why they’re compounding said mistakes with worse mistakes.

And, unfortunately, I’m not talking about the youngsters, who just look lost right now. Tyson Barrie (for the love of hockey!), Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen (Chicago overtime goal) and even my boi, Erik Johnson — not to mention both goalies. These guys are supposed to be teaching the youngsters what not to do.

Well, I guess in a way they are doing that…

A Little Pragmatism

More from Mile High Sticking

Ok, enough with the negativity. We’re Colorado Avalanche fans. We take the good with the bad, right? Here’s where the horror of the 48-point season pays off — if we can survive that, we can survive anything.

In the ensuing two posts, I’m going to look at some specific issues and ways I think anyway the Avalanche can address them. For right now, we’ll just be pragmatic.

The Colorado Avalanche need to learn how to manage a whole period of hockey. They can’t just play a few minutes here and there then bring it all at the end. That worked in the Cardiac Kids days. It ain’t working now.

Once they’ve learned the period, they need to learn to manage the game. That does work. The Avs did it to start out the season, and they were hot. Last season, they just trusted in god-mode MacKinnon and Tricky Rantanen. At the beginning of this season, they just played their best hockey — and won.

In other words, the Avs have it in them to manage steps one and two. Once they tighten their play back up, the hard part begins — managing the season. Sure, even Stanley Cup-contending teams have bad stretches. However, true contenders truly find it in themselves to learn from their mistakes and play better the next time.

That’s where the Avs are failing right now. They’ve done it before — answered bad games and even bad stretches with win streaks. However, they look like a tentative team right now. I don’t know if they need a hero, a players-only meeting or three, or a coaching change. But they need something.

Colorado has a wicked five-game, two-week road trip ahead of them. I think that’s going to be the deciding moment of this 2018-19 season. Road trips are often times for teams to bond. The Avs have played well on the road this season. And, heck, half the Avs players are from these provinces.

Next. New Year's Resolutions for the Avs. dark

I don’t have high hopes for the Colorado Avalanche’s last home game of the (now mostly wasted) four-game home stand. That five-game roadie, though — that’s the stuff, Avs Nation.