Colorado Avalanche Need a SMART Approach to Player Development

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 20: Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen #96 handles the puck during practice before game five of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena April 20, 2018. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 20: Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen #96 handles the puck during practice before game five of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena April 20, 2018. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images) /

The Colorado Avalanche have not developed players to their full potential. The S.M.A.R.T. approach to development could help them.

The Colorado Avalanche need a smart approach to player development. However, that’s not what this post is about. The Avs, in fact, need a S.M.A.R.T. approach, which relates to setting goals.

I wrote about this topic years ago in relation to how the Avalanche were playing games. When the Avs played S.M.A.R.T. hockey back then, they actually started winning more. It would be great if they approached games that way again. However, Colorado is technically still in the rebuilding phase, and player development is paramount in a rebuild.

About the S.M.A.R.T. Approach

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time-bound. S.M.A.R.T. goals are used in many spheres, but teachers use them to help students set and achieve goals. And, hey, when you’re developing young prospects, you’re acting at least a little like a teacher. The S.M.A.R.T. approach is also a common development tool in business, so there is some adult parallel.

So, in the business sphere, let’s say you want more sales. It’s not enough to just tell your staff, “Sell more of our products.” The S.M.A.R.T. approach has you set goals.

Specific: Increase sales of product X
Measurable: Show a 10% increase
Achievable: 10% is doable*
Results-Focused: At the end of the time, you’ll have sold 11 product Xs instead of just 10
Time-Bound: One month

*In order for you to make S.M.A.R.T. goals achievable, you have to teach or coach the person working on the goal. That’s where we come in with the Colorado Avalanche.

Implementing the S.M.A.R.T. System

Let’s take one of my favorite players to focus on right now, Tyson Jost. He was recently banished demoted sent to the Colorado Eagles for “development.” The stated intent was to get him some confidence via playing time and, hopefully, a return to offensive production. The unstated part was how the organization planned to help him achieve those goals.

So, let’s look at what some fans at least have been grousing about concerning Jost. Naturally, his offensive production comes to mind first. He has just 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in 43 games. Well, it’s not enough to tell Tyson to just “get more points.” Jost is a competitor — he’s trying to do that.

A coach should look at something specific. For example, Jost has just 64 shots in those 43 games, so 1.48 average per game. You score goals when you shoot the puck at the net. So, let’s say Jost’s S.M.A.R.T. goal was to increase that average to 2 shots per game.

Let’s say another part of the problem is that Jost isn’t finding the back of the net even with more shots. So, as part of the coaching staff, you have to identify an area of weakness in his shot. You then give him the time and resources to improve that skill — in this case with shooting drills. Again, you give him a measured improvement — let’s say going from 20% accuracy to 50% in hitting his target. You also give him a time frame to achieve that goal.

Rationale for the Avs Developing S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Sound complicated just to get one player to perform up to snuff? Hey, guess what — I’m not talking about just one player. I’m talking about all of them, most especially about the young players you want to form the backbone of the Colorado Avalanche for years to come. I’m talking Samuel Girard and Nikita Zadorov and J.T. Compher and, hey, even Mikko Rantanen.

Because, yes hockey fans, in the salary cap era you don’t just get to build dynastic teams out of the top-tier talent. The current model calls for drafting and developing a winning team.

And what I’m asking a well-funded coaching staff to do for, say, 20 players across the organization is what underfunded public schools regularly ask teachers to do for around 200 students.

Hockey is a fast game. Players don’t have time to think through what they’re doing in the heat of the moment. Instead, they have to focus on implementing the systems and reacting to what’s happening on the ice. Skills such as accurate shooting and saucer passing must be buried in their muscle memory.

Oh, saucer passing — because it was actually Mikko Rantanen that reminded me of those drills.

Need for More Skills Drills in Development

The 22-year-old Rantanen at the All Star Skills competition, to be exact is what reminded me of skills drills. Rantanen of the highlight-reel saucer passes who still flat out lost the Premier Passer competition with the worst time — 2 minutes and 17.379 seconds.

Yes, he was probably nervous. Yes, that’s still a fast time. Yes, the saucer pass is notoriously difficult to execute. But the saucer pass was a Rants Special at the start of the season. It looks like it’s deteriorated — watching Avs games, you see a lot of pass accuracy has deteriorated among all the players. Clearly, this needs to be a focus for development.

So, let’s say we were going to set a S.M.A.R.T. goal for Rantanen. How about he improves his Premier Passer drill from 2:17 to 1:58, which was the second-worst time. The saucer pass portion, where he had to elevate the puck over a barrier and hit a goal, especially bedeviled Rants. So, give him drills to practice that. And tell him to improve his time by 19 seconds by the end of one practice session.

The Colorado Avalanche actually have somewhat of that system in place. Over the summer, they hired Shawn Allard to be a skills coach. I actually attended an optional practice that Allard was overseeing. (Read more here.) Interestingly, the most active participant was Tyson Jost — and after that one practice is when we saw a momentary jump in his production.

In other words, it works. The move toward hiring skills coaches is relatively new, though arguably it started with hiring full-time goalie coaches. You’ve seen it, too, with skating coaches. Why shouldn’t there be coaches who also target specific stick skills? The only loss is if you don’t use such instruction wisely — which is where S.M.A.R.T. goals come into play.

Next. Rantanen and Landeskog Dominate ASG. dark

Players don’t make it to the NHL unless they’re elite in their talent and training. Jost and Rantanen, et al., know how to do the things I’m suggesting better than 99% of the people on the planet. However, the line between being an elite NHL player and a Stanley Cup contender is razor thin — or, say, 19 seconds thin.

And for the Colorado Avalanche, that line has to start with developing the young talent they’re basing their future on. S.M.A.R.T. goals can help them achieve that development.