Colorado Avalanche and the Relevance of Development

ENGLEWOOD, CO - SEPTEMBER 27: Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar diagrams a play during practice at the Family Sports Center September 27, 2017. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
ENGLEWOOD, CO - SEPTEMBER 27: Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar diagrams a play during practice at the Family Sports Center September 27, 2017. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images) /

The Colorado Avalanche need to focus on buffing and shining the prospects they have rather than trying to find new ones.

The Colorado Avalanche have passed the crossroads. They are not eliminated from the playoffs yet, but their focus needs to be on rebuilding.

In fact, the Avalanche’s rebuild is usually described in phases. It was supposed to have started with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.  It’s supposed to continue with the second phase represented by Tyson Jost, JT Compher,  and Alexander Kerfoot. The third phase is Cale Makar, Conor Timmins (fingers crossed), Martin Kaut, and whomever they draft this season.

Am I really the only one who finds it odd that the rebuild process is just a list of names? That’s not a process, that’s a roster. It would be convenient if modern team-building consisted of assembling a roster and teaching them a playbook.

I believe that’s how it works in the NFL. News flash: in the salary cap era, it cannot continue to function that way in the NHL. You cannot build a team and expect it to be successful. You have to manage the fabric of the whole team.

Sorry, Avs Nation, that means I’m returning to my new favorite theme: development. But don’t worry — I’m getting it worked out for the Colorado Avalanche.

I talk to a lot of hockey fans and read commentary from a lot of others on this and other sites as well as social media. A lot of fans favor that “team-building” model, opining if we could just find this piece or that piece, the future of the Colorado Avalanche (or any team) would magically be sorted out.

Most fans will talk about the need for development in a vague way. The consensus seems to be it’s something that happens at the lower levels or on the player’s own time. I believe the rationale is that the NHL is the most elite league for hockey and you have to earn your right to be on the roster.

I’m certainly not going to dispute that. Just over 1% of the hockey players of draftable age even get drafted, and fewer than 1% actually make a career in the NHL. I don’t have a problem with that — the NHL is the big time for a reason.

However, that reasoning leads to what I believe is a fallacy — it’s solely up to the player to prove he’s worthy of the NHL once he’s been drafted. I think, when you’re looking at the newly-drafted players, that’s unfair. It’s unfair to the player, but it’s also unfair to the team.

Your scouting staff saw something in that player, especially those drafted in the first couple rounds, that was special enough to make him stand out. If that player has those special qualities, why not develop them to be the best possible — how you, as a team, want them to be?

The way has always been to let the younger players continue their development at major juniors, college, or the European leagues. By entrusting their development to others, you may not get the player you want, though.

So, you rush him into turning pro, and maybe that’s when he spends some time “developing” in the AHL. What does that look like? Just giving him more playing time? If a player is making a mistake that will prevent him from making the NHL, he’ll continue to make it if you don’t correct it. And by correct it, I don’t mean pulling a kid aside and saying, “Hey, Nail, you skate like bees are chasing you. Fix that.” How? Why? What’s that supposed to look like?

Nail never figured it out, and so the NHL lost out on his talents. So what? There’s more where he came from?

There are — if you’re the team lucky enough to draft the next guy. But what if you’re the team that drafted Nail Yakupov — or A.J. Greer? You’ve got him signed to a contract. Why on earth wouldn’t you work to develop what you already have?

Like I alluded above, the old style was just to trade for the pieces you need. Well, poo, teams don’t want to help you out. They want to raid your roster to make their own team better — and, as a bonus, hopefully make your team worse. Yes, part of the allure is there are winners and losers in every trade.

The other method for building a roster is to sign free agents. Well, unrestricted free agents are often overpriced or past their prime — or both. The hope is that you’ll be the one to find the diamond in the rough that another team let go. You hope that you’ll have the magical touch to transform him into the glittering diamond that’s his real worth.

Again, why not expend that effort on the players you’ve already got? Why risk overpaying for a player who might only be drill-grade diamond while you might have a player who’s at least worth being an accent diamond? Why not expend some of the scouting effort on training the players you took the time to draft?

Because it’s not sexy. You weren’t more clever than someone else. Training is hard work. It takes really evaluating a young man, assessing what his weaknesses are, and putting in the work yourself to buff him to jewelry-grade diamond. And at the end he may still be drill-grade.

Well, let’s say you limit who you focus on. This is what some of the most successful development programs in real life — and even in hockey — do. If you’ve identified that a player is worth a first- or second-round draft pick, why not spend some of that assessment and training time? And do it not just at the AHL level.


For example, everyone is waiting with bated breath for defenseman Conor Timmins to get healthy enough to play. Well, let’s say he does — and we all hope he does. Let’s say he spends the rest of the season in the AHL. Let’s say he makes the Colorado Avalanche out of camp next year.

And let’s say he starts to falter. Skating has ever been an issue for him, and let’s say he’s starting to look flat-footed on the ice. Do we just shrug and say, “Guess he didn’t cut it in the NHL. Good thing we’ve got Cale Makar/Jack Hughes/Kaapo Kakko coming up the pipeline.”

What if it’s Martin Kaut who’s struggling? What about the fact that it’s Tyson Jost struggling? What if Sam Girard doesn’t take the next step in his development — because he doesn’t appear to be? How long do we keep saying, “At least we’ve got X coming up the pipeline”? Until we’ve finally wasted all of Nathan MacKinnon’s prime years?

Why not just work with what you have? Why not put in the effort to see if Jost can even make a third-line center — or, hey, 22-year-old second liner? We’ve got him around for a whole other year anyway.

But we can trade him! Yes, for a piece that another GM is willing to give up because he doesn’t think said player fits in with his system and he secretly believes will make your team worse.

Trying to rebuild a team through trades and free agency is the old school method — it doesn’t work in the salary cap era. “Building” a team is equally antiquated. If you’re a rebuilding team like the Colorado Avalanche, it’s not enough to just assemble a group of young men together and hope they’ll magically become a winning team.

Next. Time for a Reset. dark

It takes work to be part of that 1% of hockey players who even gets drafted. Guess what — it takes work to also transform him into a contributing member of your team. Isn’t it worth that effort if the end result is a player who makes your team better?

And if he doesn’t pan out, at least you know exactly what you’re giving up in a trade — no chance that rival team turns your drill bit into an accent diamond.