With Saturday’s loss to the Minnesota Wild, the Colorado Avalanche have all but eliminated themselves from playoff contention. Yes, they do still have a game in hand on the Wild and a lot can happen in the last eight games of the season, but the Avalanche no longer control their own destiny. The Avalanche essentially now find themselves in a “win out or be out” situation, and with a look at their upcoming schedule, winning out is an incredibly difficult task.
The nail in the coffin of the 2015-2016 season did bring one predictable thing, the massive fan overreaction and immediate calling to blow up the roster and fire Patrick Roy as head coach. Clearly, coaching is the main issue with the Avalanche and once a new coach is set in place, all will be right with the world and the Avalanche will return to the mountain top where they belong, right? Allow me to propose an alternate theory: the Colorado Avalanche don’t have a coaching problem, the Avalanche currently find themselves with a player problem.
Not Time to Blow Things Up
First, let’s just stop with this notion that blowing up the roster and starting from scratch again is even within the realm of plausibility. I wrote about this earlier in the season and the concept holds just as true today as it did then. Here’s what I said back in December.
The concept of “blowing up this team” and starting all over again seems premature. One has to keep in mind the massive amount of turnover that this team has gone through since Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic took the helm. Just from the end of the 2014-2015 season to today, 1/3 of the roster is new either due to trades, free agency or making the team on a professional tryout. Going back to the start of the Roy/Sakic regime, the only players that have been on the Avalanche roster the whole time are: Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, John Mitchell, Cody McLeod, Erik Johnson, Alex Tanguay, Tyson Barrie, Nate Guenin, Nick Holden and Semyon Varlamov. That type of turnover, especially when it includes major pieces like Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly leaving, will have an impact on the team’s success.
Well, we can subtract Alex Tanguay and Nate Guenin from this list and factor in Shawn Matthias, Mikkel Boedker and Eric Gelinas to the list of new players brought in. So that brings the number down to nine players the remain from the beginning of the Roy/Sakic era to now. This overhaul has a major impact on a team and their ability to gel. The last thing this team needs is another offseason of major overhauls, this team needs consistency in its lineup.
Does that mean no changes should be made in the personnel? Of course not, any GM should be looking for ways to improve their team and Joe Sakic will be doing that. Still, Sakic also needs to be measured in his approach to this offseason and not panic, which I don’t believe he will.
Find the Common Theme
The next thing that then comes up is, “Well with all this turnover, it must be Roy. He’s clearly the one consistent piece.” This is partially true, for at least the past three seasons, anyways, but it doesn’t grasp the whole truth of the matter. The Colorado Avalanche have been dealing with issue of finding consistent efforts, especially from some of their top players, for years. Blogs and local media alike have been echoing the refrain “The Avalanche have no killer instinct” for far more years than Patrick Roy has been coach.
Lack of killer instinct has been problem for years https://t.co/KChy5o5n9U
— Adrian Dater (@adater) March 26, 2016
That doesn’t mean that Roy is off the hook completely in this category, but he certainly doesn’t deserve to have the entirety of this particular criticism heaped upon his shoulders alone. Other people that need to shoulder some of this blame are the pieces that are the most consistent theme, which are the core of players. Guys like Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson and Jarome Iginla are paid to be difference makers on the scoreboard. About the only player, this season, that has shown he gets that it needs to be an every single night effort is Duchene, whom the Avalanche really missed against the Wild.
Gabe Landeskog goes through incredibly long stretches of time where he is barely noticeable at all, and when you do notice him, it’s because he’s taking a penalty or turning the puck over. Same with Barrie and Iginla. Simply put, this core of players has not come as far in their maturity as they should have by this point and it is impacting the team’s ability to win consistently. I have mentioned this several times in both articles and on social media, that the players tend to abandon their successful formula once they’ve had success for a while. They’ve done this for years. From another piece I published in December, discussing Colorado’s refusal to consistently play “simple” hockey:
It’s something Patrick Roy has been preaching all season long, something they have been practicing every day and something that the players simply refuse to do consistently. It’s absolutely mind-boggling to watch the team abandon the formula that has given them the most success throughout the season. This is one thing that is 100% on the players because playing this way is simple, all players know how to do this because this is likely the first way they were taught to play hockey. They simply have to get out of their own way and do it.
At some point, the core players must be held accountable by both fans and management.
Roy absolutely blew up at team during second intermission, but not much response. That's on players
— Adrian Dater (@adater) March 26, 2016
Solving the Problem
The Avalanche created their current mess by themselves and now they must sleep in the bed that they made. The positive about this is that the Colorado Avalanche can see these issues and address them in the locker room and in management, just as any sports team can. They can change the fate of their future seasons by growing from this season. It’s something they have not been doing very successfully over the past few seasons as a whole, but there are a few that have struggled with this growth more than others. There are some players, and I’m not going to name names at this point, who always have the microphone in their face and are always talking about how the team needs to play hungrier, be smarter, not sit on leads, come out of the gates with intensity and say all the right things. Then, when it comes time for the team, and themselves in particular, to deliver, they fall completely short. It may be time for the Avalanche to re-evaluate their connection with one or two of these players.
The Avalanche are on a cusp of something very good as a team, and while missing the playoffs again is definitely a big disappointment to the Avalanche and its fan base, it is not the time to overreact. The Avalanche should not launch into another rebuild; but it might be time to part ways with specific players because it isn’t Patrick Roy that has let this team down, it is the players.
I’m a Denver native who has been a fan of the Avalanche since they came to town and a fan of the game before that. I started writing my own blog a couple years ago before moving to Bleacher Report and becoming a Featured Columnist there. You can also find me the Burgundy Brigade Podcast