There has been a lot of talk about drafting for need vs. drafting the best player available among Avalanche fans lately. The reasoning is obvious – do you fill the gigantic need on defence by drafting Seth Jones, a possible franchise player but with some question marks – lack of physicality being one of them. Or do you draft the player who is perceived to be the best one available? That player is Nathan MacKinnon, after a stunning performance in the Memorial Cup.
I’d like to argue that with their new front office, and their seemingly new direction, the Colorado Avalanche have created a need for Nathan MacKinnon that didn’t exist previously, but is equally important to fill. Let’s start by looking at the team up until now to make my argument clearer.
The Avalanche during the Lacroix era
The Avs came close to being the most tight-lipped organization in the NHL. In an era where information travels freely and with great speed around the web, the Avs had a very restrictive relationship with the media. There were hardly any leaks to speak of, and the Denver Posts beat writer Adrian Dater was lucky if he could scrounge up a rumour or find a different spin than expected on a story. Trades came out of the blue – while the Patrick Roy trade back in the 95-96 season was widely speculated about at the time, it’s one of the few instances where the media had a lead on what the Avs were going to do. But the signings of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne to $1 million dollar deals each for a year? We had no clue. When Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk were traded to the St. Louis Blues? It struck us like a lightning bolt from a clear sky. And it was so late at night you would’ve thought the Avs tried to complete the trade without the media ever noticing, until a blues fan in the stands during a game at the Scottrade Center would say “Who’s that Stewart guy?”. And by then it’d be too late to make a big fuss about it in the media.
A daring but ultimately failed plan.
This attitude towards media remained during the shortened 2013 season. Critique on the Avalanche’s Facebook group was removed. Fans were left guessing what GM Greg Sherman’s reaction would be when Ryan O’Reilly received his ill-advised offer sheet from the Calgary Flames. Granted, it only took the Avs a few hours to match the deal, but the fans were kept in the dark, worrying. And once O’Reilly was signed, everything was fine and dandy and we should all go back to not worrying about the repercussions from the deal.
The Avalanche under Sakic/Roy
Sakic stated last week that the Avs were high on the top three forwards in this year’s draft. On Monday the 24th he was interviewed by NHL.com and stated that the team would be drafting Nathan MacKinnon if they kept the 1st overall draft pick. Their draft ranking heading into next weekend goes: 1) Nathan MacKinnon 2) Jonathan Drouin 3) Alexander Barkov.
Patrick Roy, meanwhile, was busy telling ESPN about the Avs plans, going so far as to pencil in MacKinnon on the third line to start the season.
The Avs are one step short of just sending opposing teams their itineraries along with a list of what every player will have for lunch tomorrow.
It’s the new, talkative Avalanche front office. And a lot of people don’t know what to make of it.
Why Nathan MacKinnon fills a need
The Avalanche are trying hard to reconnect with the fans – a group of people they’ve done their best to alienate during the last couple of years. Not talking to the media is a fine strategy if you’re winning. Or if you’re named Tortorella. But when the team is losing and players are more focused on their trips to Las Vegas than the next game, the Avalanche weren’t doing themselves any favours. The lack of information previously is hurting the Avs when the new front office comes clean with their plans — what are we as fans to make of it? Is it just a lie to coax Panthers GM Dale Tallon into parting with a roster player or a high pick to trade up? Are they bluffing to leave teams wondering what will happen? Will they draft Seth Jones? Or are they finally telling the truth, and MacKinnon is their no. 1 choice?
Under Sakic and Roy’s lead, the team will be striving towards becoming more open and forthcoming with information than they’ve been in the past. And if the Avs truly want to reconnect with the fans, they can’t start the relationship on a bluff or a hoax. If the Avalanche still have the 1st overall pick as the draft starts and Sakic or Roy reaches the stage to present their pick, it has to be MacKinnon. Or the Avs will have done further damage to themselves than passing on Jones can ever do. The moment they named MacKinnon as their target in the draft, he became their biggest need. Because if Sakic or Roy flinches and goes crawling back to Seth Jones, they will have burned another bridge with the fans.
And that’s a horrible idea. Especially when you, like Joe and Patrick, are standing on the bridge, looking down.