The Colorado Avalanche were officially eliminated from any playoff contention after a loss to the Nashville Predators Tuesday night. This loss capped a stretch run that saw the Avalanche go 1-6-0 over their past seven games as they tried to claw their way back into the final playoff position. This will be the second straight season under Patrick Roy that the Avalanche have missed the playoffs, and the fifth time in the last six seasons.
This morning, as is his custom every Wednesday, Roy went on the radio with Denver’s 104.3 The Fan Morning Show to discuss the team and his interview drew a lot of ire from fans on social media. I normally don’t comment on these interviews, but since there was such a strong reaction to this one, I felt like it was important to weigh in on the questions asked to Roy and the responses that he gave as many of the things he was asked are questions that he and Joe Sakic need to answer to get the Avalanche to move forward.
The whole interview can be heard here:
This is a refrain that has been coming up for Roy a lot in recent weeks, that the Avalanche need a more consistent presence from their core players. This is definitely something that has to be addressed, and Roy is not the only person to have made this comment; as a whole the core does need to be much better and much more consistent in order for the Avalanche to take that next step and become a playoff team. The problem that I have here is Roy’s particular choice of example, Matt Duchene.
Now, I will grant he was led into this particular path by hosts Mark Schlereth and Mike Evans when they asked him about Duchene’s celebration of his 30th goal that led Roy to publicly rip Duchene after the game. Roy has made multiple comments about “wanting Duchene to be more of a leader on this team.” I have serious problems with this line of comment. Matt Duchene has easily been the most consistent player on the Avalanche for a long time, and I’m not just talking about from a numbers perspective. Yes, Duchene had a slow start to the season, but several games before he started his tear in November, Duchene’s game was better and he had been a huge factor for his team. Duchene is the type of player, and has been for a long time, who makes big impacts regardless of his stat line at the end of the game. Maybe he doesn’t have a ton of shots, but he sets up his teammates for great scoring chances. Other nights he doesn’t have goals but has seven shots. The bottom line is that Duchene is one of the only players on this team that you can look at on a nightly basis and think, “man, that guy played his tail off no matter what the score was.” This is something that simply cannot be said about most of the rest of the Avalanche team, let alone the core.
It baffles me a bit to hear Roy with this line of thinking considering that he played with one of, if not the best “lead by example” leaders in the history of the game, in Joe Sakic. Sakic didn’t talk a lot, even earning the moniker of “Quoteless Joe” from the media, but he delivered for his team. Duchene has been doing that and the insinuation that Duchene is not a leader on this team is outright ridiculous. Challenging Duchene to be a better leader is one thing, but saying that he “has a chance to be a leader on this team” implies he isn’t and that cannot be farther from the truth.
Roy’s comments on goaltending drew a particular amount of rage on social media. I didn’t have as much of an issue with these comments, to a point. Roy is right in principle that there are some games that the goalie just has to battle through in the third period and defy any attempt from the opponent to close out a game. “Whether it’s 10 shots or 25 shots,” Roy mentioned in the interview. A bit of hyperbole, but true nonetheless. Roy then mentioned that Varlamov had not been enough of a factor for the Avalanche this season, which is where social media went nuts; unfortunately, though, he’s right.
No, Varlamov was not to blame for the Avalanche being unable to close out a ton of games in the way that he is discussing, at least on most nights; but it cannot be denied that there were several times this season where Varlamov played some very poor games, especially early in the season. It’s hard to look at the overall hockey that Varlamov played this season and say, with a straight face, he did enough to make sure his team won. The truth is that Roy is right here, Varlamov was not enough of a factor for the Avalanche this season.
This was one of the more, let’s say interesting parts of the interview. Roy mentioned that they lost some key players over the past couple of seasons and that it’s hard to replace those guys when they don’t have young players in place that can just step in and take their spots, as we’ve seen in Chicago. There is nothing inherently untrue about this statement, however it is made a bit more interesting when you look at the fact that Roy has had the opportunity to bring in young players and let them make an impact for his team and simply chosen not to. Guys like Nikita Zadorov, Chris Bigras, Mikko Rantanen and other young players who were available, but were given very few minutes when they were present or were quickly sent down to the minors.
Now, I’m not going to say I disagree that letting guys like Rantanen and Zadorov have some time in the AHL is a bad thing, because I don’t. But you look at a guy like Duncan Siemens, who has never gotten a real chance to play at the NHL level, and you have to wonder why Roy was so willing to stick with Nate Guenin or Nick Holden, rather than let a young player like Siemens come in and really give him a chance. Or Joey Hishon, who saw a lot of time last season due to the several injuries the Avalanche went through, who showed a real ability to play NHL level hockey and hasn’t been back up since. That comment just rings hallow, from Roy, because he had options and chose not to use them.
Roy made comments last week about needing to do a better job making the core “more accountable.” In some instances, he has definitely done that in the past seven days. I definitely understand where he was coming from in being upset with Duchene’s celebration, and questioning the overall mentality of the team as being a “losing mentality.” Something that he said today, or really didn’t say, hurts the credibility of this. Roy talked how he needs the core to “step up and help out (Landeskog)” with some of the leadership. Now, at face value, I get this statement, but this is something that has continued to bother me. There has been no accountability for Gabe Landeskog at all. He is the player who gets more of a free pass on the Avalanche than anybody else, and it has to stop.
Gabe Landeskog has been the face of inconsistency on the Colorado Avalanche for several years now, and somebody is always there to make an excuse for him. There’s always something about how he must be hurt, or he can’t do it by himself, or something along those lines to shield him from any blame whatsoever. I have been one of Landeskog’s most outspoken supporters, but I’m getting sick of him disappearing for months at a time and getting a pass for it. For abandoning whatever makes him successful, taking stupid penalties at bad times, lacking simple defensive awareness or making selfish plays that get him suspended. Obviously, Landeskog can’t do it all by himself but there are long stretches of time where he isn’t doing anything at all, and he needs to be held accountable for it. I’m sick of “the team needs to help Landeskog lead,” at some point somebody in that locker room and organization needs to have the guts to stand up and say “Landeskog needs to be a better leader,” because he isn’t cutting it.
You want to send a message to your core? You want to make it clear that anybody and everybody is accountable? Then take the kid’s gloves off with your captain. I’m not saying it’s necessarily time to strip him of his captaincy, but he has earned a healthy amount of criticism and has heard absolutely none of it publicly. If you’re willing to criticize your best scorer for a little bit of excessive celebration, how can you not be willing to publicly criticize your captain for his monthly disappearing act?
Players in the Room
There is a more philosophical discussion to be had here. Asked what types of players Roy and Sakic try to look for, Roy talks about wanting to bring in players who have a winning mentality, or have “done something special” in other places. A lot of teams do this and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but I wonder if the Avalanche have done too much of this. Roy has mentioned a lot about needing the core to step up and he’s definitely right, but could there be something psychological that is going on with the players in this core when they see guys who have “been there and done that” coming into the locker room? Roy wants guys to step up and be the impact players, but then maybe sends a different message when bringing in a guy like Jarome Iginla.
Like I said, this is kind of a philosophical discussion more than a concrete criticism. Perhaps it’s time to stop looking at Stanley Cup experience as a prerequisite for free agency. It just seems like in those moments where something is really important and really needs to be said or done, some of these core guys just instinctively look to somebody else to be the guy that does that because they’ve got that deep experience necessary. It’s human nature to look to the older, wiser person for answers even if you’re the one to really make the statement. Perhaps players don’t feel like it’s their place, even though it clearly is, because there are those vets with the rings and experience around them. I mean, if we think about it, the times that the Avalanche had their greatest success under Roy was year one, where the team didn’t have those older guys and the young roster rode a pretty magical journey to a division championship on little more than excitement and belief. Maybe it’s time to tap back into that exuberance again.
How to Move Forward
Some things in Colorado have to change before the Avalanche can become a winning team again. Some suggest that there are huge changes coming and I don’t buy into that. Trading large pieces of the core is not the way to go; how can the team possibly advocate losing Paul Stastny, then trading Ryan O’Reilly, and then possibly trading somebody like Duchene/Landeskog/Varlamov in consecutive offseasons? At some point the team needs stability in the lineup, but that doesn’t mean no change is necessary. Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic have a lot to figure out, but I definitely share some optimism that this team is close to something very good. But this interview from The Fan has raised a lot more questions about what the future of the Colorado Avalanche is going to look like.