March 14, 2017
by Doug Stolhand
Patient’s Name – Colorado Avalanche
Time of Death – 10:34pm ET/7:34pm PT on March 7, 2017
Predictions coming into the season – Both Eddie Garcia and I predicted they would finish in seventh place in the Central Division but neither of us thought they would be nearly this bad. In 2015-16 the Avalanche were five points out of a playoff spot and less than a year later they were the first team fitted for a toe tag. While it was clear they were a step below the elite in the Central they weren’t expected to jump down an elevator shaft.
Beyond the Puck Podcast some were actually optimistic about the Avalanche this season. Both NHL.com writer Mike Morreale and NHL Network Analyst John MacLean predicted that the Avalanche would make the playoffs and many expected forward Nathan MacKinnon to take a step forward and have a breakout season.
What went wrong – The trouble started before the season even began when Patrick Roy shocked the organization by announcing that he had resigned as head coach on August 11th. He made the announcement through a public relations organization, not the Avalanche, and it blindsided the Avs front office and roster. While that was still two months before the season began and a month before training camp began it put GM Joe Sakic and the front office in a tough situation as all other head coaching vacancies had been filled throughout the NHL, AHL and Juniors.
The Avs eventually hired Jared Bednar and gave him a three-year contract. Bednar was the head coach of the Cleveland Monsters, who won the Calder Trophy as the AHL champions the previous season, and both he and Sakic touted a up-tempo, pressure game all over the ice which they claimed would suit the roster well.
That’s not how it went. The Avalanche offense sputtered from opening night and never got going. MacKinnon, who was expected to have a breakout year by many, leveled off in his production. It was not a bad year for a third year player but it was also not the season the Avs and their fans were expecting from the former 1st overall pick.
In addition to the lack of a breakout year from MacKinnon the Avs saw a severe drop in production from Matt Duchene, captain Gabriel Landeskog and Jarome Iginla. Duchene had 30 goals and 59 points two years ago and those numbers have dropped to just 16 goals and 36 points through 63 games this year. Iginla had 22 goals and 47 points last year but this season seemed to be the one where he finally showed his age as he dropped to 8 goals and 18 points in 61 games before being traded to Los Angeles. Landeskog went from 20 goals and 53 points last year to 15 goals and 28 points through 58 games so far this season. Those three players, combined with MacKinnon’s lack of a breakout, doomed the Avs all season long and kept this team from competing both on a nightly basis and in the standings.
Things weren’t much better on defense as three of their top four returned but each of them either saw drops in production or suffered serious injuries. Tyson Barrie and Francois Beauchemin led the Avs in ice time and points last year and that’s still the case this season. The problem has been that neither of them have been as good this year. Barrie is not awful and has six goals and 31 points through 60 games this year but Beauchemin has followed Iginla into the pre-retirement abyss with just three goals and 11 points through 67 games. With Erik Johnson missing significant time due to injury and with Patrick Wiercioch not matching the production or minutes that Nick Holden (the player he essentially replaced in the lineup) had last year the Colorado blueline was a sore spot all season long.
What went right – One area where things went pretty well was in net and specifically with Calvin Pickard. While his record and GAA are not good those are both a result of the poor play in front of him. His save percentage is a very respectable .910 through 37 starts, he has two shutouts so far and the former 2nd round pick has clearly not given up on the season. If all the Avalanche learned this year is that Pickard can handle full-time duty as a #1 goalie and that he can compete at a level that will give the team a chance to win on a nightly basis then at least that gives them something to build off of going forward.
Afterlife – There’s not a lot of hope for a rapid improvement in Colorado and they will enter the offseason with more question marks than the Riddler’s unitard. Will Bednar be back as head coach? Will Sakic be back as GM? Will they trade Duchene and/or Landeskog? If so, what will they get in return? Will they win the draft lottery? Who will they lose in the expansion draft?
One area they should be secure is in net. There’s a potential to lose either Varlamov or Pickard to the Vegas Golden Knights, and it’ll be interesting to see which one they protect and which one they expose, but no matter who returns the Avalanche should have a strong #1 goalie to put between the pipes on a nightly basis. If they somehow retain both they will have one of the better goalie duos in the Central Division.
Sadly there is not a lot of help coming from the prospect ranks beyond their 1st round pick this season (which cannot be any lower than fourth overall) but there is hope that defenseman Nikita Zadorov and forward Mikko Rantanen can improve next season. Matt Nieto should be on the team for a full season and his addition along with Rantanen and their top pick should help improve their forward depth considerably.
The Avalanche are saddled with a few problem contracts that won’t disappear this summer. Barring a trade or being selected in the expansion draft Beauchemin will be back next year, Carl Soderberg will be back next year, Blake Comeau will be back, Joe Colborne will be back and those players will combine to cost them $14.15 million. They need those men to earn their paychecks next season which none of them did this season.
There’s hope that Duchene and Landeskog will revert back to form next season and that MacKinnon will indeed take a step forward in production. If that’s the case (assuming all three are still on the team, of course) it’ll go a long way towards helping them improve – though that won’t be tough.
This was literally the worst season in Avalanche history and the good news is that it’s highly unlikely next year will be even worse. The bad news is that it’s just as unlikely the team will be back in playoff contention next season.
Flowers can be sent to the team at the address below or you can make a donation to the Kroenke Sports Charities. Our deepest condolences to the Colorado Avalanche fans, employees and players on their loss(es).
Address for flowers and condolence cards:
Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club
1000 Chopper Circle
Denver, CO 80204