Tough times in Colorado

Avalanche march to­ward his­tor­i­cally bad sea­son

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY JONAS SIEGEL THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

It’s all-star week­end in Los An­ge­les and a re­porter from China asks Colorado Avalanche cen­tre Nathan MacKin­non to wish Chi­nese hockey fans a happy New Year. Not in English, mind you, but Man­darin.

“Oh, I can’t do that!” MacKin­non says with a laugh. “I would love to, but I don’t think I can.”

The Hal­i­fax na­tive never loses his cool through­out the ex­change, a smile per­pet­u­ally on his 21-year-old face as he even­tu­ally de­clares a happy New Year to all — twice in English.

MacKin­non and his Avalanche team­mates have had to put up a brave front all year as they march to­ward the worst sea­son in the fran­chise’s 22 years in Colorado, and one of the worst in NHL his­tory, pe­riod.

The Avs lost their ninth straight game in L.A. on Wed­nes­day night — shut out for the eighth time in 48 games this sea­son. It was their 19th de­feat in the past 21 games. The club is on pace for a measly 48 points, which would mark the low­est to­tal for the fran­chise fol­low­ing a move from Que­bec in 1995 and the low­est to­tal for an NHL team since the 1999-00 ex­pan­sion At­lanta Thrash­ers (39 points).

Only eight teams since 1987 have scored fewer than 48 points over a sea­son of at least 80 games and al­most all were in the early stages out of ex­pan­sion. Even the 2013-14 Buf­falo Sabres, prob­a­bly the worst col­lec­tion in re­cent NHL mem­ory, man­aged 52 points — a touch bet­ter than Colorado’s cur­rent pace.

The lowly Avalanche have just two wins in the last seven weeks (2-18-1) and each came in over­time. The club’s last reg­u­la­tion vic­tory oc­curred against Toronto on Dec. 11 and it re­quired a ca­reer-best 51 saves from Se­myon Var­lamov, who’s now out for the sea­son with in­jury.

Suf­fice to say it’s been a try­ing cam­paign for Avalanche play­ers.

“You don’t wake up with the same ex­cite­ment that you used to (have),” said MacKin­non, who leads the team in scor­ing with 33 points.

“Even in your per­sonal life it takes a hit on you,” he said. “It’s drain­ing, es­pe­cially when you’re los­ing like this it’s def­i­nitely tough. But at the end of the day we’re very for­tu­nate to do what we do. We get paid a lot of money to do it. You can’t pout. You can’t feel sorry for your­self. You’ve got to stay pos­i­tive.”

Years of ques­tion­able de­ci­sion-mak­ing have put the fran­chise in this po­si­tion, most re­cently un­der the lead­er­ship of Joe Sa­kic. The long-time Avalanche cap­tain and Hall of Famer took over the role of ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of hockey op­er­a­tions in May 2013, al­most a year be­fore Bren­dan Shana­han as­sumed con­trol of the ris­ing Toronto Maple Leafs.

Colorado won the Cen­tral Divi­sion in Sa­kic’s first sea­son at the helm (2013-14), slid­ing down­ward in ev­ery year since. Ques­tion­able choices have in­cluded the trad­ing of de­pend­able cen­tre Ryan O’Reilly, the hir­ing of coach Pa­trick Roy, and over­pay­ing for the likes of Carl Soder­berg, Erik John­son, Jarome Iginla, and Francois Beau­chemin — the lat­ter two ap­proach­ing the end of their re­spec­tive NHL ca­reers.

The Avs haven’t drafted well un­der Sa­kic or pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions over the last decade. O’Reilly, now with the Buf­falo Sabres, and de­fence­man Tyson Bar­rie are the only im­pact­ful play­ers Colorado has found out­side the first round since 2006.

Some of the club’s best play­ers — such as speedy for­ward Matt Duch­ene — are now the sub­ject of trade spec­u­la­tion.

“They don’t want to get traded,” MacKin­non said. “Ev­ery­one wants to fig­ure this thing out. It’s un­for­tu­nate that it’s come to this, but I think changes are nec­es­sary when you lose like this.”

The Avalanche are on track to have not only the fewest points since mov­ing to Den­ver (third­worst if you in­clude the Que­bec Nordiques’ his­tory), but the fewest wins and goals as well as the worst power play, sec­ond­worst penalty kill and sec­ond­most goals against.

AP PHOTO

Colorado Avalanche cen­tre Nathan MacKin­non, right, is tripped up by the stick of Los An­ge­les Kings de­fense­man Jake Muzzin dur­ing an NHL game Feb. 1 in Los An­ge­les.

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