NHL Re­port As strug­gles per­sist, Avs must ad­dress core is­sue

By Terry Frei, The Den­ver Post

The Denver Post - - SPORTS -

The Avalanche’s prob­lems? Slow starts, at the open­ing of games or pe­ri­ods. Spotty goal­tend­ing. Brain­lock mis­takes lead­ing to odd-man rushes, and oc­ca­sional spells of look­ing com­pletely lost or dis­in­ter­ested in get­ting back to help out in the de­fen­sive zone. Lack of scor­ing, es­pe­cially from those counted on to pro­vide it. And more. With 60 games re­main­ing as I type, it’s con­ceiv­able — not likely, but con­ceiv­able — that this team could get it turned around and at least be play­ing mean­ing­ful games down the stretch un­der first-year coach Jared Bed­nar. But if the Avalanche’s strug­gles con­tinue to the new year, these will be the in­escapable and ac­tu­ally quite sim­ple con­clu­sions:

• The Avs, with this ros­ter, just aren’t very good. • See the stand­ings? That’s what they are. • Pe­riod. The Avalanche — from own­er­ship down through the front of­fice and the dress­ing room — can’t suc­cumb to this­close de­nial. It hap­pens all the time in this league, which has scape­goat­ing coaches for big­ger prob­lems down to a sci­ence, and also be­cause the NHL’s rel­a­tive par­ity en­cour­ages the at­ti­tude that with just one lit­tle run, a team is right back in the play­off hunt. Even the stand­ings for­mat, which tends to make a team’s record look bet­ter than it re­ally is be­cause of the false stan­dard of 24-24-10 as “.500” or re­spectable, en­cour­ages that delu­sion. Plus, and this is an NHL strength, even the bad teams win of­ten enough to al­low for op­ti­mism af­ter each vic­tory.

Ab­so­lutely, a lot of it is about need­ing more from that “core” of Nathan MacKin­non, Matt Duch­ene, Gabe Lan­deskog, Erik John­son, Tyson Bar­rie and Se­myon Var­lamov. I asked Joe Sa­kic about that and used his re­marks in the Colum­bus game story. He again ex­pressed faith in the group, yet added: “It’s not a core thing; it’s a team thing.” He’s right, of course, but with longterm con­tract ex­ten­sions, Sa­kic has linked his rep­u­ta­tion to the wor­thi­ness of those six — and, to a point, tied his own hands. They need to do more than play well; they need to show they’re ca­pa­ble of lead­ing this team to some­thing ap­proach­ing great­ness. If the faith has been mis­placed, the Avalanche is, well, in a tough spot.

Trade them? Break up the core? Af­ter roughly ev­ery third loss, I ask the mem­bers of the core if they’re wor­ried that the Avalanche might blow it up, mean­ing ei­ther the ros­ter in gen­eral, or the core … or both. They’re sick of the ques­tion, and I get that. But I’ll con­tinue to ask it.

No team is go­ing to touch Var­lamov and his $6 mil­lion salary cap hit through 201819 un­less he re­ha­bil­i­tates his im­age as an elite goalie, and if he does that, why trade him? Colorado could ex­pose him in the ex­pan­sion draft, and the Ve­gas Golden Knights have to com­mit to 60 per­cent of the salary cap in that draft, but that has noth­ing to do with im­prov­ing this team … now. John­son, like MacKin­non, is tied up through 2022-23, when he will be 35. And the per­cep­tion that the Avs are des­per­ate could un­der­cut Sa­kic while ex­plor­ing deals. Mak­ing a bad deal, giv­ing up Duch­ene, for ex­am­ple, just to an­swer the clamor for change would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. There are change-things-up megadeals to be made in the NHL, as with Shea We­ber for P.K. Sub­ban, or Ryan Jo­hansen for Seth Jones, but they’re dif­fi­cult — and in those two in­stances, a vet­eran GM (Nashville’s David Poile) was in­volved.

That wouldn’t solve the other prob­lems, ei­ther. The Avalanche is up against the cap, less­en­ing flex­i­bil­ity. Joe Col­borne, who is signed through next sea­son at a $2.5 mil­lion an­nual cap hit, has been dis­ap­point­ing. The third sea­son on Jarome Iginla’s deal, a risk all along, has crossed the (blue) line into di­min­ished re­turn ter­ri­tory. And that just scratches the sur­face. Terry Frei: tfrei@den­ver­post.com or @TFrei

Avalanche ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Joe Sa­kic has ex­pressed faith in his team’s core, and said “it’s a team thing” when ad­dress­ing its strug­gles. RJ San­gosti, The Den­ver Post

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.