NHL Re­port Mac and Varly are at cen­ter ice of any hope for Avs

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Terry Frei, The Den­ver Post

One prob­lem with dissecting the state of the Avalanche is that so lit­tle has changed over the past few weeks — in­clud­ing since my col­umn of two weeks ago — that it can be­come repet­i­tive. At least two weeks ago, though, it was rea­son­able to con­cede that the Avalanche might get its act to­gether, and that as bad as things looked, de­fin­i­tive judg­ments were pre­ma­ture.

They aren’t pre­ma­ture now. Twen­ty­nine games is suf­fi­cient sam­ple size. The Avs are what they are. Bad.

That said, there have been at least three off-tar­get re­ac­tions to all of this.

FAL­LACY NO. 1: In judg­ing the ros­ter, it’s ei­ther the fault of: a) The six-man “core”; or b) The core’s sup­port­ing cast. The cor­rect an­swer is: c) Both. FAL­LACY NO. 2: It’s the fault of the Kroenke own­er­ship.

I’ve raised the is­sue of the own­er­ship’s com­mit­ment to the hockey part of the em­pire in the past, when it was ap­par­ent that it didn’t mind the par­ing-salary and clear­ing-cap-room part of the re­build­ing process. That’s his­tory now. It signed off on the next moves in the process. Mainly through mak­ing the long-term com­mit­ments to the core — Se­myon Var­lamov, Matt Duchene, Gabe Lan­deskog, Nathan MacKin­non, Erik John­son and Tyson Bar­rie — the Avalanche is within roughly $1 mil­lion of the NHL’s $73 mil­lion salary cap and has con­sid­er­able cap money com­mit­ted as far in ad­vance as 2022-23.

It isn’t own­er­ship’s fault that the team with one of the high­est pay­rolls has the worst record. The Kroenkes’ at­ten­tion has been di­verted by their Los An­ge­les sta­dium project and the Rams mess, plus their own­er­ship of soc­cer’s Lon­don­based Arse­nal of the English Premier League. But I’ve seen enough med­dling own­er­ships in the past to strongly at­test to the wisdom of hir­ing ex­ec­u­tives you trust to run a team … and stay­ing out of the way. That’s es­pe­cially true in hockey, which tends to be more of a mys­tery to men like Stan and Josh Kroenke, who “know” bas­ket­ball and have a typ­i­cal Amer­i­can affin­ity for football.

FAL­LACY NO. 3: It goes back to al­low­ing Paul Stastny to be­come an un­re­stricted free agent and los­ing him (to the Blues) for noth­ing, and to de­cid­ing Colorado wouldn’t be able to re-sign Ryan O’Reilly and then trad­ing him to Buf­falo.

The sce­nar­ios were com­pli­cated, and I won’t re­hash them again. But it also was part of a co­her­ent strat­egy, im­pos­ing a “struc­ture” while at­tempt­ing to lock up the core of the ros­ter long-term. If the Avs had caved in to both, the bench­marks for the oth­ers would have been higher. Again, this is a team now scrap­ing the ceil­ing even af­ter tak­ing that hard line. With­out break­ing down the mul­ti­player deal, O’Reilly (like Stastny) is a good player — whose con­tri­bu­tions are both tan­gi­ble and in­tan­gi­ble — but not a great one. The Avs still might come out OK in the long run, given all the trade’s com­po­nents.

Yet the strat­egy, while both co­her­ent and de­fen­si­ble, hasn’t worked. Pa­trick Roy reached that con­clu­sion sooner than did Joe Sa­kic, and Roy be­lieved his “part­ner­ship” with the gen­eral man­ager and for­mer team­mate had be­come more of a con­ven­tional NHL re­la­tion­ship, which means a dis­pos­able coach merely of­fer­ing his opin­ion to the GM as oth­ers in the front of­fice weigh in.

So the test for Sa­kic has be­come: What now?

The moves that cre­ated this ros­ter weren’t all made un­der Sa­kic’s watch. But his faith in the core hasn’t been re­warded. If any­one in­ter­prets that as trash­ing Duchene, for ex­am­ple, you’re wrong. He’s the Avs’ best player, but ev­ery­thing should be con­sid­ered.

I’ll say this again: It’s a tightrope. Mak­ing a bad deal for the sake of “do­ing some­thing” in times of des­per­a­tion isn’t the way to go, ei­ther.

The “eas­i­est” so­lu­tion would be for MacKin­non to play like a “gen­er­a­tional” No. 1 over­all pick, not just the best player in one draft crop, and for the other mem­bers of the core — in­clud­ing Var­lamov, as he did last Sun­day in Toronto — to re­ward Sa­kic. It’s not their “fault” alone, but they can be the lead­ing edge of the so­lu­tion. That isn’t blam­ing them. It’s chal­leng­ing them. They can prove us wrong. Terry Frei: tfrei@den­ver­post.com or @TFrei

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