NHL Report Mac and Varly are at center ice of any hope for Avs
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: firstname.lastname@example.org or @TFrei