A reckoning is coming in Colorado, that much we know. The Avalanche are getting drubbed this season and major moves are imminent. The Joe Sakic era has not been good and with Patrick Roy already gone, it’s only fair to ask how long the GM has himself. From the insiders I’ve been talking to however, the answer is an interesting one.
Seeing the stats surrounding the Colorado Avalanche these days is one thing, but watching the struggling franchise in action has a whole ‘nother level. With more than half the season gone, the Avs have won just five games at home and 13 overall. They have one win in their past 10 outings and though last night’s 3-2 loss to Vancouver sounds close, it should have been much worse. The Canucks hung 20 shots on Colorado in the first period alone and, unsurprisingly, dominated possession. On only one shift in that period did the Avs sustain pressure (it was a Gabriel Landeskog–Matt Duchene–Matt Nieto joint) and were it not for the play of goalie Calvin Pickard and Vancouver’s own middling offensive skills, the Canucks would have been up by more than a goal.
When the Avs got a scoring chance, it was usually one-and-done, recovered by Vancouver and pushed out the other way. And yes, the Avs are yet again one of the worst possession teams in the NHL.
Teams can have bad luck and teams can have injuries. Colorado is not in that category. In fact, they’ve been one of the healthiest teams in the league this season, with only San Jose and Washington losing fewer man games so far.
So I posed the question to Those in the Know: How much rope does Sakic have in Denver?
As it turns out, the answer is “a lot,” and the short explanation is that he’s Joe Freakin’ Sakic, the best player in franchise history and a Hall of Famer. Team ownership believes in the former center and whether it’s out of faith or distraction (president Josh Kroenke also runs the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and played college basketball himself at Missouri) or a combination of the two, Sakic has the Kroenke family’s trust.
Not that the legend is taking that for granted. Duchene and Landeskog, two of the team’s best assets, are on the trading block and whether they are dealt at the deadline or during the summer, the two forwards represent the best rate of return for a franchise that is desperate for help on the blueline. And for what it’s worth, I’ve been told that Kevin Shattenkirk is probably not getting sent back to Colorado by the Blues.
But Sakic will have to find some top-four blueliners, that is for sure. The positive side of the situation is that with ownership believing in him, Sakic doesn’t have to rush anything – this season is already in flames, so he doesn’t have to make a quick-fix deal. Full value for Duchene and Landeskog is the mission.
It would be nice if the Avs could convince veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin to waive his no-movement clause, but the blueliner only has one more year on his contract, so maybe he just plays out the string next year. Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie (both hurt right now) are two solid pieces for a top-four, but they obviously need help.
Though the success was fleeting, I often point to how the New York Islanders solved their problem of always being short on the back end by making bold moves for Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy in October 2014. That’s what Sakic needs to pull off in Denver and if he can do that, the Avs won’t look so bad.
Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen are your stars up front, with Tyson Jost coming soon (if not next year, then definitely the year after). Pickard has slightly better stats than Semyon Varlamov and now that Varlamov has been shut down for the year due to a hip problem, Pickard will really get a chance to prove himself in tough circumstances. And we know the Avs are going to get a high pick in the draft this summer.
It sounds like Sakic will be given the opportunity to right his past wrongs, so now we wait and see how the master plan unfolds.
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