As of January 7, 2017, the Colorado Avalanche have the pleasure (more appropriately displeasure) of holding not only the the worst record in the Central Division, not only the worst record in the Western Conference but the worst record in the entire NHL.
The Avalanche are nearly at the half way point of their 82 game season, holding a 13-25-1 record, good for 27 points. January 7 commences the Avs’ bye week for the season (all teams get bye weeks at some point during the season as the league has a condensed schedule brought on by a later start due to the World Cup of Hockey).
The season started extremely promising for the Avs, going 3-1-0 in their first 4 games. After some mixed results, the Avs managed to keep their head above water after 18 games, holding a lukewarm 9-9-0 record.
After a big road win in Columbus where Matt Duchene netted an OT winner in his return from a concussion that got the Avs back to .500 hockey with a 9-9 record, the Avs were in a good spot returning home for a season high 5 game home-stand.
And then just like that, the season quickly unraveled. The first game of that home-stand saw the Avs leading 3-2 going into the third period against the Edmonton Oilers. Then in a blink of an eye, the Avs were quickly trailing 5-3 not even 10 minutes into the third. The Avs ended up losing 6-3 and to put the proverbial cherry on top of the shit cake, first year coach Jared Bednar announced that the Avs’ number 1 defenseman Erik Johnson would be out for 2-3 months after breaking his fibula during the game.
And then the losses started piling up. After beating the Blue Jackets to become 9-9-0, the Avs spiraled to the bottom of the league, going 4-16-1, effectively eliminating them from having any kind of chance of making the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Amidst that terrible run, the Avalanche had a 10 game winless streak on home ice (0-9-1) that lasted nearly two months until the Avs defeated the New York Islanders 2-1 on January 6, thanks to a Nathan MacKinnon overtime powerplay goal.
And with all that losing comes the rumors and speculation about the Avs taring apart their team. Is it time to trade fan darling Matt Duchene? What about captain Gabriel Landeskog? Is it truly time to start over from scratch?
There are a few schools of thought here:
i) Don’t do anything stupid. The core is still relatively young and Avs will have loads of money coming off the books this summer in which they can use to add to the core. Older, slower, expensive veterans are doing the real damage to this team. Get rid of them. Go younger. Avs have young prospects like J.T. Compher and A.J. Greer up front and Chris Bigras on the back-end that can keep up to the speed of today’s NHL that the older veterans can no longer do. The older, slower supporting cast is the problem, not the core.
ii) The Avs have only made the playoffs twice in Matt Duchene’s 8 years in Colorado and only once in Gabriel Landeskog’s 6 years. It’s not working with them. It’s in both of the team’s and players’ best interest to move on. Strip everything away. Do a rebuild the right way and go young.
Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic has told the Denver Post that he isn’t trading 21 year old forward Nathan MacKinnon, 20 year old forward Mikko Rantanen or 18 year old forward Tyson Jost. MacKinnon and Rantanen (Avs first round picks in 2013 and 2015 respectively) currently form two-thirds of the Avs top line while Jost (Avs first round pick in 2016) is currently averaging more than a point a game playing for the University of North Dakota.
With the Avs dwelling at the bottom of the league standings, the Avs are destined for a top 5 pick.
The Avs core is considered to be Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson and Semyon Varlamov. I personally would consider Mikko Rantanen and Nikita Zadorov to be part of the core also but nonetheless that’s what the media considers it to be.
Should the Avs keep that core together (which also includes Rantanen and Zadorov)? With Tyson Jost, J.T. Compher, A.J. Greer, Chris Bigras and most likely a top 5 pick coming, would it just be madness to call it quits on these guys so early?
Or do the Avs go full rebuild mode and build around a new core of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Tyson Jost, Nikita Zadorov, and the acquisitions they get for the likes of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie, and Semyon Varlamov?
With the NHL trade deadline rapidly approaching, losses piling up, the heat and pressure mounting and speculation running rampant, whatever the Avs’ management decide to do, what we do know is this is a very critical moment in the history of this franchise.