Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate DNVR Sports Community!

It's time for Chris MacFarland to evoke memories of Pierre Lacroix

AJ Haefele Avatar
January 14, 2024

Last night’s 5-3 win by the Colorado Avalanche over the Toronto Maple Leafs was everything you need to know about this year’s Avalanche team condensed into one 60-minute session.

Avalanche general manager Chris MacFarland wasn’t in the house as he’s back in Denver preparing for the organization’s pro scouting meetings on Monday but when he fires up video of the game, he’ll see all that we’ve seen from this Avalanche team through 43 games.

He’s built a really good hockey team that has the potential to be truly great.

As of today, you can argue the Avs are in the best shape of any of the teams out west sitting near the top of the conference standings. Vancouver and Winnipeg are very good teams being elevated even more by underlying numbers that suggest they might not be quite as good as they currently appear. Dallas has thrived despite a lengthy absence from Jake Oettinger but once again is heavily reliant on the regular season overtime format.

Vegas and Los Angeles had blistering starts that are now matched with extreme lulls. Carrying on through all of this hot and cold sit the Avalanche. They have been among the conference leaders all season and have thrived despite again being beset by injuries, though nowhere near to the same extent as last season’s team.

The formula remains the same for the Avalanche. Get spectacular performances from Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar. Play fast, aggressive hockey, score goals, and defend like crazy while being pretty good on special teams. It’s a repeatable formula.

There were a lot of changes over the summer, but it’s a lot of the same faces that are driving this team’s success. MacKinnon looks like a legitimate candidate for the Hart Trophy. Makar will likely be right in the Norris Trophy voting again. Rantanen, always the overlooked one, is on the quietest 104-point pace you’ll ever see. Valeri Nichushkin’s game has leveled up and Devon Toews remains a handful alongside Makar on Colorado’s top defensive pairing. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Where this season feels different is the heart and perseverance we saw from last year’s overmatched Colorado squad is meeting its outsized talent. The Avs falling behind as often as they have is not a recipe for success in the postseason. On the other hand, the Avs being a dominant team in the third period? That’s going to be a problem for whatever team draws them in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This was all on perfect display last night in Toronto against a talented Maple Leafs team. They got down 3-0 after the first period thanks to a combination of bad luck and poor play in spots. They geared it back up after that and showed the real heart of a champion. As Colorado built their comeback, you felt Toronto tighten up. A team that has been criticized for being too comfortable at the top met a team whose only mission is greatness.

Questions surround what matters most to the players atop Toronto’s roster. Do Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner live and die winning hockey? We haven’t seen it yet. Is there any doubt about the guys in the Avalanche dressing room? It was fitting Andrew Cogliano, who embodies the “veteran presence” teams are always after, scored the game-tying goal. The Avalanche have “it” and, at the moment, Toronto does not.

That doesn’t mean this Avalanche team is complete, however.

New additions Ross Colton, Miles Wood, and Jonathan Drouin have certainly lived up to their expectations so far. This Avalanche team has one glaring hole on its roster, especially when you consider Nikolai Kovalenko is coming from Russia at some point this season to man one of the wing spots in the lineup.

I’m a “temper expectations” kind of guy when it comes to Kovalenko this season, but there’s no reason to believe he will be overwhelmed by NHL speed. Regardless, the Avalanche won’t live and die by his success. If things go perfectly, Gabe Landeskog returns during the playoff run and gives them a gigantic lift, both emotionally and on the ice.

No, that one spot that needs fixing is all there is. The elusive second-line center spot is staring MacFarland the Avalanche staff in the face. It’s an extremely difficult position to fill across the league, as I’ve written about previously. Good centers are either on good teams already or bad teams aren’t looking to part with the few good centers they’ve managed to acquire. It’s a difficult spot the Avs find themselves in.

I’ve always been sympathetic to the difficulties of the job. It is extremely easy to go on the internet these days and just say stuff. It’s basically what I do for a living, if I’m being honest. Making deals in the NHL is much, much harder. But here’s where I am in knowing all of that: I don’t care.

There are no excuses this year. Last season, there were all kinds of things wrong with the Avalanche, chief among them the uncertainty of Landeskog’s status and the cap space issues that brought. That doesn’t exist this year.

Colorado isn’t flush with draft capital and a robust prospect pool, so it has to be careful with what they decide to do to improve the roster this year. Sure, they could go the safe route and pick up an Adam Henrique from Anaheim or a Sean Monahan from Montreal. Those would be relatively cheap options and both are solid players who could probably do the job better than we’ve seen from Ryan Johansen, the one big offseason acquisition by the Avalanche that has not worked out.

You can understand where Colorado might decide to go with a safer, cheaper option than chase a bigger fish, most notably Elias Lindholm of the Calgary Flames. They do that and maybe use Bowen Byram or Sam Girard to chase a younger, more long-term solution at the position this summer. Great, that makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense to me is looking at this Avalanche team, the competition, and not making it an immediate priority to fix the only truly glaring hole on your roster (if you read that and say, “AJ, what about the goaltending?” I would say fair enough, but it only really applies to the backup spot because the Avs aren’t moving off Alexandar Georgiev in-season).

“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid”

When the Avs won the Cup two seasons ago, they aggressively hunted solutions at the trade deadline. They swapped picks and top defense prospects Justin Barron and Drew Helleson for win-now options who were on expiring contracts in Artturi Lekhonen and Josh Manson. They added on the fringes, too, with Cogliano and Nico Sturm.

It worked, and the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup. Is there anyone sitting around right now fretting about the lack of Barron or Helleson on the current Avalanche defense? Of course not.

Increasing the urgency to make a big move this year will be that the team currently leading the Central Division, the Winnipeg Jets, is facing the exact same problem as the Avalanche. Every other top team out west has the top of its center depth chart sorted out. Striking first and showing no mercy (I’ve been watching a lot of “Cobra Kai” so forgive me) benefits the Avalanche two-fold. Colorado gets its pick of the centers that teams are willing to deal and it creates an additional sense of urgency for the Jets to find an answer.

The Avalanche already have the advantage that their best players are better than the other team’s best players. The questions in net loom, but the reality this year is that it’s on Georgiev to play better, plain and simple. That lone spot in the middle of Colorado’s forward corps is where other teams start building an advantage on the Avalanche roster. Fix that and the pathway to beating a healthy-ish Avalanche team in the playoffs gets much narrower. For everyone, not just the Jets.

When MacFarland looks at his team right now, he should feel enormous pride. He played a key role in building this squad to what it is now when he was the assistant general manager and then when he was promoted to keep him from taking a general manager position elsewhere.

What he should also see is an opportunity for greatness. It’s time for him to show his chops as a deal maker as Avalanche GM. There are no guarantees in sports, especially when it comes to the hardest trophy to win, but in a season where the late, great Pierre Lacroix was inducted into the Hall of Fame, you can’t help but feel like this Avalanche team is crying out for that classic Lacroix boldness to truly make them the team to beat.

Make your move, Chris. This team deserves it.

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?