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It’s hard to knock a team that’s won two games at the start of a long road trip, but I’m going to. And it’s not hard to find the irony in the fact that the Colorado Avalanche is playing at Coors Field this February because they might as well be the Colorado Rockies up to this point. With loads of talent they’ve mostly produced steaming loads for results. But the similarities don’t stop there.
In the first season under coach Patrick Roy, the team was hot. As hot as Hansel was in Zoolander. But then came a dark prediction of regression, and it came to pass like a local Denver media member tooting their own horn like Garbriel’s trumpet in the End Times. But this season was supposed to be different. This was the year this young group was going to get back on track and, regression be damned, they would compete.
Well, they aren’t competing on a consistent basis. On most nights they’re struggling more than a Republican Presidential candidate trying to get a nonsensical word in edgewise at a debate. What we’ve seen in the last two games won’t last. If I does, I’ll refund your money for this column.
For a long time it felt like the talent level of the team was to blame and that they just weren’t very good. That would explain a lot about a group that just can’t seem to get out of its own way. Or it could be the coaching and how legend Patrick Roy’s seat is heating up with every loss. But spotty coaching and untalented players aren’t why the Avs are emulating its brethren on 20th and Blake. There’s another reason this team is going to be dwelling in the basement for some time: Joe Sakic.
Since Sakic has been involved with the team, first as an advisor and now as General Manager, the drafts have been well, atrocious. In 2011, the team had two picks in the first round and selected Gabriel Landeskog and defenseman Duncan Siemens. While Landeskog is a staple of the team’s offense, he’s hardly the impact player a second overall pick should be. Other than providing lots of penalties. Siemens is still in the AHL and no one seems to know when or if he’ll ever make it to the big club. The rest of that draft are people you’ve never heard of and will never hear of again. Not a great start for the Sakic era.
The next year the Avs coughed up its first round pick to the Washington Capitals for Semyon Varlamov and the Caps used that pick to choose the talented Fillip Forsberg. Oddly enough, the very next pick was Mikhail Grigorenko who the Avs traded for in the Ryan O’Reilly deal. The rest of that 2012 draft is a wasteland of unknown players who are either in the AHL, play for other teams or have vanished into thin air. And if the rumor mill is to be believed, that high pick the team used on Varlamov may have been wasted if they do indeed trade him. It’s not the clutch, over time playoff win from Sakic we’re used to.
But then the Avs hit it big by scoring the first overall pick in 2013 and took the fail-safe Nathan MacKinnon. It’s no stretch to say MacKinnon will probably work out, but beyond that pick, we see the pattern: the rest of the players picked after him are mired in the AHL and don’t seem to have any hope of coming up soon. 2014 and 2105 have been same dreary deal.
We all understand hockey prospects need time to develop. These are young kids and they need to hone their game before being thrown to the wolves in the NHL. But if you look at the draft list from the last few years, the Avs have a large number of players biding their time in the minors. Shouldn’t Sakic and company have drafted at least a few people who would have contributed by now?
And that’s where I think the Avs are really having a problem. Where it seems on the surface to be a coaching and talent issue, it’s really the fact that the front office has done a horrific job of supplying decent players to compliment these recent high draft picks. And Sakic has been the common denominator in all of it.
John Elway has been criticized for his subpar drafts, but he’s absolutely done wonders with his free agent signings and that’s smoothed over any rough patches. The Kroenke Empire is cheap, and since Sakic probably has his hands tied with spending any money, the only thing left is to draft well. If they can’t do that, this team is screwed for a long time.
Sakic may be one of the greatest hockey players of all time, but he’s toiling as a fourth line winger as an executive, while the Avs are slowly becoming the Rockies with its place in the standings and its standing within the community. And a two game, road winning streak be damned, when you’ve sunk so low that you’re being compared to the Rockies, you better reevaluate things fairly quickly. Or win more games. Stay tuned.