Despite beginning the season with a historical best 10-1-2 record, which includes wins over strong teams including Calgary, San Jose, Boston, Edmonton and Detroit, much of the hockey media remains unconvinced about the Colorado Avalanche.
There's been a lot of talk about "drinking the Kool-Aid" and "smoke and mirrors." The experts argue that Colorado fans are wearing blinders to the grim statistical reality that awaits the Avalanche just past the next opponent. They'll cool off. They'll hit a wall. The wheels will fall off.
As recent as yesterday, John Buccigross at ESPN was arguing that the Avs won't just cool off, but will collapse completely before the season ends. While arguing that Colorado should have sent the red hot rookie Ryan O'Reilly (2-9, 11 points in 13 games)
down to the AHL back to Erie, Bucci says:
And that's why O'Reilly is so valuable and why I would have sent him back to Erie to continue his development so the Avs can slide that cap number another year when they are closer to an elite team. The Avs probably will not make the playoffs this season. If they do, they probably won't win a playoff series.
Maybe his position has something to do with this:
I did pick the Avs to finish 15th in the West. They still might end up there once the young guys hit the wall and if the team can't stay healthy.
"Once the young guys hit the wall." As if that was a foregone conclusion. Lots of rookies never "hit the wall," but that doesn't matter to Buccigross. The reason it doesn't matter is because he picked the Avs to finish 15th and any other result won't jive with his unquestioned predictive insight.
James Mirtle chimes in again on this subject with a post this morning warning that he's still "waiting for the clock to strike midnight on this plucky team." Why? Because it's happened before to other teams:
We've seen teams like the 2006-07 Senators come out of the gate 15-2-0 and disintegrate by the all-star break. Heck, even last year, in mid-January, the Habs were riding high with a 27-11-6 record and the Coyotes were in fifth in their conference.
Both imploded soon after.
No doubt about it, teams that start off strong sometimes collapse. Some teams that look great at the end of October get weaker as the year goes on. That's undeniable.
But that's not always the case, and it's interesting that none of those predicting the eminent collapse of the history-making 2009-10 Colorado Avalanche ever cite any other examples of teams that get off to strong starts.
At the end of October last season, the San Jose Sharks had a record of 9-2-0. They went on to win the Presidents' Trophy with 117 points. In 2007-08, the Detroit Red Wings had a 10-2-1 record at the end of October. They went on to win the Presidents' Trophy with 115 points. In 2006-07, the Buffalo Sabres ended October with a record of 10-0-1. What happened to them? They won the Presidents' Trophy with 113 points. Anaheim started that same season at 9-0-3 and finished with 110 points. Dallas started 9-2-0 and finished with 107.
The point in citing these examples is not to "prove" that the Avalanche won't implode and miss the playoffs (or even barely get in). The point is that examples for both scenarios are plentiful. Just because some teams start strong and fall apart doesn't mean every team will. In fact, lots of teams start strong and never cool off.
Mirtle concedes that Avalanche fans are allowed to be excited about their early success (thanks!), but warns:
Absolutely, Avs fans should enjoy this run and shout down anyone who says otherwise, but if I'm pressed to make a prediction, it's that Colorado still has a real fight on its hands to make the playoffs come April.
Perhaps Mirtle feels so "pressed" to make such a dire prediction now because he already made a dire prediction that seems to have less and less connection to reality with every passing Avalanche game.
Why, exactly, is there any need to make a prediction at all? Even with the amazing start, you'd be hard-pressed to find an Avalanche fan predicting a Presidents' Trophy or a Stanley Cup win. Even a deep playoff run seems unreasonable to assume after just the first month of the season. Though some of us may be "drinking the Kool-Aid" by acknowledging that come-from-behind wins against strong teams and the best start in franchise history might indicate that the Avalanche are actually a really good team, we're not blind to a possible return to earth. Anything could happen.
Instead of trying to predict the future as part of some bizarre "I told you so" gotcha game so many hockey writers like to play, why not focus on what is happening now? As George Johnson writes in the Calgary Herald this morning:
They're only off to the best start in franchise history. Yes, better even than those halcyon days of Saint Patrick and Quoteless Joe and Peter the Great and Ray Bourque and Pepe Lemieux. Heady salad days of President's Trophies and Stanley Cup glory.
We all keep waiting for them to run face-first into a wall. You can argue that they're doing it with smoke and mirrors and a bit of old-fashioned sleight of hand.
But, hey, they're doing it. Somehow.
And that's all that matters.