The Colorado Avalanche are seventeen games into the 2011-2012 season, holding a 8-8-1 record (17 points). They hold the best power play in the league and are one of the worst teams on the penalty kill. This seasons stories are many, even this early into the season. They include the leadership demonstrated by Ryan O'Reilly, Erik Johnson's inconsisent play and the potential of a blossoming Gabriel Landeskog. But nothing has been looked at as strongly as Joe Sacco's struggles to get the players to play good hockey for 60 minutes every time they take the ice.
The chat rooms run infested with a sneering fans that save their best criticisms for the coaching and management of the organization. So many of the comments which I read have gathered around the same three theses. "Our joke of an owner needs to start putting some money into his hockey team and stop focusing so much on (Nuggets/St. Louis Rams/Arsenal)." is a popular insight, as is, "Sacco has the same excuses of why his team didn't play well every night and he doesn't let his line develop chemistry". Also, "Sherman doesn't know what he's looking for in a hockey player and won't fire Sacco." But one thing remains the same. The fans see their team fail to play to its full potential night after night and they continue to be teased by a team that keeps hovering as a .500 team.
The Colorado Avalanche have been a rebuilding team ever since the retirement of their long time captain, Joe Sakic, but hard work is beginning to pay off with the development of Matt Duchene, Ryan Wilson, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly. The acquisitions of Semyon Varlamov and the anticipation of Stefan Elliott and Joey Hishon are also crucial parts of the organization's future. But what comes next in this transition period between being a rebuilding franchise to becoming a threat in the NHL? Obviously, the masses have spoken in favor of shifting some players around in positions that don't necessarilly require the ability to ice skate.
Enos Stanley "Stan" Kroenke is the Mr. Burns of the Colorado Avalanche. The billionaire owner of Kroenke Enterprises decided one night the he wanted to own the Denver Nuggets, so he bought them and thus incidentally claiming ownership of the Colorado Avalanche.
Despite what many people believe, Kroenke almost never interferes with the daily operations with any of the teams that he owns. I'm sure it is not out of the question that he may quietly push for the Nuggets to succeed, but all I have to say is the Avalanche won the cup in 2001. The Denver Nuggets haven't made it pass the Conference finals and traded their superstar away to the New York Knicks. Matt Duchene doesn't look to be in the same position.
Kroenke realizes that he came to a hockey game when he meant to go see Arsenal play and decides to leave.
My point is that Pierre Lacroix is the President of the Colorado Avalanche. He's the guy probably pulling a lot of the strings as far as executive decision making. The ex-agent, ex-general manager is now spending a lot of time at his home in Las Vegas, but oversees all of the decision making.
That being said, when the time comes to start investing some real money into the team, we can only hope Lacroix can convince Kroenke. I think he'll pay just like he has at some point for each of his teams. It's just good business, and if Kroenke knows anything, it is the investing business.
The Sherman Administration
If the puppeteer is Pierre Lacroix, the puppet is Greg "From Accounting" Sherman. The General Manager of the Colorado since 2009 openly admits that he doesn't have a lot of hockey knowledge. He told reporters, "I look forward to the challenge. We all know the task ahead and we need to get to work. There are a lot of things to be done here. I am surrounded by a group that has great knowledge of the business and we are looking towards the future with a lot of optimism." Pierre Lacroix added, "Surrounded by a strong hockey staff and under my supervision, he will have all the necessary support to lead the Avalanche in this new direction." The other members of the Front office include Criag Billington, an ex-NHLer and former Avalanche player who has been with the team for years. He serves as the team's Vice-President of Player Development. Eric Lacroix, Pierre Lacroix's son, is the Director of Hockey Operations. Brad Smith is another former NHLer who serves as the Director of Player Personnel. Charlotte Grahame is business veteran and husband and mother to a couple of NHL hockey players. She is the Vice-President of Hockey Administration. In addition to the sess pool of hockey knowledge, some guy name Joe Sakic serves as the Executive Advisor.
Needless to say, Greg Sherman gets a lot of advice on the correct way to build the team and is likely has the most influence with negotiations and contracts. If this team isn't being built correctly, the fans have the whole front office to blame. If this team fails, the biggest villian would be long time leader Pierre Lacroix for his ideas and those of his staff. If he fails, the only person to save us is the only guy who can fire Pierre Lacroix. That person is none other than the uninterested Stan Kroenke, or perhaps his son and heir (also Team Governer), Josh Kroenke.
"If you don't help us win, a lot of us are going to be unemployed."
The Sherman Administration transactions have been controversial and many. The most talked about trades were those for Erik Johnson and Semyon Varlamov. On February 19th, the Colorado Avalanche aqcuired defenseman Erik Johnson, center Jay McClement and a first round draft pick (Duncan Siemens). In exchange, the St. Louis Blues received winger Chris Stewart, rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and a second round draft pick (Ty Rattie). Stewart had been emerging that season as a legitament star that season and played well with center Paul Stastny, but Erik Johnson combination of size and skill was an asset too rare to pass up. Johnson's play in the his own zone has been concerning, but he has been excellent on the point for the power play, on the road anyway. The trade for Semyon Varlamov will be partially judged on how well the team performs this season, because they gave up a conveted first round draft pick as well as a conditional second-rounder. Varlamov is athletic and at times a game changer. He has a history of groin injuries, but is still young at 23 years old. He will have time to develop with the rest of the young Avalanche club.
Unfortunaltely, it is still a little early to be judging either deal still, although more consistent play from Erik Johnson would calm a lot of fans down. But plenty of moves have been commended as well as many being questionable.
-John-Micheal was a fan favorite for actually being good. Moved to make way for the likes of Stefan Elliott.
-Shane O'Brien has been depended on. and has formed chemistry with Kyle Quincey.
-The jury on Jan Hejda is out, but not a good start.
-Giguere has been a nice addition.
-Fleischmann left the Avalanche, but Hannan didn't pan out in Washington either.
-The Mueller, Porter/Wolski trade is still in the air but looks to be a scratch, if not a win for the Avalanche.
-Daniel Winnik has helped the team, skating on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog.
-Ryan O'Byrne has had its ups and downs.
-The trade for Matt Hunwick has had a lot of downs.
It's a mess of trades and acquisitions, but what often goes unnoticed is the fact that we have so many players in contract years. Many, if not all of the prized possessions are RFAs, with the exception of David Jones. This puts the club in a position to make a lot of moves this season and drop some dead wieght and start investing is some real talent to build around the core players on the team. If they don't start investing in real talent to surround Duchene and company by the offseason, I too, am through with the Sherman Administration.
Hejda and Kobasew are probably our biggest contractual liabilities, in concern to under-performance, but we have a lot more to look forward to in the future. Don't forget, this is also the same organization that drafted Matt Duchene (not really a rocket science draft pick) and Ryan O'Reilly (a very nice pick by Rick Pracey).
With taking all of this into consideration, I am ready to give Greg Sherman another two seasons to see what he can really do in this league. He is busy and has taken a lot of chances (trademarks of Lacroix), but the time to be busy and to take chances is during the rebuild. He and his colleagues are trying to put together a full roster, and he's close. The decision he needs to be looking into is whether or not to keep Coach Joe Sacco around. I'm sure it's crossed his mind.
Speaking of Joe Sacco
Colorado Avalanche Coach and all around nice guy, Joe Sacco, has taken the reins and is accountable for the teams win/loss record. Sometimes the players lose the game, sometimes bad luck loses the game, but sometime awful penalty killing loses the game. Sacco's team has had a bad PK unit and have been having slow starts on and off for three seasons now. I'm not in the locker room, so I obviously could never give a credible criticism of the head coach, but I can put some pieces together.
-Sacco was brilliant with getting the most out of players like Liles and Stewart. Both players blossomed after some time spent in the dog house, but both players were later traded away.
-He was accused of playing Craig Anderson too much in his first season, allowing little rest. Bu he rode Anderson to a playoff berth. Pretty impressive.
-Budaj would later remind Denver citizens of just how incapable he was at being a number one goaltender. Bad luck, bad players.
-His team earned a playoff berth for 2010 and a the 2nd overall draft pick in 2011. A lot can happen in a year's time.
-Injuries are a bitch and a season killer.
-Going to name a captain ever? Does it matter? I think so. Talking about identity...
Hmm... wonder if I could get my old job in Ohio back...
I think everybody knows that Sacco is on a short leash this season, and if the Avalanche don't make the playoffs, he will not be back to coach. He has had some serious bad luck but needs learn how to get the most from guys like Stastny and Duchene and not just Ryan O'Reilly who would probably work the same for any coach. More forward depth would help him out and a string of wins may build more confidence inside the locker room. There is not one person that can say Sacco will be coaching in the NHL next week let alone at the beginning of next season. The only way for Sacco to reply to his critics is to start winning games. We can now safely say his career is in the hands of himself and a group of twenty-somethings. Perhaps allowing the fans to see some playoff hockey will earn him the job next season. God speed, Joe.
I really do think the Sherman Administration will succeed in building a winning team, even if Sherman isn't always the front man. The Joe Sacco situation will work itself out as will the Johnson and Varlamov trades. Avs fans still have a lot to look forward to, but if the team doesn't start doing earning some playoff victories in the next two seasons, you can only count them to drive attendance into the ground and moving back to Quebec.
Also, I'm going to predict the Avs make a trade for a top-6 winger before the trade deadline. Think Semin, Lucic, Pacioretty... some team out East. Maybe another forward to help the PK.
Are you on par with the cool kids?
See the poll to find out!