Since June of 2009, Greg Sherman has been the GM of the Colorado Avalanche. Also, since June 2009, Sherman has been appearing to do his best Matt Millen impersonation. (For those of you who don't know, Matt Millen is the former GM of the Detroit Lions who, by sheer incompetence, managed to drain even more hope out of a team that didn't appear to have any left to begin with). Prior to this point for the Avalanche, the team was certainly on a downward slope. However, at that time, it appeared that they had financial support of a deep-pocketed owner, a team president well past his glory years as a crafty GM but still caring enough to make every effort to get his team back to the top (as evidenced by his effort to make a splash and name his former client/goalie/hockey icon the coach and GM) and a fan base that was disappointed in the fall from grace, but largely excited by the prospect of some dynamic young talent in the offing (with the 3rd pick in the draft coming up). The fault did not lie with the organization as a whole, but mostly with the accountant posing as a GM and his in-over-his-head coach. In short, despite the setbacks, the organization seemed to be bound and determined to erase the mistakes of the post-lockout years and return to the glory of the pre-lockout years.
Fast forward 25 months. Now, the deep-pocketed owner doesn't know he has a hockey team (or doesn't care), the team president evidently spends most of his time in Nevada watching Judge Judy, the fan base is dwindling down to just the hard core fans and the team still has an accountant posing as a GM and an in-over-his-head coach. An accountant who has does an uncanny Matt Millen impersonation.
Now, listen. I know we're just fans. If we really were so smart, why aren't we scouts, coaches and GMs? Of course, they're the professionals. They know what they're doing. But, in case it hadn't occurred to the marketing-challenged Avalanche powers that be, appearances count for quite a lot in the entertainment business. And that's something that they need to get through their thick skulls: they are in the entertainment business. Yes, it's sports entertainment, but it's entertainment nevertheless. And when an entertainment business appears to be run by
closeted Red Wing fans imbeciles, people don't spend their money on it. Not to mention the fact that other GMs are further emboldened by the idea that they can fleece the Avs in trade after trade because of perceived mismanagement. Not to mention the fact that evidence continues to pile up that this team is going to be run on the cheap indefinitely, spending only to the cap floor but overpaying average talent in order to do so. And right now, I can't find a single hockey person who thinks the Avalanche made a smart deal when they traded a potential lottery pick for another "if" player.
Look, there's certainly good evidence to suggest that Semyon Varlamov can be a number 1 goalie. But until it is actually proven, he's just another project on a team rife with them. And a lottery pick plus a potentially high second rounder is a lot to pay for another project.
What's the sad truth? The last two years of trades (and other moves) actually told us that these moves would be the rule, not the exception. Even the moves that were met with fan approval turned out to be short-lived. We should have seen it coming:
July 3, 2009: Avalanche trades Ryan Smyth to Los Angeles Kings for Kyle Quincey, Tom Preissing and a 5th round pick in 2010 (Luke Walker). Pure salary dump for a slightly better-than-average defenceman, an overpaid, washed up defenceman (bought out a year later to help get to the cap floor without wasting a roster spot) and a depth forward. It may not have been all that bad of a hockey deal, but it reeked of cheapness and still does.
November 29, 2010: Avalanche trades Colby Cohen to Boston Bruins for Matt Hunwick. Because we needed to give up a tough, physical young d-man with a hard point shot for another small, marginal-at-best puck mover (except when we decide to do a 180 and start trading the established puck movers way and signing/acquiring only 6'5, 230 lb blueliners only a few short months later).
November 30, 2010: Avalanche trades Scott Hannan to Washington Capitals for Tomas Fleischmann. Short term, it was a good deal. But they may as well have kept Hannan if they were going to let him walk anyway. Even if they were scared off by Flash's blood problems, at least let your fan base know your reasoning. Remember that whole thing about appearances?
February 18, 2011: Avalanche trades Craig Anderson to Ottawa Senators for Brian Elliott. Yes, Andy had fallen way off his MVP performance of the previous season. But Anderson's subsequent good play for Ottawa, Elliott's subsequent poor play for Colorado (bad defense notwithstanding) and the subsequent decision not to qualify him and let him walk make it pretty hard for the Avs to look good on this deal. Even if Anderson stinks it up for the next two seasons and is then bought out by the Senators, the Avs will still look foolish on this trade. If Bryan Murray was so quick to give Anderson a 4-year, $12.75 million deal after a few weeks of good play, couldn't you have squeezed a 3rd or 4th round pick out of him as well?
February 19, 2011: Avalanche trades Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk and a 2nd round pick in 2011 (Ty Rattie) to St. Louis Blues for Erik Johnson, Jay McClement and a 1st round pick in 2011 (Duncan Siemens). Granted, this trade will take more time to judge because of the youth involved, but clearly the most established player of the deal is Stewart. Drafted the same year as Johnson, Stewart has proven himself to be a top-six NHL power forward, exactly what he was projected to be. Johnson has not yet proven himself to be a franchise defenceman, nevermind that he hasn't lived up to the hype of a first overall pick. Shattenkirk still has work to do, but he is already looking like he'll develop faster than Johnson has. At this point, Johnson is still a project. McClement certainly does not stand out in a team already loaded with centers and Siemens is likely years away from making his impact on this trade. Time may tell a different story, but this trade still reeks of both panic and Greg Sherman trying to divest himself of as many components of the Francois Giguere reign as possible.
June 24, 2011: Avalanche trades John-Michael Liles to Toronto Maple Leafs for a 2nd round pick in 2012. Again, why is it so easy to convince Greg Sherman to except a low-ball offer? Isn't this what they were offering at the trade deadline? Why didn't you just take it then? Or better yet, couldn't you have received this at next year's trade deadline? If you were trying to rid your self of smallish puck moving defencemen, why not spend your cap floor money on a proven veteran instead of two never-will-be's in Hunwick and Cumiskey?
When all is said and done, the best player from 2009-10 (Anderson) and arguably the best player from 2010-11 (Liles) are now gone and all they have to show for it is a 2nd round pick in 2012 (one that becomes even more important as it's likely going to be the first pick they get in that draft, even if it's going to be a late second rounder).
Even the moves that we might praise the current front office for are probably more credited to the scouting staff than the GM (Barrie, Stefan Elliott, Hishon, Pickard) or just a product of a high draft position and a player falling into your lap (Duchene, O'Reilly, Landeskog). Or, they have a relatively minor impact, such as the Winnik or O'Byrne trades. Or, as said before, they are short term. In July of 2009, the Anderson signing looked like a solid if not frugal move to shore up the goaltending. The next summer, it looked like a solid gold steal. Less than a year later, it's another 180.
And that brings us to Varlamov. Again, this could turn out to be a great move. But judging by even Sherman's best trades, the likelihood of that happening seems remote.
So, we are back to the appearance of a poorly managed team being run by Matt Millen, er, Greg Sherman and likely 3-5 more years of rebuilding (probably 5 with the forfeiture of a potential lottery pick).
Yes, appearances can be deceiving. But it certainly doesn't appear so right now.
P.S. I do remind you that Pierre McGuire really trashed the Avs for the Varlamov trade, so if he's against it, it may not be a bad move after all.