So, we're six seasons removed from the NHL Lockout. In that time the Avs have swung from perennial playoff contender to consistent bottom-feeder. Is the next swing of the pendulum taking Colorado up? Have we had it bad enough for long enough that we're due? I wanted to look at the team's approach to team building since the lockout and see if they're performing at a level that would indicate positive growth, mediocrity, or backwards-thinking. I looked at free agency signings, impact trades and high-probability draft picks (1st and 2nd round) to see if the Avalanche faithful are due for some good news based solely on the law of averages. This isn't a scientific pursuit by any stretch, just my thoughts encapsulating the various moves by those in charge when it comes to team building.
'05-06: Coming out of that lost '04-05 season, the Avs had ZERO first round picks and four 2nd round picks (Ryan Stoa, Paul Stastny, Tom Fritsche, and Chris Durand). They appear to be batting about .250 for that draft class. We can give a little nod to Stoa if you really want to and call it .375 if semantics are important to you. That summer saw the departure of Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote due to salary cap reasons and Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne due to performance reasons. The two cornerstones + friends were replaced with Andrew Brunette, Pierre Turgeon, Patrice Brisebois and Curtis Leschyshyn. Ohh, and Brad May for obvious reasons. Let's call that 2-for-5. An early season trade sent Phillipe Sauve to Calgary for a bag of pucks. We'll call that win-win and not count against my arbitrary tally. Fans did see management swing for the fences with another goaltender trade (trying to replicated the Roy trade with a Jose Theodore for David Aebischer deal). Despite little regular season play from Theodore, they still finished the '05-06 season with 95 points and were second in the division. They were eventually swept by the Disney Ducks in the 2nd round. No other trades except 18 games out of Jim Dowd for a pick. I'm gonna call it 0-2 in the trade department.
'06-07: Draft Day 2006 saw Chris Stewart, Nigel Williams, and Cody Burki at the top of the Avs' board. We'll declare that a .333 average. Free agency saw some budget conscious signings like THE infamous Tyler Arnason, Ken Klee, and Ben Guite. No real (positive) impact players in that group. A trade of Alex Tanguay to Calgary for Jordan Leopold was also a feature of Draft Day. Free agency saw Rob Blake and Dan Hinote depart for greener pastures. Another 95 point season was had, but parity (and a dagger from Forsberg and the Predators) kept them out of the postseason. Even trade deadline deals that essentially swapped Brad May for Scott Parker didn't help. I'd be willing to go 1-for-3 on the signings (half for the brief flash of Good Arnason and Guite), but the Tangs trade was a flop and Parker didn't contribute much. Also, they were now beginning to see the reality of being 1-out-of-2 on the trade-for-a-franchise-goalie front after a terrible season from Jose.
'07-08: The 2007 version of the Entry Draft welcomed Kevin Shattenkirk, Colby Cohen, Trevor Cann, and T.J. Galiardi to the Colorado fold. It's just a tad too early to call this one completely, but I'm pretty confident that a .500 average AT BEST will be the end result. That summer saw the Avs open the checkbook for Scott Hannan and Ryan Smyth as Brisebois and McLean left for other teams. Regardless of personal opinions, I think both guys worked out to a degree. Hannan was Hannan, though over-paid, and Smyth did everything possible while being mis-used and he flirted with 60 points in his healthy seasons. The issue with both of those guys is how they left the team. Smyth was traded in 2009 to the Kings for a pedigreed prospect in Kyle Quincey who has been inconsistent in his time with the club and Tom Preissing who was obtained for what amounted to salary floor reasons. Hannan departed this past season for Tomas Fleischmann who was lights-out until injured after 22 games. Not his fault, but the return on a large cash commitment like he had seen in Denver felt paltry. I'd say .667 on those signings as they worked to a degree in the short term, but fizzled at their terminations. Two or three other significant moves by management in that season saw the return of Peter Forsberg (via LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE free agency) and Adam Foote via trade at the deadline. Another deadline acquisition was Ruslan Salei. These pickups helped the Avs reach the second round of the playoffs where the injury-depleted team was swept by the eventual champs, Detroit. It's hard to rate that deadline period because while the moves paid immediate dividends, they may have helped lead to the long-term issues that cropped up the next season. Let's be fair and say all three moves were nominal winners at 2.5-out-of-3.
'08-09: The 2008 draft saw Cameron Gaunce and Peter Delmas don the burgundy and blue, both in the second round as the first round pick was Columbus' in the Foote deal. (Let's just call it like it is, that was overpayment then and it looks like almost radical overpayment now). As for the draft itself, it's too early to call, but I doubt we see a better than .500 return given Colorado's history of developing goaltenders. Free agency that season was AWESOME you guys. Daniel Tjarnqvist, Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft stepped into the voids left by the departing Andrew Brunette, Kurt Sauer, and Jeff Finger. The 2008 season never happened for some reason. Somehow during that time they dealt Leopold back to Calgary for Ryan Wilson, Lawrence Nicholat and a 2nd round pick. But if that season had existed, it was 1-for-1 on trades (that's a good return for Leopold at that point in his career, especially when you see the 2nd round picks in 2009) and 0-3 on the FA signings, IMO.
'09-10: 2009 Draft Day began with the 3rd overall pick of Avalanche superfan Matt Duchene followed by the second round picks of Ryan O'Reilly and Stefan Elliott. It's still early, but I think we can put this draft down in the win column, 2.5-3. 2009 free agency saw the departure of fan favorites Guite, Ian Laparriere, Cody McCormick, Raycroft and Tyler Arnason (favorites for very different reasons). In return, frugal pickups like Philippe Dupuis, David Koci, and Craig Anderson were the order of the day. Another tough FA class to judge, but I think I'm leaning toward wins for two-out-of-three of those guys. The other signings that day were depth/AHL at best and won't factor into my thoughts (Hi Mr. Haydar!). Super Captain Joe Sakic hung them up at the beginning of the season however the campaign wasn't the failure many feared. Remember, this was the season that started with the aforementioned Smyth trade to the Kings. After trading 50-point winger Wojtek Wolski to the Coyotes for under-performing Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter, the Avs didn't miss a beat. I'd rate that trade as a win (even with Mueller's Jello-brain) given Wolski's continued floating in various NHL locales and Mueller's insta-chemistry with Duchene. The Smyth trade looks like it'll likely go down in the loss column unfortunately. The 95-point campaign saw the Avalanche surprise many pundits by squeeking into the playoffs after a torrid start to the season. They gave the Sharks a scare by forcing the first round to six games but ultimately fell to the Left Coast Choke Artists.
'10-11: 2010 Draft Day rewarded Avalanche faithful with Joey Hishon falling into the Avalanche's lap at the 17th pick and goalie Calvin Pickard helping round out a solid non-lottery selection. Too early to tell on this iteration of the draft but both picks look solid. Free agency was quiet with Salei, Brett Clark, and Brian Willsie departing and the Avs mostly taking care of their own with the re-signing of Stewert, Yip, and Mueller. They did trade for Daniel Winnik from Phoenix and I'd rate that win for what it is. The 2010-12 season ended up being a tale of two seasons: lots of promise early and holy shit disappointment late. A small move early in the season saw Ryan O'Byrne join the franchise and an even smaller move saw Matt Hunwick join the roster as a harbinger of the Hannan trade discussed above. On the fans' seismometer, the big move during the season was the Chris Stewert/Kevin Shattenkirk trade to St. Louis for Eric Johnson and Jay McLement + a first round pick. That shocking blockbuster is closely followed by the deal that sent Anderson to Ottawa for Brian Elliott and a lottery pick and Hannan to Washington for Fleischmann. O'byrne has the feel of a win while Hunwick is .... I'm not really sure. I wanna say loss, but a little more time may tell a different story. We'll go with loss for now. I'm still in the waiting period on the Stewert trade, but the Anderson deal was a hands-down loss. The net effect of the whole season was another eye-gouging fan experience and a lottery pick. Let's call the Hannan and O'Byrne trades as wins, I'll punt on the Hunwick and Johnson deals, and we'll easily slide Anderson's jettison to Loserville (Population: the sum of Edmonton, Long Island, and Colorado).
'11-12: So far in the burgeoning season to come the Avs have drafted stud winger Gabriel Landeskog and not-as-handsome defenseman Duncan Siemens, both in the first round. Still too early on those as well. Not content to whimper through another free agency, the Avalanche went back to the well for a franchise goalie with the deal that sent a couple of picks to Washington for Semyon Varlamov. This followed the to-all-appearances astute pickup of defenseman Jan Hejda. They rounded things out with Chuck Kobasew, Shane O'Brien, and Patrick Rissmiller and Joakim Lindstrom for the forward corps. I don't like the slight overpayment for Varlamov and I'm not sure how Kobasew fits into the roster's depth chart, but I can't really hand down a verdict on those happenings yet.
- High-Probability Draft Picks: right at .500 for the five drafts I honestly considered (8-out-of-16).
- Impact Trades: Again, just smidge over .500 on impact trades (7-out-of-13).
- Free Agent Signings: Shockingly, another result hovering just under .500 (7.5-out-of-17).
All in all, across the 46 acquisitions I considered, the Avalanche are chugging along at a pace just under 0.500. No wonder this exercise reeks of mediocrity. You can argue semantics and I'd maybe add a half-success/failure here or there, but it'd likely be a net zero proposition and wouldn't budge the overall much. If we we're looking for a "we've got nowhere to go but up!" optimism, it isn't really apparent from this evaluation. We'd need to see much more horrible performance across these three areas if we wanted to count on lightning striking out of sheer luck. Unfortunately, the middle of the road approach doesn't appear to be bearing much fruit and since management hasn't changed all that much since the lockout, their consistency in straddling good and bad may ultimately be damning.
Truth be told, the end result of the current CBA era for the Avalanche may well hinge on Johnson, Hishon, Landeskog, and Varlamov. Those four guys (more than Duchene and Stastny) very well may define the next 5-8 years of the Avalanche and their on-ice success. Management has pushed a lot of chips to the center of the table in the last couple years via the suckitude and last season's trades and if these players fizzle, Denver could very well turn into Panthers West. And everybody knows the West Coast versions of good thing blow copious chunks (Avengers, NCIS, Disneyland, Joey from Friends, etc.) except for rappers. Nobody wants to cheer for a team where along with dry-humping the salary floor, said team has taken up the always unsatisfying practice of blue-balling fans due to promises of "rebuilds" and "long-term strategies."
P.S. Sorry for the rambling, long-winded, incomprehensible post. Also, I correctly spelled a shit-ton of names. SBN's auto-tagger correctly linked FIFTY-NINE of them on the first try. For some reason it hates, HATES apostrophes. Racists. Also, subject-verb agreement is over-rated.