Ernest Hemingway made good use of subtlety in his short stories. He often would set a scene of gloom and (excuse my phrasing) mystery. Hemingway would often write with a sense of uneasiness. The weather was seldom warm and the sunlight wouldn't often make an appearance. Instead the setting is usually more gray and daft. There is often a cold drizzle or a light snow. This tone, which Hemingway so religiously, can easily be used to help dictate the tension surrounding the Avalanche organization, especially considering the strong (and public) words Kyle Quincey had for management.
Certainly, I think that Quincey's words resonated so loudly with Avalanche fans in part because you don't often hear hockey players speak so candidly. Interviews in the NHL are so rehearsed you can almost guess the exact thing they are going to say. The same cliches are regurgitated by every player and coach throughout the league, with so little variance in phrasing it can make your ears bleed.
But in a rare lapse of political correctness, Kyle Quincey said exactly what the hockey world isn't used to hearing. Had NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman been standing behind his shoulder, Quincey may have said something along the lines of, "I was disappointed to have been traded from the Colorado Avalanche. They have great fans in Denver and I made a lot of close friends within the organization. With that being said, I am looking forward to the opportunity to contribute to a very good Detroit Red Wings club. They have a great culture and history here in Detroit and I look forward to competing for the Stanley Cup."
But Quincey didn't say that.
The disgruntled defenseman was far more truthful than modest. Personally, my favorite quote of his was: "Everyone is ready to get shipped out any day. There's a lot of guys, their bags are packed beside the door, and they wouldn't be unhappy to go-- trust me. I know I had a big smile on my face, and all the guys were jealous. I think there's a bunch of guys pissed off they weren't in a package deal."
Them be hatin' words, Quince.
I suppose one must respect the fact that a more intimate source than Kyle Quincey simply does not exist in regards to the Avalanche locker room. Also, it's not like he's the first to speak out against the Avalanche management. Chris Stewart also was publicly upset about being traded saying something relatively mild. It was along the lines of (can't find the exact quote) the management committing to building the team from withing the organization just to trade away a couple of good, young, point producing players.
We all remember what Peter Stastny had to say about the moves being made. If you don't, here's a reminder: "This young team was ready to challenge, almost, for a Stanley Cup this season. They were so good. All they needed was some more chemistry, and some synergies. Instead, they destroyed the team. I mean, that was a one-way deal. Mr Armstrong will look like a genious. I don't even know what they were thinking in the Colorado organization. I shouldn't have said this, but I am so, mad about what they've done to this team. They've moved the team about two to three years back again." It seems as if time and time again another member of the NHL community is expressing their anger, frustration or disappointment with Sherman and company. This is true through drafting (getting slack for picking Hishon off the board), trades (Johnson/Stewart deal, 1st and 2nd/Varlamov, Hunwick) and now the way in which he handles his locker room.
But there's no turning back now. The uneasiness has been exposed and the cat is out of the bag. The fans all know that certain players aren't feeling respected by management and it doesn't take a NHL insider to speculate on which players Quincey may be referencing.
If I had to guess, I would put T.J. Galiardi, David Jones, Matt Hunwick, Daniel Winnik, Cody McLeod and Paul Stastny on that list. All of these players could have confidence struggles contributing to their sub-par performances this season.
Erik Johnson, Semyon Varlamov, Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog are all untouchable. Varlamov may have had his share of struggles, but this is the goalie Sherman will be banking on to step in. Matt Duchene is young and is probably getting caught in the crossfire a little bit. O'Reilly and Landeskog have been the on ice leaders for the team all season and Erik Johnson has only got better as the season has progressed.
The fact is that those few players are the guys that Sherman wants to build his team around. Others may include Stefan Elliott, Tyson Barrie, veteran Jan Hejda, Ryan Wilson (don't laugh) and Steve Downie.
So what does an Avalanche fan do when faced with such "uncertainty" in the locker room? How does one take that information?
First, be confident that the organization will spend money when the time is right. Denver is hockey central when the Avalanche have a shot at the cup. The fans know this, management know this. The team isn't going to keep hugging the cap floor for ten playoffless seasons just to move the organization back to Quebec. Management wants to win.
Second, don't be pissed at Kyle Quincey.
I think he's probably being honest about everything he said. What does he have to lose? He's probably right in that I don't think Galiardi and Jones will be in the unipron much longer. Whether Stastny is untouchable or not come the February 27th trade deadline, does nothing to ratify his situation. Most have accepted that he will not retire in an Avalanche uniform. It would be prudent of management to acquire some assets in his departure. Wouldn't it be nice to see a return on the talented center?
Many argue that he will continue to play a vital role with the team but as Duchene and O'Reilly continue to develop you will see number 26's role diminish. It definitely doesn't take much research to find he's been in the trade market since they traded away his pal and linemate, Chris Stewart. For that matter, management is hinting at losing faith in Stastny's other linemate and real-life roommate T.J. Galiardi.
Other arguments involve the cap floor, but hold no water. I promise you with the pro-rated salary cap and the NHL today, the avalanche can fill the void he would leave in order to reach the cap floor.
Please know, I understand what trading Stastny means. I respect the consequences and the transition likely won't be an easy one. He adds youth, a high skill level and elite vision. He is capable of contributing to any team in almost any situation. Still, there is nothing keeping Stastny from becoming the most talented player management will trade away.
From the day his team took the reins, the quoted "character, skill and instinct" have been the three most valued qualities a skater can have in the eyes of the Avalanche organization. The idea is to build the ideal locker room culture. Management has a vision of a team that has a natural drive to win and a willingness to work. Greg Sherman and his staff is building a team that will win in the regular season, but more importantly, win in the playoffs. The team is rebuilding through the draft as well as through new philosophy. Something that has been communicated to the fans in recent seasons.
From his perspective, he is doing the fans a service by being picky about who stays and who goes and he's willing to wait it out and get it right. Guys like Ryan O'Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog bring something special to the ice every shift. That's what Sherman looks to build around, a vision more important that any one player in the locker room. The dedication is what wins championships.
A number of Sherman's trades and acquisitions have been focused on character. In my favorite move by management, J.S. Giguere signed a 2-year deal was certainly a character signing. He's demonstrated a competitor's mindset to the young club as well as consistency. Steve Downie's resume speaks for itself, suspensions and all.
O'Reilly was asked about what playing professionally is to him, he claimed "For me, it's about being on the best hockey team in the world. It's about winning the Stanley Cup." That is an attitude you can root for. Johnson hates to lose and is all business. Plus we've all seen the kind of special that radiates from one Gabriel Landeskog.
Joey Hishon, a pick considered off the board by most experts personifies my point. Rick Pracey had said after taking Hishon 17th overall, "He wasn't off our board. Our board had him very high, based on his skill set. There are certain traits we us in our evaluation of players that are very important to us. And compete, skill and instict are major components. Joey fit the bill. Opinions are varied, depending on which list you're looking at, but for us it was right on pace."
After the first three rounds of the NHL draft in 2009, Sherman was interviewed. After about one to two minutes of selling Matt Duchene, he was asked about the other two. His quote wasn't groundbreaking (which is quite common, see 2nd paragraph), but again, I think the truth lies in the subtleties.
Sherman said, "Well, those guys, too, fit our character mold. O'Reilly is a guy that could have slipped into the first round so we're really excited to get him." Again, character is the main focus of the draft.
Witnessing that kind of mindset is refreshing as a fan. This is what gives you hope that millions will fill the streets of Denver for another Stanley Cup parade sometime down the road. Sherman understands that it takes more than pure skill to take home the big prize. It takes certain kind of leadership. It takes hard work and tenacity. It takes a killer instinct. And most of all, it requires the ability to overcome adversity. An organization that is willing the take the time to create a committed locker room culture is easy to root for. Guys like Radar and Landy are exciting to watch develop. It is the drive to be the best and to keep the foot on the pedal. That's the Colorado Avalanche that I want to root for. If we only need to endure a few tough trades to get there, I'm willing to wait it out for a little while longer.