The formula to success in sports isn't too complicated: great players, hard work, intelligent coaching, sound strategy, and a bit of superstition and luck are the recipe to delicious results. Teams who excel in all of these areas (I will refer to them as the factors of success), are the teams who occupy the lofty portion of the standings and win Stanley Cups. In my opinion, Factor isn't the only factor of success missing for the Avs right now.
I am going to break this down into a few categories: superstars, franchise standouts, role players, and fringe players. Also, these lists are ordered, so the guys at the top are closest to the next category up, and guys toward the bottom are closest to the category below them.
- Superstars: These are players that every team in the NHL drools over. They are game changers, season changers, and lead the league in statistics and highlight reals. In my opinion the Avs don't have any true superstars on the roster right now. Duchene is on the verge, and Landeskog is a budding star with an award winning smile. I just don't think they are quite there yet. While having superstars helps, this isn't the NBA... championships can be won without a true superstar. The LA Kings would be Quick to argue that. Wait a second... Ideal Roster (1-2). Avalanche current lineup (0).
- Franchise Standouts: These are players that half the league would quickly take as equal or better value to the player they currently have in that same role. Obviously, you want as many of these players as possible. While they don't completely dominate games like a superstar, they still will have flashes where their impact is felt, and opposing coaches tend tend to gameplan for these players. This is the reason that grinders like John Mitchell or Cody McCleod don't make the list. Would most NHL teams take a Mitchell on their third line, or a McCleod on their fourth line? Sure, but third and fourth line grinders are rarely franchise standouts in my opinion. The scary part is that Duchene is the only guy on this list who has put up good numbers this season. I really had to look through my burgundy colored glasses to convince myself that half the teams in the NHL would take Erik Johnson as their No. 1 d-man.. Let's call it top pairing d-man... cool, now he makes the list. Varlamov has great talent, but am I russian to judgement to say that he'd be a starter on half the teams in the NHL right now? Contract mess, and character issues aside, Radar had become and would continue to be a franchise standout in my opinion. Also notice how many games these faces have been missing from the Avs lineup. Ideal Roster (6-8). Avalanche current lineup (3).
- Johnson (IR)
- Role Players: These are players who do an acceptable job at their role. They are either hard workers who go hard on every shift, or guys with enough talent to get adequate, if not spectacular, results. This is where a bulk of most NHL rosters exist. For me, Parenteau is really close to being a franchise standout (I want to see a few more games). Stastny should be a franchise standout, but he just disappears for long stretches too often... I think that's just sort of the player SoS has become. Mitchell has been the most pleasant surprise of the bunch. Palushaj holds down a spot for now due to his hot start with the Avs, but time will tell on him. Ideal Roster (12-16). Avalanche current lineup (12)
- Downie (IR)
- Wilson (IR)
- Fringe Players: Uh Oh. Hopefully this list is pretty barren. Fringe players are guys who seem out of place on an NHL roster. They may serve a purpose as an occasional enforcer who usually gets press box duty. They may have a few positive attributes, or they may be youngsters gaining some experience, but ultimately if these guys are consistently in your lineup, that's a problem. These are not players you would see on a team with aspirations to make reservations for a deep playoff run. Ideal Roster (1-2 on Nacho duty maximum). Avalanche current lineup (5).
- Greg Zanon: Bonus Category! These are players who sport a full beard in February, because they know their play is so poor they will single-handedly keep their team from making the postseason. Ideal Roster (-1). Avalanche current lineup (+1).
- Greg Zanon
Ultimately, the Avalanche roster is close, and was much closer prior to a few key injuries and the O'Reilly saga. They are a playoff team with their full potential roster on the ice, but that obviously isn't the case right now. The defense is a spot of glaring weakness. Right now the Avs have no franchise defenders in the lineup, two of their role players are pint size, and the rest is filled out with guys who are mediocre on a great day. This isn't a groundbreaking statement, but what the Avalanche can get out of O'Reilly in a trade could prove critical moving foward.
In general, work ethic has not been an issue for the Avalanche under Joe Sacco. Like any NHL team they have some periods where they play flat, but generally the effort seems to be there. I think the strength of Sacco as a coach is that his players play hard for him. Honestly though, it would be hard to really find an NHL team that isn't hard working. This is an issue for sports such as the NBA or MLB. Which leads us into...
Intelligent Coaching and Sound Strategy:
This is where Sacco fails as a coach in my opinion. His lineup decisions, matchup decisions, and icetime decisions constantly baffle me. The Avalanche special teams are a disaster. The team lacks creativity. I think Sacco's role as a plugger in the NHL is the formula he has tried to stamp onto the Avs, and ultimately that tree doesn't make the sweetest fruit. Too often when the Avs get off to a good start, the other team adjusts and gets back into the game. To often when the Avs have a bad start, they can't do anything to get back into the game. I don't think Sacco is a bad coach, but I don't think he has a great hockey mind for innovation and adjustments for different situations. I don't think Sacco gets the best out of his top offensive players, and while that lies on the players shoulder's as well, it helps to have a great coach.
Superstition and Luck:
Voodoo magic. Lucky bounces are really just physics. Good teams overcome bounces that don't go their way, because they get enough other chances to win games despite those bounces. Bad teams often look at a bad bounce as a reason they win or lose a game because they weren't good enough to get other chances. Sure injuries happen, and it's unfortunate when they do. The Avs probably have had injury totals higher than the odds would predict the past few seasons, but hey, in 2001 they won the Cup with Peter Forsberg sidelined. The point is, this stuff is out of your control. Still, as a fan, it's part of the game experience.
To sum things up:
When I really sit down and honestly look at the Avs, I see a lot of positives and negatives. To start with the positives, we have some young franchise standouts who have the potential to really take the team to the next level. Duchene's game has matured to the verge of stardom, Varlamov has shown flashes of brilliance, and while Johnson needs to improve his offensive production he has been a stalwart in his own zone and in transition defense. Landeskog is a stud (as long as his noggin is okay). Sherman has done a nice job aquiring players such as Parenteau, McGinn, and Downie, who when in the lineup have had a positive impact. Sacco has instilled a good work ethic in the team.
There are also some negatives. Our defense is paper thin, and almost makes Edmonton giggle. Sherman gave up a great offensive talent in Kevin Shattenkirk, who would really help the Avs anemic power play. He would be a franchise standout IMO on this team. The special teams have been awful, and almost always swing the game against the Avs. Sacco is poor at managing the lineup, and his players... and doesn't instill a creative outlook or strategy to the game. Jones has been a major disappointment, and Stastny has been frustratingly inconsistent and nonexistent given expectations and past results. Our lineup currently has too many fringe players. They also need some more franchise standouts. Can a PA or a McGinn elevate their games to that level? Does Barrie have the offensive zap to fill the void left by Shattenkirk? Will Siemens pair as perfectly with Johnson on ice as it sounds on paper? Can we land a stud in exchange for O'Reilly?
A culture of mediocrity seems to be developing within the organization, and I won't stand for it. Avs upper management seems stubborn in it's ways, and I'm ready for some fresh thinking. I'm much more okay with giving one of my favorite players the shaft because of his unreasonable contract demands if the team is winning games despite of him. When a guy with passion, and fire I love to watch is on the sideline while a 4 million dollar man floats around on the ice for 18 min a night instead, it's frustrating. Especially when the Avs hover in the bottom third of the league.
Moving forward I'm optimistic, but I don't think the Avs are going to improve if they maintain the status quo. Would love to have some discussion in the comments over the next few days. Go Avs! Red Wings Suck! And I leave you with a cartoon representation of the current Avalanche business model. Over and out.