Summer Arguments: A Stance on the Current State of the Avs

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency and the draft have come and gone. All we have left to look forward to until October are debates about the state of the team.

Hello, dear Avs fans.  Do you know what day it is?  It's July 11th.  That means there is likely not going to be any meaningful news concerning our favorite team (or our favorite league, for that matter) published today, or tomorrow, or the next day.  In fact, it is entirely likely that all we have to pass the time between now and October is overreacting to everything, arguing amongst ourselves, and posting the occasional cat gif.  So, I'm just going to beat you all to the punch and get those pastimes started right now.

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via img.pandawhale.com

The first argument of the day focuses on whether or not the Avs are worse now than they were a couple months ago.  This seems to be the common theme among the main-stream media, as evidenced here.  To this I say.... I have no idea if the team is better off or not.  But I also think the journalists are looking at it the wrong way.

From a simply NHL 15 view of the matter, yes, the Avs are worse.  It's hard to disagree that skill-wise, Stastny to Iginla, Parenteau to Briere, and the addition of Brad Stuart to our first pairing are anything but downgrades.  But the Avs aren't playing NHL 15.  Instead, they appear to have approached this offseason with a "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" mentality, and when looked at with a broader scope, their moves seem less strange.

First of all, the roster makes a heck of a lot more sense than it did last season, especially for the top forwards.  The whole three top centers thing wasn't working. It did a few years ago when the trio of Duchene, Stastny, and O'Reilly were all essentially #2 centers and could split the minute load fairly evenly, but after Duchene's breakout year and the arrival of Nathan "how the heck did he do that?" MacKinnon, it became clear that the Avs were headed towards a more traditional Top 6 than Top 9.  They found a temporary solution by moving MacKinnon to Stastny's wing, but just like Duchene, Mac's skillset is better suited for the middle of the ice.

Unfortunately, so is Stastny's.  If he had stayed, he either would have been square-peg'd to the wing or traded in a few years.  It also didn't make sense for the Avs to continue allocating a huge chunk of the cap to three centers instead of using it to beef up other positions.  The loss of Stastny helped clarify roles in the Top 6, so I really can't blame the Avs for holding to their number or Stastny for going somewhere where his skill-set is actually needed.  Yes, the loss of his two-way play is going to be a bummer next year, as will watching MacKinnon and Duchene struggle to adjust to the more defensive minutes left in his wake.  However, those two are our future, and the training wheels had to come off at some point.  The loss of Stastny will force them to work on their 2-way game, and despite the growing pains, I honestly believe that they're up to the challenge.

On the other hand, Iginla is exactly what the Avs needed in their Top 6.  Yes, he is older (we'll get to that in a minute), but the Avs have been in desperate need of a right-handed power forward who drives the net for years and years now.  His arrival allows the team to run a Top 6 with two full lines of Skill Wing - Center - Power Forward, which seems to be the setup that finds the most success within Roy's system.  It also opens up the opportunity for young players like Landeskog and McGinn to learn from the prototypical Power Forward in a relationship very similar to the Varly/Jiggy mentorship of the past few years.

Iggy will also likely be taking the tentative place of PA Parenteau on Duchene's wing.  Parenteau is a just fine offensive player, but he's almost worthless on defense, didn't fit in Roy's system, and was likely made to look better than he actually is by both Tavares and Duchene.  Dutchy's primary assists/60 were second in the league last year despite a revolving door at RW, so the addition of the consistent and trigger-happy Iginla should help him learn how to better use that side of the ice instead of resorting to his now predictable give-and-go with O'Reilly in the corner.  Iggy adds a more multi-dimensional game than Parenteau as well, which seemed to be one of Roy's biggest beefs with the departed winger.

As for our bottom 6, Briere for Parenteau was largely a salary minded move that swapped two years of a $4 mil player who didn't fit the system for one year of a $4 mil player who might fit the system.  Either way, Briere - and later UFA Winchester - fill out a bottom 6 that had its role as an energy/PK/depth scoring unit clarified instead of being some weird overflow for the Top 6 plus a whole bunch of guys.  Roy has never made his desire for this type of setup a secret, and it's hard to say that Briere/Winchester is a worse situation than Bordeleau/Cliche, the guys likely just displaced to nachoville or Cleveland.

The same is true of defense.  While the idea of Brad Stuart on our top pair terrifies me, he's probably at least a better candidate for the Top 4 than Holden or the departed Benoit.  It's also very likely that the strengthened 2nd pairing of Barrie - Hejda will relieve a good deal of pressure off both him and EJ defensively.  Redmond and Noreau both have "diamond in the rough" potential written all over them, and at worst, they'll add much needed help to the right side of Lake Erie's roster.  At best, they'll displace Guenin on the Avs 3rd pair and help the team move the frickin' puck out of the defensive zone.  If I had to guess, I'd say that the Avs D still isn't going to win any awards, but they're at least better than the overachieving meh of last year.

The Avs' prospect depth at defense is something that can't be ignored either.  The rebuild is still in full effect on our blueline, and it's very possible that guys like Elliott, Siemens, and Bigras will be challenging for a spot on the roster out of camp this September.  By next season, I predict that at least one, maybe two will be on the roster full-time, possibly even displacing Stuart or Hejda in the Top 4.  I'm still not convinced we have a true #1D anywhere in the system, but with Roy's setup (and with Varlamov's goaltending), defense-by-committee could work. That's why the Avs haven't made any big moves on D - they believe help is already on the way.

Then there's also the general depth the team added this summer.  Our lack of skilled, call-up ready players greatly hurt us in the first round, so the seemingly inconsequential UFA and undrafted player signings - especially at forward - this year filled in critical holes in our developmental pipeline.  We then added size at the draft while focusing on right-handed players and forwards, two of the biggest weaknesses across the system.  For the first time in... well, ever, the Avs are consciously nurturing their farm team.  Lake Erie is likely going to ice the best roster it's ever had this next season, which will only benefit the parent club when injuries strike.

That of course brings us around to the fact that we just acquired three major players who "according to sources" are older than dirt and likely more injury prone than your average 20-something NHL player.  While most pundits have laughed at the Avs' stupidity in this matter, they seem to have forgotten the Vegas incident a few years back.  With Giguere retiring and Sarich likely following, that left Tanguay as the only wise old vet on the roster.  The Avs are still a very young team, and even with their sage head coach, they need to be shown how to be pros and how to win.  Stuart and Briere have more playoff experience than most of the rest of the roster combined, so with any luck, their guidance can help prevent another emotional freakout like the team had in the first round last year. (Yes, EJ, I'm talking about you).

Then there's Iggy.  At this point, I don't freakin' care if he's a total pylon by the 3rd year of his contract.  He is a player with leadership abilities reminiscent of his old pal Joe Sakic.  Unlike Hejduk, he can pull off the Captain role from even the 4th line whether he's wearing the C or not, and I expect that his wisdom will have a profound effect on Duchene, MacKinnon, and especially Landeskog for the rest of their careers.  That alone is worth every penny of the contract we just gave him, and could very well help push this team over the edge into Cup contention sooner than later.

He also gives us a timeline.  Iginla signed here to win a Cup.  We have three years to make it happen.  I don't know if we can get there in time talent-wise, but it gives us something very powerful to work towards and rally around.

That brings us to fan argument number two, which involves our place in the Central Division.  Yes, Varly is unlikely to be superhuman again next year.  Yes, the Avs are likely to regress due to the defensive adjustment for two of their top scorers and the fact that our defense is still less than outstanding.  Yes, Reto Berra has proved absolutely nothing yet and could be a trainwreck as a backup (although I still have faith a summer of Allaire will do wonders for him).  And yes, the hero worship of Patrick Roy that held this team together in '13-'14 could start to waiver as the honeymoon period wears off.

It's unlikely that the Avs will win the Central again since the rest of the Division has gotten even stronger (except for Winnipeg, but that's just expected).  Chances are good that Chicago and St. Louis have the top two spots locked up, while the Avs will be scrapping with Dallas and Minny for the 3rd spot and the two Wild Cards.  Beyond that, it's hard to see any of the other teams out West apart from the Cali trio making too much noise unless something rather unexpected happens.

As for the Avs, a fair amount of our fate rests on the three veterans we just acquired and how much they have left in the tank.  The rest of our roster is more logical on paper, which could be a good or bad thing considering the matchup nightmare our hodgepodge was last year.  Corsi isn't a pure indicator of success, but unless the guys can figure out how to get the puck out of their zone, teams are going to begin breaking down our system even further.  We could end up 10th in the West or 1st.  Somewhere in the middle seems more likely, but there are so many unknowns headed into this season that it's impossible to say.

One of those unknowns is Ryan O'Reilly, which is fan argument number 3.  He's headed to arbitration on the 23rd, so chances are good he'll be here for at least part of the year, but after that, he has a choice to make.  If he truly values winning, then signing long-term for $6 mil or so a year in a place like Colorado makes sense.  Successful teams often can't afford to allocate huge sums of money to non-franchise players, and while O'Reilly is good, but he's not a great (#SalaryStructure).  If he's only after a payday, then I'm sure he'll find a stable home on a salary floor team and not have to worry about that pesky post-season again.  Occasionally a rare opportunity comes along where a good team will shell out (which is unfortunately exactly what happened with Stastny), but those chances are few and far between.  Most of the time, players have a choice between money and Cups.

O'Reilly strikes me as the type who cares deeply about winning, but also cares about the opinion of both his father and his agent.  Right now, those two messages seem to be running contrary to each other.  If he keeps listening to his dad and agent, then the Avs have very little choice but to trade him because he is going UFA in two years whether they like it or not.  But if he breaks free, I have a feeling that a Duchene-like contract would be waiting for him, along with the chance to stay in a prominent role on a hopefully competitive Avalanche squad.  As an Avs fan, I can tell you which one I'd prefer, but it appears his current trajectory is pointing him straight to UFA.  Unless something drastic changes, I'd imagine he'll be traded for another young winger, perhaps even for someone like fellow '09 "troublemaker" Evander Kane.

So, are the Avs a better team?  In the short term, probably not.  The new roster structure will take a bit of time to adjust to, especially for Duchene and MacKinnon, and the defense isn't going to notably improve until more of our blueline prospects make the jump and go through their growing pains.  We still have to figure out what's going on with O'Reilly, and may have to trade him at a reduced rate due to his UFA desires.  Due to our division, all of this is probably going to bite us in the rear, but I don't think the club will be in the McDavid running, and I also believe that this offseason has set the Avs on a more successful long-term path than the previous status quo.

Really, right now, only two things are for certain.  The first is that next season will be a very interesting one for the Avs and her affiliates.  The second?  That we aren't going to stop arguing about it until it gets here.

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