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Let's Talk Core and Trades

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We've got a problem and this deadline likely won't solve it.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

So I broke one of my cardinal rules this weekend and whiled away a few chunks of time by perusing the always speculative chatter from a few of our regulars as they discussed trades.  Specifically trades and the status of the team, specifically The Core. Now, it took a few other intrepid users asking specific questions in order to pull something resembling a cognitive thought out of a few of the OP's but here's what I gathered from a few people's discussions:

1. The Core consists of 6-7 players.

2. Nobody in The Core should be traded this season.

3. Everybody else (Not Core) should be traded for picks and prospects ASAP unless

4. Those in the Not Core group can be swapped for actual hockey players in what I can only describe as "HOF-in; Garbage out" NHL2K7 type trades.

As you may have surmised from my well-worn role as site curmudgeon, this was my face as I read some of those posts:

downeyeyeroll

Yes, it's true...I do resemble RDJ.  But I grew a full beard for the winter and haven't trimmed it as yet, so I fall slightly more to the "rugged" end of the handsome spectrum.

Anyway...

I have a few issues with the premise of some of those discussions I mentioned above.  Let's break 'em down because I think they have a reasonable basis in logic and I think they may also potentially illuminate this year's trade deadline activity for the Avalanche.

Problem the first is The Core.  Or more specifically, the role of The Core and who make it up.  My thinking has always been that it is just that: the nucleus of the team. So what does that mean?  To me it means these are the players that define the identity of the team, are the most pivotal (typically best or most productive) players on the team, and whose stylistic tendencies and strengths are the catalyst for how the team plays and define what type of players are in turn used to supplement and surround The Core

For the first part of that definition, you kinda have to look at the current roster and decide who makes up that group before you can have a more meaningful conversation.  So here's my thinking (or at least what I think the front office means when they say it:

The Core

Gabriel Landeskog (LW)

· Nathan MacKinnon (LW/C)

· Matt Duchene (C)

· Ryan O'Relly (C)

· Erik Johnson (D)

· Tyson Barrie (D)

· Semyon Varlamov (G)

There are several arguments/observations that I want to posit here.

  1. I love Matt Duchene and his game but I'm concerned about his longevity with this group.  The troubles the team has had finding him wingers that click are legion. Everybody keeps waiting for him to become Joe Sakic or Jonothan Toews and I don't think that's reasonable. Trying to force his game into a top-tier 2-way player isn't working and I'm not sure it ever will.  I think we need to let the reins off of him a little, personally. Since Paul Stastny stabbed the franchise in the back, we've asked Duchene to be Stastny.  It hasn't worked.  It hasn't worked to the tune of Cody McLeod and Maxime Talbot on his wings.  (Say what you want about MacKinnon's demotion in the last game, but if you ask me, Duchene is the one who's been demoted.) When has Duchene been at his most successful?  When he was just asked to be Duchene.  The team has to figure out how to get that role back for him.  Unfortunately, using him as a warm body to plug another hole isn't a recipe for success.  It's the same recipe the team used with Stastny for years and all that netted us was a bunch of lottery picks.
  2. There is a gaping hole in that list when it comes to two-way forwards with high end talent in that there aren't any.  Couple that with our one-pair deep effectiveness along the blueline and you have the biggest needs that we've been discussing since before MacKinnon was drafted.  If that isn't addressed soon then this team has a look of a slightly more balanced Edmonton that will have to out-score everybody because they won't be able to contain anybody.
  3. I'm still on the fence about Johnson at times.  I have no doubt that he's a top pair defenseman in this league but whether he's reached elite status like about 5 dudes across the league remains to be seen.
  4. The way Cody McLeod has been handled by the front office makes him a defacto member of The Core.  I shudder to think what this means when it comes to the FO mindset, but I don't think you can deny what his recent extension and the "A" on his chest mean to them.  What I said about McLeod is likely true in practice for Nick Holden as well.  When bottom pair/PP specialist guys can be gotten on the waiver wire nearly every month of the season, Holden's contract going forward likely keeps him on the team in perpetuity.  Whether intended or not, he's gotta be counted as a defacto member of The Core as well.
  5. When you read my definition of the The Core, O'Reilly is kinda the odd-man out, IMO.  He's good but not spectacular with the puck.  He's good but not spectacular in his own end.  He doesn't have the wheels or hands of Duchene or MacKinnon.  He doesn't drive possession like Landeskog, he doesn't have the skills to elevate the play of those around him, and he doesn't play D or G.  I'm just not sure why he's an assumed member of The Core, especially with the baggage he brings on the money side of the equation.

Setting that aside, but not forgetting about it, let's talk about who should be traded at the deadline according to some of you.  Short answer: Everybody but The Core.  There are a few of you who think that 50-60% roster turnover in a single season will somehow be a GOOD thing for the team and the franchise.  That's completely bonkers.  Even if you're a shift worker at Carl's Jr. you can't turn over 50% of your shift and expect to have measurable success for a while.  If that kind of thinking won't get you decent onion rings, why would it work for an NHL team?  Trades and roster changes have to be measured with a subtle hand so that you don't negatively impact those that remain.  Shipping out everybody but the golden boys sends the message that they're infallible and every one else is disposable.  That's not the recipe for a healthy locker room or a successful team.

Also, if you're one of the people that think the group of Not Core players are completely interchangeable and can be flipped and shuffled off on whims of "Press X to accept this trade" then you have in effect devalued nearly 70% of the roster so I'm going to go ahead and disagree with you on principle.  That isn't to say that anybody is untouchable, etc., but you don't build a winning team by shuffling the deck chairs.  Consistency and chemistry count for a lot in the NHL.  Complementary players are almost as hard to find (truly complementary, not just on paper) as #1 defensemen at times.  That's why we such huge drop offs in production when guys like John Mitchell and Jamie McGinn are out of the lineup.  That's why everybody railed on Andre Benoit when he signed but that disappeared when they saw how well he fit in with the team's identity and style.  He's like the anti-Stuart from a chemistry and style-of-play standpoint.  (Also, personal beef, but it's spelled like that, not Stewart.  That's an entirely different dude, dude.)

So what does all this rambling mean?  It means I think that deadline trades in a non-playoff year should be looking toward improving The Core or finding truly complimentary players to supplement The Core.  IMO, that means a legit hockey trade involving O'Reilly for a capable two-way, high end guy (which would likely require more than just O'Reilly as part of the price) or for a legit top pair guys (also something that may require more than just O'Reilly).  Moving Daniel Briere or Brad Stuart or Jan Hejda will not net anything that fills those roles.  Hell, moving all three of them likely won't net somebody to fill the hole in The Core.  But small moves for projects, better fits, or prospects/picks could be in the cards.  This season is over.  We've got a month of games to evaluate young guys and maybe try and figure out why some stuff just isn't working (looking at you power play unit).  I honestly believe Roy and Sakic started that evaluation process in January, but I could be wrong.

So, to sum up, I think there's two things that bothered me about some of the other conversations.  One is that while we have The Core, I'm not sure that it shouldn't be tweaked (possibly significantly) and I'm not one of the people that sees everybody else as interchangeable parts.  Some players and roles definitely are, but not half the roster.  I understand that everybody would love a team of All-Stars, but you have to be realistic.  It saddens me that Bozak and a 2nd is now considered a rational trade proposal in light of some of the crap that's floated here on a daily basis.