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Avalanche Deadline Day Signals More of the Same

There was nothing wrong with yesterday's deadline moves, except what they might mean for the Avs' future.

Your blueline. Past, present, and future.
Your blueline. Past, present, and future.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Over the course of just ten months, the Avalanche have gone from an over-achieving Central Division champion, filled with young players with bright futures to a league bottom feeder headed full tilt for a Top 10 draft pick and the crown for worst team in the Central division.  Worst to first and back again over the course of just three seasons.  The response from the Avalanche's front office?

Joe Sakic did so little before the NHL Trade Deadline, that the Avalanche didn't even give it's fans a press conference.  The message to fans: "There is so little to address that the Avalanche front office didn't feel the need to grace you with their presence."

Now don't get me wrong, I don't have a big problem with the trades the Avalanche made yesterday.  Inside a vacuum they look ok for this team.  In Talbot/Carey-Caron the Avs got a little cheaper and younger and cleared a contract while taking back a player who once had some serious potential (even though Bruins fans seem pretty happy to ditch him now).  On the Stollery-Hamilton deal, the Avalanche got value out of an expiring contract in a cost controlled player with upside, and on the Sgarbossa-Clark deal the Avalanche got value out of an AHL player they decided was no longer in their plans.  As a bonus, all three acquisitions are RFA's at the end of this season, so if they don't perform well, the Avalanche can ditch their contracts without consequence.

So what's the problem with yesterday's trade deadline?  It's not that the Avalanche didn't get a 2nd round pick for Jan Hejda.  It's not that the Avalanche didn't turn Daniel Briere into two firsts and a bag of magic beans.  It's not even the fact that the Avs failed to make a clear talent upgrade anywhere in their failing roster.  What the Avalanche did wrong yesterday was separate themselves from the rebuilding teams of the league in terms of action and philosophy.  Since the Buffalo Sabres kicked off trade season on February 11th with their Evander Kane blockbuster, here's a look at what the NHL's bottom teams have acquired for their futures:

30: Buffalo Sabres - 1 2nd, 2 3rds, 1 5th, 1 7th (In addition to their two 1sts)

29: Edmonton Oilers - 1 2nd, 1 conditional 5th (can escalate)

28. Arizona Coyotes - 1 1st, 1 2nd, 1 3rd, 2 top prospects

27. Toronto Maple Leafs - 1 1st, 1 2nd, 1 4th, 1 5th, 1 6th (Plus loss of Clarkson contract)

26. Carolina Hurricanes - 1 1st, 3rd, 1 4th, 1 6th, 1 quality prospect

25. Columbus Blue Jackets - 1 2nd, 1 5th, 1 B prospect

24. New Jersey Devils - 1 2nd, 1 3rd another conditional 3rd.

23. Dallas Stars - 1 2nd, 1 B prospect

22. Ottawa Senators - Only 0 trade team this year

21. Colorado Avalanche - 2016 6th round pick

20. Philadelphia Flyers - 1 1st, 1 2nd, 1 3rd, 1 conditional 4th (can escalate)

21. Florida Panthers - 2 3rds (but also gave up a 3rd for Jagr)

16. Calgary Flames - 2 2nds, 1 3rd

Of these likely non-playoff teams, Ottawa and Colorado stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the group for failing to pick up meaningful draft picks for expiring, or poor fit assets.  The teams on that list (even Calgary) all recognize that they are still in, or beginning, a rebuilding phase.  The Avalanche, despite ranking 27th in ROW, 29th in SAT/Corsi (only the Sabres are worse), 29th in SAT/Corsi close, 23rd in goals per game and still overachieving with the 6th highest SPSv% (PDO) in the league, decided that no.... they are not among the NHL's rebuilding franchises.  23rd in goals per game, 24th in goals against, 24th in shots per game, and 29th in shots against but no no... This is not a team still rebuilding. 24th in giveaways, 24th in points/60, 20th in penalties taken/60, 19th in penalties drawn, 29th on the power play.   Where is the measure of this team that indicated to management: "Do not build for the future, because you are almost there."

If the Avalanche viewed themselves, as the other league bottom feeders do, they would have cleared bad contracts and bodies wherever possible, even if it meant taking lesser value on an asset (Toronto rid themselves of Clarkson, Holzer, and Jokinen and got draft picks in return).  Of course we'll never know if trading Daniel Briere, Nate Guenin, Brad Stuart or any of the Avs other disappointments would have been possible, but given what the Maple Leafs, Ducks, and Sabres were able to move, it certainly doesn't seem IMpossible.  There's no question in my mind, however, that Jan Hejda was a moveable asset who the Avalanche chose to keep when they didn't get what they considered to be fair value.  That leaves us with one of two possibilities: 1. The Avs do not sign Jan Hejda and they lose another asset (Stastny, Parenteau/Briere/5th) for nothing or 2. the Avalanche sign Jan Hejda to a contract extension.  The first option would indicate a complete and total failure of asset management from the Avs' front office, so for now, most fans are operating under the assumption of the second, a Hejda extension.

So what's wrong with keeping Jan Hejda.  Hejda has played an important role on this team since, and even before the Patrick Roy era, and has certainly outperformed Nate Guenin, Nick Holden, and Brad Stuart when paired with Erik Johnson and taking on tough minutes. Avs fans should all agree on that, but we should also be honest about what Jan Hejda is, because it's not pretty:

That visualization from Own the Puck should help to illustrate the enormous limitations of Jan Hejda as a top 4 defenseman.  Namely, that at age 36 (37 next year) he no longer plays like one.  It seems probable that Hejda could continue providing the Avalanche with higher quality minutes than some of their other players, but with Guenin and an aging Stuart already locked up, that feels a whole lot like throwing good money after bad.

"Avs New Age?" Looks a lot like the old one...

Let's be honest here though... Jan Hejda isn't the problem and he never has been (especially when compared to his peers on the blue line).  His retention is just a symptom of a much larger management issue with Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy's tenure: they think this team is significantly better than it is.  I checked the MHH archives and found this piece from Mike, introducing us to the 2014-2015 Colorado Avalanche roster.  Here's the projected lineup for that group of players (without injuries):

Ryan O'Reilly - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Alex Tanguay

Jamie McGinn - John Mitchell - Daniel Briere

Cody McLeod - Jesse Winchester - Max Talbot

Extras: Patrick Bordeleau, Marc Andre Cliche, Dennis Everberg (AHL without injuries)

Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Nick Holden - Brad Stuart

Extras: Ryan Wilson, Zach Redmond

Semyon Varlavmov, Reto Berra

That roster, without a SINGLE injury to a top 6 forward, just one significant injury on the blueline, and with solid goaltending all season is on it's way to a bottom ten finish.  That team ranks among the league's worst in every statistic (enhanced or otherwise) except penalty killing (thanks Varly) and despite all that, in every interview, Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic bring up injuries to McGinn, Winchester, and Bordeleau as if they severely damaged this team's bid for Stanley Cup Contention.  Assuming the Avalanche keep Jan Hejda and extend RFA Jordan Caron, the Avalanche have wed themselves to the following waiver eligible NHL contracts for 2015-2016:

Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O`Reilly - Nathan MacKinnon

Alex Tanguay - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla

Jamie McGinn - John Mitchell - Jordan Caron*

Cody McLeod - Jesse Winchester - Patrick Bordeleau

Extras: Marc Andre Cliche

Jan Hejda* - Erik Johnson

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Nick Holden - Brad Stuart

Extras: Zach Redmond

Semyon Varlamov, Reto Berra

That leaves the Avalanche with one more available roster spot for a Lake Erie player (like Everberg, or Siemens) or a UFA signing.  Before we all count on burying the Avs worst players in the minors lets remember that:

  • Roy has never healthy scratched Patrick Bordeleau since becoming head coach
  • Roy and Sakic signed, played, and extended Guenin and Cliche and are thusfar reluctant to take them out of the roster
  • Burying Brad Stuart's contract would come with cap penalties, which, when added to salary retention on Talbot would limit the Avalanche's space for a UFA anyway

That's a whole lot of the same.  Following the NHL trade deadline, this bottom ten NHL team is poised to shed a 4th line forward (Max Talbot), a regular healthy scratch (Daniel Briere), and a 3rd pairing defenseman who played 3 games (Ryan Wilson).  There's still the potential for offseason moves, but what Sakic and Roy seem to say with their deadline is that the Avalanche will take that bottom ten team, return 12 of its 14 forwards, 7 of its 8 defensemen, and both of its goalies and expect completely different results because Patrick Bordeleau is back on the roster.

You Sure Don't Act Like You're Rebuilding...

All that might seem like a lot to glean from just three trades on one deadline (even moreso to take from a lack of moves), but the Avs' deadline inaction gels with the rest of Sakic and Roy's moves in their short-sightedness, their focus on the present, and their "Old Time Hockey" "playoff vet" mentality.  Here's a list of their moves impacting the NHL all in one place:

Acquired: Traits Departed: Traits
Alex Tanguay Vet, Top 6, Cup Winner, LDSP David Jones
Cory Sarich Veteran, Cup Winner, LDSP Shane O'Brien n/a
Andre Benoit n/a Andre Benoit n/a
Nate Guenin Vet, Grit, Character, Captain Steve Downie
Nick Holden Paul Stastny
M-A Cliche Vet, Character Depth, Captain PA Parenteau Top 6
Max Talbot Vet, Depth, Cup Winner Max Talbot
Reto Berra Unnecessary Playoff run depth 2nd round pick
Jarome Iginla Vet, Top 6, Captain 2nd round pick
Brad Stuart Vet, Grit, Cup Winner, LDSP 5th round pick
Daniel Briere Vet, Depth, Captain 6th round pick
Zach Redmond
Jordan Caron

A team in the middle of a rebuild shouldn't hold onto aging, rapidly diminishing assets in order to make themselves slightly more competitive for a short period of time.  A team in the middle of a rebuild does not give up younger, talented players, or draft picks and prospects, in order to acquire players who are past their prime, and provide a supposed boost in "playoff experience," "leadership," "clutchness," "character," or "grit."  Those are the types of players that a team picks up when they believe they are legitimately close to contending.  So far Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic have taken this Avalanche team with huge offensive and defensive issues and they've made them slower, older, less talented, and more "intangible," all while failing to address the team's most glaring defensive issues, and while giving up more assets for the future than they gained.

Monday's deadline itself wasn't the problem, and there is plenty of time for the Avalanche to make moves to improve their roster this summer.  But if that's going to happen, it's going to take the painful realization from their front office that this rebuild is not over yet, and the team is still shockingly thin on quality youth on their blueline, and quality depth.  Unfortunately, keeping Hejda and the other 20 NHL contracts that the Avalanche hold through next year, was just another sign that Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic think this roster is "almost there." On that, they couldn't be more mistaken.