Last week we took a dry statistical view of how our beloved Monsters fared and improved this past season, now it's time to take an honest look at the staff.
Dean Chynoweth - This was Coach Dean's 3rd season as the head coach in Lake Erie and his best to date. Overall he has a 102-93-33 record and finished 11th, 12th & 9th in the WC with no playoffs. He hasn't had a ton of talent to work with and both the Avs and Monsters have had perhaps more than their fair share of injuries in the past, but this year he pretty much blew it. I think it was reasonable to expect a playoff berth at the beginning of the season and finishing 5 points in back of a struggling Chicago club that they should have passed is unsatisfactory. There's blame to be pointed in a few areas, but given Pickard's fantastic year and the players he had available on a nightly basis 8th place should be the minimum expected and 7th or even 6th should have been in the conversation.
Before I lay into his faults, I'd like to point out some positives. First of all, the LEM forecheck/neutral zone strategy was a thing of beauty at times this season. It is not what the Avs run, in my mind it's quite a bit better to be honest. It takes a few forms but it basically revolves around speed and counterattack and relies on a strong presence at the defensive blue line to hamper the opponent's zone entry. Second of all, he improved the Monsters shooting frequency and volume and got the guys to cycle the puck and make various other effective positional moves when set up in the offensive zone. Miles above where they were last year and with some more skill they could have been up around 240 goals easy. Perhaps most important to Coach Roy and the folks in Denver is the way the AHL guys are prepared for the NHL when called up. By all accounts they are more than satisfied in that department, so there's that at least.
On the downside, Chynoweth struggled once again in the area of player usage. Last year we had the "Give it to Mark Olver and see what happens" offense which cost them lord knows how many goals and games. This year we had the "We don't need no stinking 4th line" setup late in the season, dressing only 10 forwards, that was effective for a couple of games but ultimately tired everyone out and lost big games down the stretch. This all goes back to a trap that bad coaches fall into, falling in love with a player or line or D-pair and playing them every minute possible while being completely oblivious to the fact that part of what made them effective was not being out there every other shift. This has the twin benefits of fatiguing the idolized players while making the rest of the team less effective due to lack of use. One of the most important jobs of a 4th line is to give your skill players a rest, they need it.
By any stat you care to look at and by the eye test, Troy Bourke was one of the best young forwards on the Monsters yet he was inexplicably scratched 20% of the time. Garrett Meurs has had a tenuous time in the Avs org finally culminating in a long-term stay in Ft Wayne this year. Returned due to forward injuries and callups towards the end of the year, he played the best hockey of his pro career and yet was banished once again to the press box so LEM could dress 8 defensemen for god knows what reasons. Markus Lauridsen was given playing time ahead of Duncan Siemens and Cody Corbett all year at the expense of their development and possibly a bunch of wins for the team. Sure, he's more experienced but those other two guys have a lot more upside and there's no reason to sacrifice that for the notion of older players being more trustworthy. Trusting mediocre experienced players over talented youngsters is nothing new in coaching but it's Dean's chronic flaw and with an Avs organization desperate for better players at the NHL level it makes absolutely no sense.
Which brings us to the most major fuckup, keeping Bruno Gervais in the lineup despite actively hurting the team in myriad ways night after night. Yes, he's the captain and the only true veteran in the lineup after Noreau went down, but he did so many awful things it's unbelievable any coach would continue to dress him. If any young defenseman played the same way, they would be permanently banished to Ft Wayne. No accountability whatsoever, free pass for the vet. A truly horrible message to send to the team. More often than not he was paired up with one of the youngsters, mainly Duncan then Corbett and finally Geertsen at the end of the year, ostensibly to guide the neophytes and provide a solid anchor to the pairing. In most cases just the opposite happened. Instead of having the freedom to learn the game they were constantly covering for his bad pinches and lost opponents in front of the net with the added bonus of sharing the blame for said transgressions. Looking back, it would have been much better for the org to just put Duncan and Corbs out together and scrap the Bruno experiment, unlike Matt Hunwick last year he never ended up settling down into the solid vet role and Chynoweth never had the inclination to make the proper change.
Those of us that watched a lot of LEM got to know the "turdle" when there was a lead in the 2nd half of a game. The bench shortened, the lovely forecheck backed off and the team basically tried to play a 5-man PK for 15-20 minutes at a time. Sometimes it worked, but sometimes the players got tired or the other team had 20 shots in 10 minutes and they started going in. When it didn't work late in the year we were treated to an incredulous Chynoweth afterwards blaming the players for not winning battles in the 3rd or some such nonsense. There's an easy way to avoid this, keep the guys playing like they had for the first 2 periods instead of trying to sit on the lead.
Even though the San Antonio press release named him as the coach for next season, this wasn't backed up by the Avs statement. Hopefully there will be some change coming, but I've been hoping for 2 years now and it never happens. Barring that, I'd like to see the good teaching work and preparation backed up by better in-game coaching and lineup construction. There's just no way the Avs can be happy about how the last 2 months unfolded, the Monsters should still be playing right now and in my opinion the coach has a lot to do with that.
Randy Ladouceur - The Monsters Defense/PK coach hasn't been interviewed anywhere I've seen so it's difficult to get a handle on his level of control over what happens on the ice. The penalty kill was fantastic this season so I'll give him credit for that. The defense was pretty close to as good as it could have been given the personnel involved.
Jean-Ian Filiatrault - Part-time goalie coach had a pretty good year. Calvin Pickard became a rising star. Sami Aittokallio had a really rough start but gradually returned to decent play by the end. Young Roman Will was overmatched at the AHL level but had a good season once assigned to Ft Wayne and is now leading the Komets into the 2nd round of the Kelly Cup playoffs. He should have his hands full with 2 inexperienced goalies in Will & Spencer Martin next year.
Craig Billington - The first year with the title of Monsters GM, Billington had some struggles at the end of the year finding forwards for the stretch run with the lineup depleted by injuries. It's a tough time of the year to find good help out of the pro ranks, but at that point there were plenty of junior players desperately looking for amateur try-out contracts so there was a decent talent pool to choose from. Obviously the Avs aren't interested in signing any free agents out of the CHL for next year but taking a look and giving the farm club help it desperately needs doesn't hurt. Whether he couldn't or wouldn't sign someone so that Lake Erie had at least 12 healthy forwards to dress is a matter of debate and we'll probably never know which, but either way it's somewhat troubling.
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With the coming affiliation swap to San Antonio, it seems like a good time to make some hard choices about whether the Avs want to keep going forward with the current staff. Coach Callander is part of Monsters management so there will definitely be a new 3rd coach if they deem one necessary. Are they satisfied with the prospects' progress over the last few years? It hasn't been horrible but it sure could have been better. For an asset-poor organization like Colorado, the farm system is extremely crucial. It is the gateway to trades from a position of strength and solid young cost-controlled players in the NHL rather than the plugs we all find expensive & unsatisfactory. AHL coaches are neither expensive nor do they count against the salary cap, it only makes sense to have the best ones possible. If that's not currently the case, then it's time to move on.
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Next time: Our final installment, looking at the players