Welcome to Last Call. Randomly I'm going to write things way later than it makes sense to be writing or publishing them. This is one of those times.
Friday was a key point in the direction of the Avalanche as a franchise. And it's completely fair to look at the Ryan O'Reilly trade as that important of a moment. But let's not lose sight of how much else the Avalanche are doing to right the ship here.
Remember this time last year? Fresh off a serious President's Trophy run, only knocked out of the playoffs in Game Seven OT, but with apparent, deep flaws. The defense was in over its head and needed to be addressed. The forwards were shooting too well to last, with no depth. Semyon Varlamov was leaned on heavily for one-goal wins. Paul Stastny was an impending UFA that was supposed to be re-signing. Colorado's Plan, Summer 2014:
- Fix the defense with veteran experience through free agency. Missed on Orpik, missed on Niskanen, picked up Stuart.
- Re-sign Stastny after the season if the price is right. Oh he wouldn't re-sign with the Avalanche, preferring instead to head home to St. Trashbin. There is no time to address the hole he leaves. That's business sometimes I guess!
- Do nothing to address the possession game. In fact deny that it's a factor.
What did you learn?
The shooting crashed down to earth. The old-school veteran experience way of thinking resulted in Stuart's contract to a guy getting limited minutes at even strength. Varly still performed, but the one-goal wins rolled the other way. The team was sorely lacking for two-way play, struggled to find line combinations that worked without Paul Stastny, and posted the 5th-worst possession season in the NHL since Lockout 2: Never-ending Boogaloo. Okay, now the problems can no longer be ignored. What has the Avalanche done to address them? What is Colorado's Plan, Summer 2015?
Replace assistant coaches. D-architect Coach Andre and often behind-the-scenes Coach Duhamel both parted ways with the team. Cool, the defensive and power play systems had just been atrocious. Learning. We'll see who they bring in.
- Add an analytical voice to the conversation in the form of new AGM Chris McFarland. Considering that every downfall of the team (apart from injuries that mostly came after the season was lost anyway) was predicted by the analytics community, this is a very welcome move, and an important sign that the front office is flexible, learning.
- Extend Ryan O'Reilly the summer before his contract is up. Because if that isn't possible, the gap he will leave behind is known, and his value as an asset will never be higher. So it's important to know that and act accordingly by moving him, probably at the draft.
- Add defensemen, specifically on the left, and depth forwards when possible. Today we heard that the team are in on Sekera and Oduya, which should be news to nobody. Sekera is the top D in free agency, somehow only crowded out of Los Angeles by a Totally Necessary deal for Milan Lucic... okay Kings. Oduya is okay, not a key cog in Chicago's blueline, but definitely better than 4 Avalanche defensemen. Good, less-old players with strong underlyings. Learning.
- Oh, and they added Nikita Zadorov in a minor deal you might have heard about.
To replace O'Reilly's output, the Avalanche are going piecemeal. Help for the forwards' possession game was found in good shot suppression forward Carl Soderberg. If Grigorenko can pan out, he will be able to slot in alongside Avs forwards and put pucks on net. So will 1st round selection Mikko Rantanen. JT Compher is kind of a wild card, as is the pick obviously.
This won't be the same as having all this in one player. But this time last year, the team lost a very strong two-way center and in return got angry fans. This time, they got a very young, very promising defender, a reclamation project Roy has history with, a good prospect, and pick 31. That's a 2nd and part of TJ Galiardi turned into Zadorov, Grigorenko, Compher, and a 2nd. The Avalanche have learned.
From where the roster sat yesterday to where it is tonight, the Avalanche have taken a step backward. That's real. It also isn't nearly as far backward as it would have been had they allowed it to go another week. It sucks when one of your best players wants out. It's a real gutpunch. Colorado have put themselves in a good place moving forward to absorb that punch and keep fighting. The process has shown real improvement, quickly.
I'm cautiously hopeful moving into free agency (assuming they don't burn it all down at the draft Saturday), and for the first time in a while, it seems right to be. Between the Zadorov trade and the changes to the staff, things seem to be moving in a direction that shows growth from past mistakes.
Except for those jerseys. #nopiping