Now that everyone’s angered from watching the nightly catastrophe and management has absolutely nothing to say about what, if anything, they plan to do about it, we are fully involved in the assignation of blame phase. Everyone’s taking the heat from ownership down to the assistant equipment manager of the AHL affiliate.
Since the team can’t score, ever, eyes turn to new head coach Jared Bednar for explanation why the Avs can’t score more than two and one-sixth goals per game and give up 3.2, both worst in the league or close to it. He might not be as culpable as it seems. Like a fart in an elevator, these pathetic numbers are partly a present left by former coach Patrick Roy.
Heading into the All-Star break at the end of last January, the Avalanche sported a 27-22-3 record and an even goal differential. Up to that point they had averaged 2.73 goals per game both for and against. Their points percentage (.548) was the highest we would see again for the rest of 2016.
We all remember the gut wrenching collapse, losing 8 of the final 9 games with a playoff spot easily within reach but the roots of that debacle happened long before that, even before Nate MacKinnon was lost for the year in Mid-March.
When the kids returned from Winter Break at the beginning of February, something changed. In their first 4 games they managed one single point and were outscored by an aggregate 13-7. It was a harbinger of things to come as they would go on to give up a total of 98 goals in the final 30 games of the year while scoring only 70. For comparison, the Avs are 30 games into this year’s season and have given up 96 goals and scored only 65.
So, is JB hurting the team or is he a victim of years of questionable teambuilding tactics by the Avs front office? Is the core hurting the team or is it useless depth players that were counted on to produce and are not able anymore?
There are 8 depth players still around from last season. Grigo and Martinsen are doing about what they did last year. McLeod has 0 points compared to 2 for the final 30 of last year, which sounds about what you would expect but remember that he had 11 points in the first 50 games in 15-16. He’s fallen right off a cliff.
Consider Soderberg, Iginla, Comeau, Beauchemin and Mitchell. All veterans, all over 30 years old, all counted on to play big roles this season and all are massively underperforming. In the final 30 games last year they combined for 72 points (although only Iggy and Comeau preformed better than they had before the All-Star break). This year they have 31. Colorado’s 3rd line (Comeau/Mitchell/Iginla), which keeps being touted as “effective”, has 6 goals and 1 assist between them at even strength. Add to this management doubling down on old and slow with Tyutin & Bourque and you get half a lineup that... kills the other half.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, Landy’s production is alarming and the less said about Tyson Barrie at this point the better. On the bright side both Mack and Dutch are ahead of where they were last year and EJ was on pace to break 40 points for the first time before he broke his leg. On average, the core skaters together are producing as well or better than they did last year.
Jared Bednar inherited a bad roster that was destined to get worse. The falloff began almost a year ago and it’s continued predictably through this season. Where we get into speculation is what the Avs management saw, why they made the moves they did (or didn’t) make over the summer and what the end game is. If they really did think that the team was ok and just needed a few pieces to improve or stay the course in a tough cap situation, that’s not good. If they knew the team was going to struggle but realized that more harm than good would come from long term contracts to outsiders and panic trades then there’s hope.
At certain times during pre-season and very early in the regular season we saw what JB’s vision for the future was. It’s become apparent that a fair amount of the current players can’t or won’t buy in to that strategy. It’s a system for quick young players that mirrors what we’re seeing from successful teams in the NHL right now. Could he be more flexible and play to what little strengths the players have as a group? Probably, but in my opinion that won’t be enough to make more than marginal gains and doesn’t help the guys that will be sticking around. The tragedy we witness every night began long before he took over and will only conclude when management starts to undo the damage from the past few years.