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The Avalanche don’t have the luxury of trading offense for defense

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The media narrative says they need to ship off young, talented forwards to get better on the blue line. Will that actually make the team better?

New York Islanders v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

You’ve heard the rumors.

After a 13-25-1 start leading up to this week’s CBA-mandated five day break, the reeling Colorado Avalanche are in a bad place. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. With good goaltending and merely average defensive play, it was thought before the season their talented forward core could lead the team toward playoff contention. Instead, the Avalanche are the odds-on favorites for the first pick in the 2017 draft.

Now the organization is rightfully questioning whether or not the team is headed in the right direction, and the 24-hour NHL rumor mill has been lurching toward 1000 Chopper Circle waiting for news to drop.

General Manager Joe Sakic has been preaching patience since training camp, keenly aware the departure of former head coach Patrick Roy, mere weeks before the start of team activities, would be a major inhibitor to this season’s success. His message was consistent following Colorado’s 2-1 home win on Friday night against the New York Islanders—their first since November 15th.

“I’m looking at the future. That’s where we have to go. We have to get younger,” Sakic told Terry Frei of the Denver Post, likely referring to their league-oldest roster. That, of course, is despite all their most important roster pieces (save Erik Johnson) being 25-year-old or younger. He also appears to address the dearth of talent on the roster outside those top players. “Will I be listening to different ideas on how to improve us and maybe get us younger and get more depth here?” he asked rhetorically. “Yeah, we’re going to do that.”

This is Colorado’s problem: depth.

How bad is it? In Friday’s lineup, the Avalanche were starting Rene Bourque, a preseason camp tryout, and Blake Comeau on the second line flanking Matt Duchene. That’s not surrounding your best players with the tools he needs to succeed. It’s piling your pet elephant on the back of a Nepalese Sherpa and demanding he help you climb Everest.

Yes, defense is a problem for the Colorado Avalanche (especially with 2016 all-star Erik Johnson sidelined with a broken leg), but when you have just four forwards capable of playing in your top-six, that’s a recipe for poor hockey.

Still worse? The fourth line, consisting of Cody McLeod, John Mitchell and Joe Colborne, has combined for six points all season—and Colborne had three of those in the season’s first game. That’s three players who have just three points in 91 combined games since. Not goals—points. As in any action on the ice that has positively contributed to the total on the scoreboard. In something like 930 minutes of ice time.

When looking at the flawed, but mostly inoffensive blue line depth like Fedor Tyutin and Patrick Wiercioch, the defense’s problems don’t seem to be nearly as dire. What happens if the team were to trade Gabriel Landeskog? Who takes his place in the lineup and what is the net result of that internal promotion? If your answer is anything but “they get precipitously worse,” then I’m not sure what to tell you.

The Avalanche are dead last in the league in goals scored, last in shot attempts, 28th in power play percentage, and—oh, yeah—last in the standings. They are in no position to trade forwards for defensemen, because they are just as bereft, if not much more so, of talent on that end of the ice.

Let’s stop pretending players like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are expendable luxuries the team can dangle to shore up other roster spots. If somebody like Ottawa or Carolina wants to overpay, essentially creating the new “Eric Lindros trade,” then sure, you consider it. But this isn’t the step you take to get this roster headed in the right direction.

Crazy idea, but let’s start with the players rendering this the league’s oldest roster.