For the first time that I can remember, there’s this uneasy feeling in my stomach surrounding the Colorado Avalanche. I typically love the trade deadline. I come up with thousands of fantasy scenarios that help improve the team or shed the team from the players that I’m not a fan of.
This year is different.
There’s very little to love about this year’s trade deadline if you’re a fan of the Colorado Avalanche. It’s been a miserable season and now, the future looks uncertain. Even the 2012-2013 season, where the team finish last in the West, didn’t feel this bad. Maybe that was because the season was short and the team was young, but that was still a bad year. And yet I’d trade that year for this year, 100 times out of 100.
Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog could be gone by the team you read this. That’s the sad reality that Avalanche fans are facing. It’s not their fault. Sure, they haven’t won a playoff series together, and neither has blossomed into a full blown superstar that you would hope a #3 and #2 pick would turn into, but both are star players who haven’t hit their psychical prime just yet.
Duchene was the kid who pumped his fist the moment the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Victor Hedman, knowing he was heading to Denver. He grew up, probably like many of us, with Avalanche posters on his wall. This is where he’s always wanted to play. This is where he would never leave if things had turned out just a little bit better.
Landeskog was made the youngest captain ever at the time. The organization showed the utmost belief in him from the very start. He wasn’t as flashy as Duchene, but his will and determination more than made up for it.
It’s not their fault that the team around them has been mismanaged. Nathan MacKinnon hasn’t exactly lived up to the expectations as the #1 overall pick. Erik Johnson and an inconsistent Tyson Barrie are the only players resembling a NHL defenseman over the past few seasons. They couldn’t keep Paul Stastny, and then traded Ryan O’Reilly. Semyon Varlamov just pulled his groin again. They’ve been saddled with declining players or one-year wonders on bad contracts. And they watched the guy they grew up admiring quit on them one month prior to training camp.
I’m not entirely convinced that Duchene and Landeskog are part of the solution, but I’m also 100% sure that they are not part of the problem. I would hate to see either player go to an organization that knows what they are doing, and turn into top-flight players because they aren’t playing on a line with Blake Comeau or Jarome Iginla and don’t have to wait for an outlet pass from Fedor Tyutin or Cody Goloubef.
Hockey is a business, and players switch teams on a daily basis, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Especially when these are the guys we’ve watched grow up over the years, the guys we thought were going to lead us to the next glory years, and the guys who stayed the same as everything around them changed.
When I told my girlfriend that tomorrow could be painful, she wondered why. I told her that the Avs may trade Duchene. Her reaction was, “Really? Why would they do that? Isn’t he their best player?” She only loosely follows the Avs, peaking over at the TV or computer every now and again whenever I have the game on. She’s probably swayed by the way I talk about him, but even she sees just how talented he is.
I don’t know a single Avs fan who doesn’t feel some type of connection with Duchene. Forget being an Avs fan, hockey fans have a connection with Duchene. He was the kid who grew up with a favorite team, his room decked out with posters and jerseys, and was fortunate to be drafted by that team. Isn’t that what we all dream of? All of us were fans, and a lot of us played hockey at some level, even if it was just in the streets with our friends. Didn’t we all imagine ourselves on our favorite team, scoring that game-winning goal? Duchene is living that dream. How can you not feel some type of connection to that?
Landeskog may not have grown up wearing an Avalanche jersey to school, but he was pegged as our next great leader the moment they put the “C” on him. Joe Sakic set the standard as captain. This was a team that didn’t want to change captains every couple of years. They wanted long-term leaders. Following Sakic, Adam Foote and Milan Hejduk were transitional captains as the team searched for their next young leader. Landeskog was that guy.
Both guys want to be in Denver. Landeskog signed a seven-year deal in 2014. Duchene signed for five. These aren’t guys who want to play elsewhere. At least, they didn’t. Maybe their mood has changed now, and who could blame them, but they want to win here.
And that’s why my stomach hurts.