The Avalanche have become notorious for taking a passive approach when it comes to front office decisions. Rarely are the Avs in the headlines for huge free agent signings or blockbuster trades. Whether that is a good thing or not is irrelevant. It has become apparent that banking solely on the Avs draft picks working out and signing mediocre players as band-aid fixes to their problems (Brad Stuart? Really?) is not leading them anywhere except for the bottom of the standings. This ‘passive rebuild’ is not working.
For instance, instead of acquiring bonafide NHL players, it is common place for the Avalanche to turn to cheaper, second-tier options. Ryan O’Byrne? Shane O’Brien? Jan Hejda? Brad Stuart? Come on. When Erik Johnson went down with a knee injury in early 2015, Nate Guenin and Zach Redmond somehow seemed suitable to bolster the defensive lineup. The offseason following, hands tied, the Avalanche dealt star center Ryan O’Reilly to the Buffalo Sabres. With a hole at 2C, the Avs signed Carl Soderberg as a replacement. We all know how that has turned out. They also pursued Francois Beauchemin, who would have improved the Avs a few years earlier but was in the twilight of his career.
Along with hoping those average, quick-fix solutions panned out, it seems the Avalanche suffer from cold feet when it comes to RFA negotiations, most recently with defenseman Nikita Zadorov. With recent rumors of Zadorov having a deal in place with KHL team CSKA Moscow, true or not, the Avs have to make a move soon. While highly unlikely with Zadorov welcoming a new daughter in early April and living with his significant other in Denver, losing one of the brightest spots of the team to the KHL should not even be an option for the Avs front office.
Relying on draft picks working out may have worked well for the Toronto Maple Leafs with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Connor Brown, among others, all emerging as solid players that were drafted by the Leafs, but it is not sustainable for the Avs, especially with questionable draft picks throughout the years. Joey Hishon was drafted at 17th overall by the Avalanche in 2010, ahead of Evgeny Kuznetsov, among others. Hishon was ranked as the 55th best North American Skater. He went on to play 13 regular season games for the Avalanche, scoring 1 goal and earning 1 assist. In the 2014 NHL Draft, the Avalanche picked Conner Bleackley, ranked as the 35th best North American skater, at 23rd overall. The Avalanche would go on to trade Bleackley’s rights to the Arizona Coyotes, along with other pieces, in exchange for a rental player in Mikkel Boedker. Boedker played 18 games for the Avs before leaving for free agency, rendering the 23rd overall pick in the 2014 draft useless. Hindsight is 20/20 and all, but Duncan Siemens, selected 11th overall in 2011, does not seem to be panning out into nearly the player he was touted to be, either. After three amazing draft years in a row, with Mikko Rantanen, Tyson Jost, and Cale Makar being selected seem to be moving the organization in the right direction, at least for the moment.
A slow offseason is a good sign for a team who is already at the top of the standings, not one who is drowning at rock bottom. Relying on draft picks is not enough. Not everyone can nab an Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in back to back draft years. Building through trades and free agency, in addition to drafting well are the keys to building a successful team. I am not suggesting that making a big splash in free agency and overpaying Kevin Shattenkirk or trading Matt Duchene is the correct answer, but there were moves that could have been made. Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu was traded to the Buffalo Sabers in exchange for the 68th overall pick in the 2017 draft. At a price that cheap, the Avalanche should have easily been able to outbid the Sabers to acquire a decent, young defenseman who would have a chance to grow with the team. Being juggled between the 2nd and 3rd defensive line on the Canadiens, the consensus between Montreal fans was that if Beaulieu were to receive more than 10 minutes a night, he could develop into a bonafide, left handed, top 4 blueliner, or a perfect fit for the Avalanche. But, lack of action shows another missed opportunity by the front office.
As I said earlier, hindsight is 20/20 in regards to draft picks and free agent signings. With that being said, it is obvious that this passive rebuild strategy is not working. The past few drafts have been great for the Avs and will surely improve the team, but good drafting is not the only key. The Avalanche will have to make more moves in order to become a Stanley Cup contender.