It is not rare to have a disagreement between an organization’s management and its player.
It’s fairly commonplace in sports, honestly. Whether it’s about money, role on the team, or long term plans, these fits are always bound to happen.
The Colorado Avalanche haven’t had any more or less than the average team. The difference, though, is that other teams generally resolve these issues before it starts to inadvertently impact the rest of the organization - while the Avalanche, for whatever reason, are stubborn. Contract term, free agents, whatever it may be. More often than not, the front office will dig their heels into the ground before working things out to a conclusion.
Take the temperature around the league currently, and Joe Sakic is one of, if not THE, worst general managers in the NHL.
Likewise, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE) - the group who owns the Avs, Denver Nuggets (NBA), Colorado Mammoth (NLL), Colorado Rapids (MLS), Los Angeles Rams (NFL), and Arsenal F.C. (Premier League) - are generally the single most hated ownership group in sports. Stan Kroenke has been blamed for the downfall of Arsenal, moving the St. Louis Rams to California, and just plain not caring about his Colorado sports teams. The Avs and Nuggets stink. That’s all there is to it.
While the Rapids have seen a moderate amount of success, winning the MLS Cup in 2010, they are basement dwellers this season. They currently sit last in the MLS, and are consistently last in regards to attendance.
As a result, there’s a long history of the damage greediness, ego, and mismanagement caused strife for the Avalanche.
Signed as a free agent in 2009, Anderson looked to be a career backup and was brought in to support starter Peter Budaj. Come training camp, Anderson had won the starting job from Budaj, and went on to lead the Avs to an unexpected playoff run after finishing 3rd last the season before. Anderson struggled the season after, posting a 3.28 GAA along with an .897 Save %.
Rumor has it that he was offered a two-year, $7.5 million contract at the beginning of the season, so it’s not like money was an issue in regards to this situation. As an impending free agent with no intentions of signing a new contract with the Avalanche, he was moved to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for fellow goalie Brian Elliott, one-for-one.
After he was traded, he seemingly slammed the Avalanche with a quote in an NHL.com article. “For me, it’s not about the money. It’s about having a good fit and finding a place where I’m going to be happy, where players are treated with respect and the organization communicates with their players.” What happened between the front office and Anderson to warrant such hostility? One could guess that this was just a case of sour grapes from the goaltender, but as time will tell, this was not a one-time thing for the Avalanche.
Probably the most publicly apparent evidence in this article is the mishandling of Ryan O’Reilly.
Taken as an absolute steal in the second round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, O’Reilly stepped up in a big way for the Avalanche. He made the big club out of training camp, which is very rare for anyone who is not an early first round pick. He stepped in and made an impact immediately.
He made himself stand out, playing behind Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny. Entering the 2012 offseason as a restricted free agent, contract negotiations were brought to a halt as the organization did not see quite eye-to-eye with O’Reilly when it came to money.
As a result of the 2012-2013 lockout, he signed a short term contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk and began playing in the KHL with his brother Cal. After the lockout was resolved, negotiations were still failing and bled into the beginning of the season. A month into the regular season, it took O’Reilly signing an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames to resolve this issue. The problem did not get resolved on either side’s own terms. The front office only paid O’Reilly the two-year, $10 million contract because they had to.
In the seasons following, O’Reilly solidified himself as one of the leagues top defensive forwards, leading the NHL in takeaways twice. Once again, though, difficult contract negotiations ensued and the Avalanche took arguably their best forward to salary arbitration. Miraculously, the two parties came to an agreement, with O’Reilly signing a two-year, $12 million contract. He was traded in the 2015 offseason to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher, and the 31st pick in that year's draft.
Matt Duchene has been one of the few constants in these dark times for the Avalanche. He’s been the #1 Center in most of the seasons he’s played for the club, and has been in the top 5 for points on the team in 7 of the 8 seasons he’s been in the league.
He’s also a perfect fit for Denver. He has been an Avs fan forever. He was visually happy he fell to 3rd overall instead of 1st or 2nd because he was going to play for the Avalanche.
He is an Avs fan, through and through. Well, was.
Matt Duchene has been vocally unhappy with the team as of late. It is no secret he is on the trading block. Joe Sakic has been very vocal about where he is in regards to moving Duchene. For whatever reason, though, he hasn’t been moved. Not yet.
Many thought he would be moved at last year’s trade deadline. Or at this year's entry draft. Or during free agency. Or late into the offseason. You have to commend Sakic for sticking by his guns and waiting for the right price to sell Duchene, but this is continually damaging the deep-seeded relationship between the center and the club he grew up cheering for. His heart just is not with the club anymore.
This story doesn’t have quite as much history behind it as its predecessors. Nikita Zadorov was beginning to grow into a solid NHL defender before he was sidelined with a broken ankle last season.
He was playing great. Fast forward to this offseason, the Avs only have 3 defensemen under contract - Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, and Mark Barberio. Zadorov is currently a restricted free agent and his rights belong to the Avs, so while technically there is no hurry to sign the man, there is.
He has gone on record as saying if he cannot come to an agreement with the club, he will sign in the KHL and play the season out there. Those talks have ceased as the two parties have supposedly been “close” to working out a deal. Two years has been the set length, but money has been the issue so far. There was a general uneasy feeling in the Avalanche community because negotiations have been taking so long.
Today, however, that uneasiness has been transformed into anger as information has come out. Zadorov is reportedly asking for a $2.5 million AAV, while the Avalanche are offering a $2 million AAV.
Word I hear: Zadorov wants $2.5 million per. Avs offering 2— Adrian Dater (@adater) August 30, 2017
Fans are disappointed in the front office for their greediness. So much drama and so many rumors, all over half a million dollars. The Avalanche will have plenty of space in the salary cap in the next two years, so fans feel this situation can easily be avoided if KSE just open up the checkbook. It seems a bit silly all of this has been caused by such a small amount of money, especially considering the Avs need Zadorov a whole lot more than Big Z needs the Avalanche. Hopefully, this can be figured out before training camp starts, but even if it does, you have to think of the long term implications this will have on the relationship between Zadorov and the Colorado Avalanche.
So that’s it. Four cases of the front office damaging player relationships with permanent repercussions stemming from two of them - possibly all four, if the Matt Duchene and Nikita Zadorov situations do not get resolved soon. Fans are tired of it.
I'm tired of the management. Might as well send zadorov down the same path as orielly.— Flatland Avalanche (@twostroke27) August 30, 2017
Joe Sakic hasn't signed Zadorov yet or traded Duchene but he has added Yakupov & Cowen.... pic.twitter.com/j8YTASZmsS— Sean Patrick Ryan (@TheOilKnight) August 29, 2017