I know exactly how the public outside of Colorado Avalanche fandom will react to this headline. “Avs are just a soft team that can’t handle heavier teams,” “their fans complain more about missed calls than any fans in the league,” “Avs get more calls than any team in the league.” I get it. It’s not the only thing that controls the outcome of a game, and the boys have to fight through adversity and find a way. That shouldn’t stop us from asking why Nazem Kadri gets kicked out of the dot on every faceoff and why Gabe Landeskog gets called for penalties when he’s not even playing, all whilst it takes a Nathan MacKinnon cross-check to get the refs to call Vancouver Canucks’ Quinn Hughes for a blatant slash, or two, or three. It’s also okay to objectively criticize how the rule book changes from one night to the next.
Not Good Against the Heavyweights
The Avalanche are the fifth-heaviest team (tied with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Anaheim Ducks) in terms of average weight. How have the Avalanche faired against the top three teams above them in this category? The Avalanche are 9-1-1 so far this season against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the New York Islanders, Vegas Golden Knights, and Calgary Flames. So that’s not it, right?
The Avalanche lead the league in drawn penalties
This stat is incredibly telling when you consider this a plain fact. The more calls a team draws, the more they force the opposition to use illegal means to stop them. Logically leading the league in drawing penalties means you also lead the league in missed calls. It’s no secret that the Avalanche are among the league’s fastest and most agile squads. Teams will take a penalty before giving MacKinnon a clear take. That’s just smart hockey.
Vegas showed this blueprint in the second round of last season. That is why Sakic went out at the deadline and got bigger and more physical players heading into the playoffs. I wonder if that isn’t the issue.
After game two in last year’s playoffs, Vegas coach Pete DeBoer went on a post-game rampage, claiming that the Avalanche embellished and got too many calls. After drawing THIRTEEN in the first two games, the Avalanche secured just seven more man advantages in the next four games of the series. Keep in mind that Vegas drew seven penalties in the first two games. That’s how the league responded to DeBoer’s complaints. Now I know that refs like to even out power plays if they get a chance, but that shouldn’t just be a hard and fast rule. Rules are rules. If one team has a legal advantage, you shouldn’t nullify that by letting the other squad take liberties that contradict the rule book.
The appropriate response wasn’t to swallow the whistle so that Vegas had a fighting chance; they should have let them fade into PK oblivion as a repercussion for showing up to the 2021 NHL Playoffs with a 2007 playstyle.
The most frustrating part of this is how contradictory this is to what the league claims to prioritize. The NHL has changed rule after rule to accommodate more scoring and more space for highly skilled players. Honestly, I think some of these rules are overkill, but if it’s in the book, it’s in the book!
The way to beat this strategy is to be better than your opposition in the most common game situation. Vegas was better 5-on-5 last year, but better doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s easier to be better 5-on-5 when you know you will get away with time traveling to the clutch and grab era in the eyes of the officials. If you have a hot goaltender, this is an almost foolproof system.
Keep in mind; I think this is happening to many NHL squads. Toronto and Edmonton get a very similar treatment. Ask Connor McDavid how well he can relate to Nathan MacKinnon when it comes to drawing more penalties than are getting called.
All I want is consistent refereeing by the letter of the rule book. If these rules are too soft for playoff hockey, get rid of them. If they facilitate excitement, and that’s the priority, let them do that during the most exciting portion of the NHL season.
There are essentially two rule books in the NHL: the regular season rule book and the playoff rule book.
Didn’t last night’s loss to Vancouver feel like a playoff game? Hard to find open ice and challenging to beat goaltending, right? When one of the league’s fastest and most agile teams is having difficulty finding space against a team that’s not even in the playoff picture, that should raise some eyebrows.
The caveat to all of this is the success of the Avalanche power play. If the Avalanche can have a scary good PP in the playoffs, I’m talking above 28 percent, they will be just fine. Moreover, they better make the opposition pay for it early in the game. The more calls you get early on, the less you will get late. Refs are reluctant to keep handing out calls unless twigs break or blood is drawn. Or at least that’s how it seems to work.
I don't see this dynamic changing anytime soon, so the Avalanche must do a better job of not allowing teams to run this play, and it’s that simple.
Let me know in the comments how darkly tinted my Burgundy and Blue glasses are.