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Capitalizing on Failure: A Championship story

The Avalanche weren’t lucky to draft Cale Makar. They were downright awful, and it worked.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup Championship Celebration Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It’s late in the evening of April 9th, 2017, and the Colorado Avalanche have lost three straight contests, including the home finale against rival Minnesota Wild and now a loss to the St. Louis Blues in the final game of the season.

Fans of the Avalanche and players can’t even fathom a light at the end of the tunnel. How could they? They just saw the Avalanche lose over 50 games in a single season. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, Erik Johnson, J.T. Compher, and Mikko Rantanen hit their beds, likely wondering if the choices they’ve made have been the right ones, contemplating their future with the Avalanche and painfully combing over the details of defeat.

The Avalanche failed and failed miserably that season. Funny enough, this failure is likely the best thing that ever happened to them. Finishing their terrible season with just 48 points earned the Avalanche the best odds at the first overall pick in the subsequent NHL draft. They ended up drafting a rosy-cheeked kid out of Calgary who headed to UMASS to further his talents. Not first overall, though. Three teams passed on a kid that looked good but was coming out of the Alberta Junior League. They would rue the day they didn’t select Cale Makar in the 2017 entry draft.

Makar would develop into an elite offensive defenseman at UMASS, leading his team to their first-ever NCAA Frozen Four appearance. He also won the Hobey Baker award for best overall player in the NCAA and was eyeing a debut with the Colorado Avalanche, who, like Makar, had grown up a bit since his draft year. Cale would make his debut against, guess who, the Calgary Flames in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He scored the game-winning goal against the team that championed the city he grew up in and fueled his NHL aspirations as a young man. We should have known then and there how special he’d be.

It’s late in the evening of April 9th, 2022, and the Avalanche have just defeated the Edmonton Oilers by way of a shootout and are amidst the most dominating regular season in franchise history. Cale Makar is the talk of the NHL as he’s making a strong push for the Norris Trophy, and the Colorado Avalanche have an experienced roster poised to make a cup run. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, Erik Johnson, J.T. Compher, and Mikko Rantanen hit their beds, likely envisioning and pursuing the glory of winning their first Stanley Cup and contemplating their future with the Avalanche and reveling in the thrill of victory.

In a couple of months, fans and players will celebrate a Stanley Cup Championship team. Cale Makar will win the Conn Smyth Trophy and the Norris Trophy in the span of a few days.

Like every great champion before them, the Avalanche failed first. Thank goodness.

Note: Kudos to GM Joe Sakic and the Avalanche draft day team for making the right selection. Imagine if they had passed on Makar as well!