Gabriel Landeskog and an Avalanche of questions about future
The Colorado Avalanche remind me of two franchises right now.
Not in the standings, mind you, as the Avs are currently the NHL’s worst team at 13-25-1, the only one yet to break the tape on 30 points; but in the questions they’re facing about what to do about it.
The first team is the Washington Capitals, circa “Young Guns Can’t Win Playoff Games” era.
I covered that team, and if you took a drink every time someone said “break up the core,” you’d be on your third liver. Those clarion calls were ignored, for the most part: Mike Green and Brooks Laich were there until 2015; Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Karl Alzner are still there; the only core piece that was jettisoned with haste was Alex Semin, for a variety of reasons.
Now it’s the Avalanche getting the “break up the core” declarations. Matt Duchene been there since 2009. Gabriel Landeskog since 2011, same as Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson. Nathan MacKinnon’s still a newbie, just in year four. But it’s still been four years for this group, and MacKinnon and Landeskog have played in seven playoff games.
When the Capitals’ core faced the axe, there was always a debate over whether the core was the problem or if the team’s supporting cast was the problem, which led to a revolving door of veteran window dressings in the locker room.
In the Avalanche’s case, there’s less debate about the lack of supporting cast, as this team’s depth is putrid thanks to a series of poor personnel decisions. But there’s plenty of debate about whether the core is the problem, which leads to speculation that players like Duchene and Landeskog are on their way out.
Word is Colorado is starting to get calls on some of their rentals, who include Rene Bourque, Jarome Iginla, John Mitchell and Fedor Tyutin. Those asks may not be as high, which could get things going
Boston kiboshed a potential Landeskog deal when the Avalanche insisted on Brandon Carlo, who is from Colorado Springs. I don’t think it was a one-for-one, but part of a bigger deal.
That would fit with what Darren Dreger has heard regarding Landeskog’s asking price: “a top-level defenseman, a first-round draft pick plus (more). The ask is high, but it’s early enough where Joe Sakic can made that kind of ask.”
So that comes back to, pardon the pun, the core issue for the Avalanche: Is it time for a teardown to gain those assets and because you don’t believe in this mix anymore, or is the core good enough to win as long as they’re surrounded by the right supporting cast?
Which brings us to the other team the Avalanche evoke, the Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s not that Matt Duchene isn’t Jonathan Toews or Nathan MacKinnon isn’t Patrick Kane or Tyson Barrie isn’t Duncan Keith. They aren’t. But that’s not the problem. It’s that Joe Sakic isn’t Stan Bowman.
The plans are similar: Lock up your core with contracts that range from reasonable to inflated, and then color around the edges with a supporting cast. The problem is that Sakic has failed that second task, quite spectacularly: The jury is in on the disappointing Carl Soderberg; Mikhail Grigorenko can’t play in the top six; the offseason additions of Patrick Wiercioch, Fedor Tuytin and Joe Colborne flopped; and Francois Beauchemin is being asked to do way more than Francois Beauchemin should be asked to do in 2017.
But what Bowman does isn’t restricted to veteran additions. The Blackhawks also have young reinforcements being prepped to take over when the salary cap strip mines the supporting cast. Lose a Brandon Saad, have Artemi Panarin become a top line player. Lose Andrew Shaw, have Ryan Hartman step in. Tyler Motte, Michal Kempny … these guys are all pulling the rope, and the team is leading the conference.
So you have to draft well and you have to smartly add pieces around the core, and the Avalanche have pretty much done neither.
Look, this season is jacked. Patrick Roy quitting in August threw it into chaos, and Jared Bednar is in over his head. From Terry Frei:
Because of the unusual August coaching change, Bednar essentially inherited a staff, though Nolan Pratt was his assistant last season at Lake Erie and was hired at Colorado before Patrick Roy quit. That’s not casting aspersions on Tim Army and Dave Farrish, the holdover assistants, but Bednar didn’t have carte blanche to pick his own staff. If he’s comfortable with his assistants and they return next season, fine. But that was more of an issue in the transition than the time frame; it’s not as if NHL teams have OTAs and minicamps in the off-season.
Stylistically, the option is to back off and concede this roster simply can’t efficiently play that way and try to cut the losses — literally and figuratively — until next season, when the makeover to younger and faster is more complete. That would be a temporary renunciation of the mandate from general manager Joe Sakic, though.
This is, in essence, the path the Avalanche are going to have to take: Younger, faster and cheaper. The question is how they get there: Does it involve moving Landeskog for a slightly lower price? Does it involve tapping into the deep defensive reserves of the Carolina Hurricanes in a Duchene deal?
And can they really trust Joe Sakic to be the guy to map out this path, given where the team is this deep into his tenure?
Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY