Why the Struggles of the Colorado Avalanche is not Surprising


Looking back at the 2013-14 season for the Colorado Avalanche raises an interesting question, at least for me. Is it possible that the surprising success of Patrick Roy’s first team raised expectations to an unrealistic level going forward?

When Roy and Vice-President of Hockey Operations Joe Sakic assumed control of the organization following the 2012-13 season everyone understood that this was not going to be a quick rebuild. Sure there was some offensive talent but the defense was well below average and there were some salary cap issues to be resolved.

The thought was that Roy and Sakic would get it turned around but it was going to take a while, and then something strange happened. The Avalanche started extremely fast in 2013 and by extremely fast I mean they were doing things that the two Stanley Cup winning teams had not done. All of the sudden, the Avalanche were at the top of the Western Conference through most of the first half of the season and everyone had to adjust their expectations.

The Avalanche continued to play well in the second half of the season but fell off of their record pace, and there were signs that maybe this team wasn’t as good as their record. They continually were outshot by wide margins and opposing teams often dominated territorial play.

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However the Avalanche were still winning more than they were losing and goalie Semyon Varlamov was stealing games on almost a nightly basis. So understandably, we all ignored those signs and why wouldn’t we? The Avalanche were winning and got hot again at the end of the season, and rode that hot streak to a division title.

The first real sign that we all should have noticed came in the playoffs versus the Minnesota Wild. The Avalanche won three games, but the Wild controlled the play for almost the entire series. If not for a couple of late game heroics and overtime winners, the Wild probably win the series in five.

None of this should take away from what the Avalanche accomplished last season but it does shed some light on what’s happening now.

The real truth is this, the Avalanche are in the second year of what I believed was going to be a four year rebuilding process. The offensive talent is there although the loss of Paul Stastny is obviously hurting this team. It has forced Roy to put Ryan O’Reilly into situations that he’s just not equipped to handle physically or mentally. Roy and Sakic, for as much good as they’ve done, completely botched that situation. Stastny should still be in an Avalanche sweater and O’Reilly should be whining somewhere else, but that’s a topic for a different article.

The individual talent is unquestioned but they struggle to play as a unit at times and the chemistry is not there yet, and that’s ok. That’s part of the rebuilding process but the success of last season raised the hopes for this season.

The real problem and it really hasn’t been addressed since Roy and Sakic returned is on the blue-line. The Avalanche have been better on defense lately but it’s nowhere near good enough to compete with the talent in the Western Conference.

Erik Johnson is having a fantastic season but outside of him, the overall talent on defense is below average. The Avalanche do not have that one defensemen who can completely shut down the top line of and opposing team, i.e. Adam Foote. They also struggle to get the puck out of their own zone with just one pass and that often leads to turnovers which lead to goals.

None of this is meant as a criticism of Roy, Sakic or the Avalanche. It’s more of a reality check and a reminder that this team still has a fair amount of rebuilding to do, especially defensively.

The Western Conference in the NHL might be the most competitive conference in all of sports and if you are not winning 60% of your games, you have no shot at the playoffs. The Avalanche just aren’t good enough, yet.

In a sense, their success last season may have hurt them a little. If things had gone as expected, the Avalanche probably would have had another top 10 pick in last June’s draft and that would have helped. It’s possible they could have drafted a defensemen that would be playing right now.

The Avalanche are still on the right track, they are building the right way but they need more talent on the blue-line. So while this season is frustrating because of the unexpected success of last season, it’s also understandable.

This was always a four year process and it’s only the middle of year number two.