Anaheim Ducks v Colorado Avalanche

Avalanche struggles shouldn’t come as surprise

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It wasn’t long ago that the Colorado Avalanche were viewed as one of the promising, young teams in the NHL. They made the playoffs a season ago, they had young players like Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Chris Stewart showing the Avs were a team on the rise. Then, just as quickly as it began, it all came to a crashing halt.

Entering tonight’s second game of a back-to-back (this time against Nashville), the Avalanche are in the midst of one of the worst stretches ANY team has endured in the last few years. They’ve lost 7 straight. Before that, they managed to lose 10 straight. In all, they’ve lost 19 of their last 21 games and if it weren’t for a pair of 1-goal wins against the Blues, they wouldn’t have anything to show for the last month and a half worth of games.

Last night the Mile High Mediocrities lost 6-2 at home vs. the Anaheim Ducks by giving up a 4 spot in the 2nd period. Under other circumstances, fans might hit the panic button and wonder how a team could fold like a cheap suit in a game down the stretch. But for this squad – and this city – it was just the latest in a horror movie that refuses to end.

The worst part is that it has made people wonder which is the real Avalanche team. Last season showed promise; this season they were one of the most exciting teams in the league. They were scoring in games at an incredible pace and the young players who were doing it only showed signs of getting better. The future was so bright, Timbuk3 was cool again. But the scoring was hiding a bigger problem—their defense was awful.

This season, they are giving up on average 3.49 goals against per game which is BY FAR the worst in the league. Last season, they were 17th in the league with a 2.78 goals against average. It doesn’t sound that great—but remember, they had a Vezina Trophy candidate in Craig Anderson between the pipes and they were still in the bottom half of the league. They were giving up over 32 shots per game (tied for 25th in the league) and expected Anderson to stand on his head for them to remain competitive. This season they’re giving up about the same amount of shots, except Anderson wasn’t the superhero he was last season. Predictably, the Avs team-stats started to regress to the mean.

Joe Sacco did what he could by putting in Peter Budaj when Anderson faltered. Unfortunately, Patrick Roy circa-1996 would have a problem playing behind this defense with the number of shots and Grade-A scoring chances faced every night. If they wanted to compete, they’d need someone like – well, Craig Anderson in Ottawa if they wanted be successful.

The poor record and porous play probably shouldn’t be as big of a surprise as it was. Terry Frei saw it coming around the trade deadline:

“The worst-case scenario is that last season’s surprising showing was a complete fluke, seducing the organization into overrating its talent — and triggering panic when that became apparent. Plus, with the Avs nearly $18 million under the NHL’s $59.4 million salary cap, Colorado has the third-lowest payroll in the league amid indications that Kroenke Sports doesn’t at all mind hugging the floor . . . and, in fact, is encouraging that approach.”

The season died a painful death after this nightmare stretch where the Avalanche couldn’t do anything right. In the middle of this stretch, they’ve watched a former-icon try to make a comeback and changed the fundamental direction of their team with the Erik Johnson trade. Gone is the power forward (Stewart) who was supposed to be their future top line winger. Gone is the blue-chip prospect (Shattenkirk) who was supposed to run the power play for the next 10 years. In their places, they picked up a guy who they hope can be a cornerstone defenseman who plays in every big situation and a 2-way forward who can help with their power play. They knew they needed to do a better job on shots and goals against and both players should help in the long-run. But there’s no questioning they paid a huge price and it will take time to integrate the new players into the team.

At this point, the Avalanche and their fans can only hope for improvement over the last few weeks and a great draft pick in June. Looking back two years ago, they had a rough season and were able to snag the face of their franchise in Matt Duchene. Last season was great, but there’s a better chance that this is the real Avalanche team than last year’s version. Assuming GM Greg Sherman is able to strike gold with their high-draft pick in June, the Avs will have some strong pieces going forward.

Talbot thinks McDavid is ready to be Oilers’ captain

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Connor McDavid #97 and goaltender Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate their victory against the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game is the final game the Oilers will play at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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Connor McDavid was only healthy enough to play about half of his rookie season, yet he’s earning plenty of looks as the Edmonton Oilers’ next captain.

It sounds like he has his No. 1 goalie’s vote, as Cam Talbot sang his praises when asked by Sportsnet earlier this week.

I’ve been asked that a lot. I think he is. How ready is anyone, really, for the captaincy at any age? It’s a big jump up and a lot of responsibility, but if anyone’s able to do it, Connor can. He’s so grounded. He was raised really well, he’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he leads by example. He works hard on and off the ice. He’s the kind of guy guys are going to follow in the dressing room. I think if you put a leadership group around him and give him the C, he’ll grow into it and lead this team for sure.

At 19, McDavid would jockey with Gabriel Landeskog to become the youngest captain in NHL history.

It’s not that uncommon for teams to hand the “C” to relatively inexperienced guys when there’s an obvious fit, from Sidney Crosby to Jonathan Toews. McDavid’s already attracted attention to Edmonton – just ask Milan Lucic – so perhaps it would be silly to delay the inevitable?

(Giving him that title may also imply that change is in the air …)

Talbot didn’t just praise McDavid, mind you, as he also said that the Oilers are one defensive piece from really competing.

***

In other positive Oilers news, head coach Todd McLellan seems very upbeat about Zack Kassian, according to the Edmonton Journal.

“I’m very impressed with Zack’s approach in life, in general,” McLellan said. “We’ve talked about the Oilers and hockey but from where Zack was, bottoming out (as a Montreal Canadiens’ winger) with his lifestyle (going into the NHL’s Substance Abuse program) and to see where he his with his commitment to conditioning and becoming healthy. That can rub off on other players.”

If all goes well, both McDavid and Kassian could be positive influences in the Oilers’ locker room, even if their roles would likely be wildly different.

Related: 

McDavid would be honored to serve as Oilers captain

McLellan says Edmonton will have a captain by opening night

Maple Leafs sign Marincin to two-year deal to avoid arbitration

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 21:  Martin Marincin #52 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on October 21, 2015 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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A scheduled arbitration hearing between the Toronto Maple Leafs and defenseman Martin Marincin won’t be necessary.

The two sides have settled on a two-year deal with an average annual value of $1.25 million, the Maple Leafs announced Friday. The arbitration hearing was scheduled for Aug. 2. This new deal represents the final restricted free agent signing left for Toronto, as per General Fanager, which also shows the Maple Leafs have about $55,916 in remaining projected cap space.

Marincin, 24, had one goal and seven points in 65 games for the Maple Leafs last season.

His new deal represents a raise from the $700,000 he made this past season on a one-year deal.

The Maple Leafs had also previously avoided arbitration with Frank Corrado and Peter Holland.

Toronto seemed pleased with the progress Marincin made this past season, in which he posted strong possession numbers in more than 900 minutes of ice time at five-on-five.

“He’s a thin guy so he’s got to work extra hard on his body,” Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock told the Globe and Mail during the season.

“He needs an NHL summer. One where you actually commit to being in the league [by putting] some meat on your bones. Then he’s in position to be a real good player in the league. But he’s really come. It’s good for him.”

NHL 17 goes deep on customization, right down to Bautista’s bat flip

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 14:  Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays flips his bat up in the air after he hits a three-run home run in the seventh inning against the Texas Rangers in game five of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 14, 2015 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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More and more, it seems like EA Sports’ upcoming NHL 17 is about bolstering all the substance with some style.

While the biggest hopes for on-digital-ice changes seem to hinge on much-needed tweaks to goaltending, plenty of focus revolves around what your players will be wearing and where they’ll be playing.

Polygon provides a great breakdown for some of the tweaks:

Even more exciting is EASHL’s brand-new arena editor, which is a massive step up from last year, when the only things you could add to your team’s rink were championship banners if you won them. Your club will now make its way upward through five different arenas — a small community rink, a larger community rink, a Canadian Hockey League-size venue, an American Hockey League-size arena and an NHL arena — and you’ll be able to customize the last four venues in that progression.

Maybe most interestingly, you can relocate teams to one of 20 other hockey-friendly locales, whether it means bringing the NHL to Las Vegas a year early, rebooting the Hartford Whalers or a number of other possibilities.

(Does this mean the dream of “The KC Masterpiece” could come true?)

The increase in goal celebrations has been touched upon, yet seeing the fruits of such labor is another thing entirely. Hockey Twitter was delighted to learn that Jose Bautista’s memorable “bat flip” is included in the mix:

Nice nod to Toronto Maple Leafs fans, who can use such an animation after forcing the Tampa Bay Lightning to trade Steven Stamkos “home.”

Need another trailer for the game? Why not:

Pacioretty on losing ‘friend’ in Subban trade

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 02:  (R-L) P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates his goal with Max Pacioretty #67 in the second period against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on January 2, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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P.K. Subban‘s relationship with now-former Montreal Canadiens teammates has been dissected for some time, but captain Max Pacioretty insists that he lost a “friend” in the trade.

At least, that’s what he’s saying publicly, as Sportsnet reports.

“I’d been with him for nine years, so it’s going to be very strange to come into the locker room and not see P.K. there, joking around with him all the time,” Pacioretty said.

He added that, in the Subban-for-Shea Weber trade, the Canadiens “lost a friend and hopefully gained another.”

Again, there’s been plenty of speculation that Pacioretty and other Habs viewed Subban as anything but a pal. Jacques Demers ranked among the many who believed that Montreal suffered from a “divided room,” with some believing that it came down to Subban vs. Pacioretty.

Pacioretty dismissed the claims back then:

While Subban responded in a way we’ve come to expect, wondering if he’d have to “make out” with Pacioretty to prove doubters wrong.

That Pacioretty passage might just sum it up the best: you can be friends with someone while (gasp) also occasionally being annoyed by their antics. Really, have you enjoyed a lengthy relationship – business or personal – that never had those moments of minor friction?

Chances are, such chemistry issues were really just a distraction from the more important issues, such as Montreal depending far too much upon Carey Price.

The good news for “Patches” is that he won’t field nearly as many questions about Subban now that P.K.’s plying his trade in Nashville.

The not-so-good news is that he’ll be an obvious target for blame if Montreal’s fate doesn’t change with Weber replacing Subban.

We’ll find out soon enough if Pacioretty has enough help from his friends.

Related

Owner stands behind Marc Bergevin’s moves, Subban trade included

Michel Therrien on his relationship with Subban (when they were still employed by the Habs)

Subban: This is a business