There was a theory heading into the 2016-17 season that there wouldn’t be a truly terrible team in the NHL.
It was a reasonable theory, given there wasn’t a draft-eligible player like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews to be intentionally bad for.
But that theory’s been blown out of the water by the Colorado Avalanche, who could end up being the worst team of the salary-cap era.
The Avs lost their fifth straight last night, falling 4-1 to the Flames while getting outshot 37-18. They’re now 12-25-1, for a points percentage of just .329.
Here are the 10 worst teams of the salary-cap era, based on points percentage:
You’ll also see this year’s Arizona Coyotes on the list. They’re pretty bad themselves.
But the Avs are worse, and this is not a team that’s trying to be bad.
The 2013-14 Sabres, on the other hand, had officially entered their tear-it-down rebuild. They traded Thomas Vanek to the Islanders in October, receiving Matt Moulson, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick in return. They’d already dealt away Jason Pominville in a similar kind of trade.
“I understand our fan base and I would like to think that people will give up some suffering in order to win a Stanley Cup,” said then-GM Darcy Regier.
The Avalanche don’t have the same excuse. In 2013-14, they looked like a team on the rise, winning the Central Division to everyone’s surprise. But then they lost center Paul Stastny to free agency, watching him walk away for nothing to the St. Louis Blues. Not too long after, they traded away another top center, sending a disgruntled Ryan O'Reilly to Buffalo for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko and J.T. Compher.
Zadorov, Grigorenko, and Compher are all still young, but as of right now, that is not looking like a good trade for Colorado.
Frankly, nothing is looking too good for the Avs these days.
“We made stupid mistakes again,” said forward Joe Colborne after last night’s loss in Calgary. “We keep talking about it and we don’t execute.”
The story of their season.
Now, to be fair, the Avs do have some reason for optimism. Mikko Rantanen, the 10th overall pick in 2015, is only 20 and he should be a good player. Tyson Jost, the 10th overall pick in 2016, is only 18, and he too has great potential. Heck, Nathan MacKinnon is still just 21.
But in terms of blue-chip prospects, there isn’t a whole lot after the three forwards: Rantanen, Jost and Compher. And it’s the blue line that most badly needs an upgrade, which is why it’s being reported that GM Joe Sakic may be willing to trade Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog for a young d-man.
It’s a heck of a challenge for Sakic, who doesn’t want to make a panic move and risk making things even worse. The Avs have so far to go before they’re competitive again. They can perhaps take solace in the turnaround we’ve seen in Columbus, but the Blue Jackets’ “engine” is their young, talented back end, and in Colorado, that’s the biggest weakness.
It’s a weakness for a reason. The Avs have not drafted a d-man in the first round since 2011, when they took Duncan Siemens 11th overall. And unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he’s going to pan out. Before Siemens, the last d-man they took in the first round was Kevin Shattenkirk, all the way back in 2007.
And so, when Erik Johnson was lost to injury a month ago, the Avs were in serious, serious trouble. Their six defensemen last night were Fedor Tyutin, Tyson Barrie, Francois Beauchemin, Cody Goloubef, Patrick Wiercioch, and Zadorov.
Bottom line: that is not even close to a serviceable defense in today’s NHL.
How Sakic goes about fixing it remains to be seen.
It is a bad situation in Colorado, and there are no quick fixes in this league.
Related: Avalanche claim Nieto, who’s ‘definitely an NHL player’