The Avalanche core isn’t the problem, they just need some help


This is part of Colorado Avalanche day at PHT…

Three years ago the Colorado Avalanche came out of nowhere to win 52 games and surprisingly take the Central Division crown during the 2013-14 season.

Even though there were a lot of red flags that came along with that success (they weren’t a good defensive team and they were one of the worst possession teams in the league) they still seemed like a team that had a chance to be on the rise thanks to a young core led by Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and that year’s No. 1 overall pick, Nathan MacKinnon.

Instead of repeating that success, or even coming close to it, the bottom completely fell out the next season as they dropped 22 points in the standings (going from 112 to 90) and then came back in 2015-16 and dropped eight more points (down to 82). That is a significant fall.

When hockey teams lose the first people to get the blame are almost always the top players on the team, and in some ways the Avalanche core has started to get a little bit of that over the past year. Matt Duchene’s name was mentioned in trade rumors on more than one occasion, while former coach Patrick Roy was critical of “the core” late last season following a loss and said they were having a hard time carrying the rest of the team.

His comments at the time, via Sportsnet:

 “We have some good leadership, but not enough from our core. Our core hasn’t proved that they have the leadership to bring this team to another level. Eventually we have to admit it. I love these guys. I think Landy is pretty much alone in that. I think [Erik Johnson] is trying. We need more from these guys,” Roy said.

“Our core players are having a hard time carrying this team. That’s the bottom line.”

If Roy were coming back to coach the team this season this would probably be a bigger deal, but the fact it was even out there to begin with is worth addressing because, again, this is nothing when it comes to good players on bad teams.

There is an expectation that because they are the top guys that they should be enough to overcome whatever flaws the rest of the roster has and win anyway, but it doesn’t really work that way.

No matter how good players like Duchene, Landeskog, MacKinnon and even Tyson Barrie are — and they are all tremendous players — there is only so much they can do when the roster of the roster is as flawed as it has been. When a roster has as many holes as the Avalanche have had over the past couple of years, whether it is their bottom-six forwards, their defense (perhaps the biggest problem), or the style of play under Roy, that is going to help drag down the team more than the top guys can lift it back up.

Over the past three years that trio of forwards have all been among the top 65 forwards in the NHL in points per game and all average at least 60 points per 82 games. That is top-line production in the NHL.

MacKinnon, who is the bottom of the three Avalanche players over that stretch, has scored at the same rate as Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Patric Hornqvist and Patrick Marleau.

If you can not win with three young players at the top of your lineup producing at that level, the problem isn’t with them.

You can talk about leadership all you want, but if there is no amount of leadership that is going to make an inferior team play better. And that is simply the biggest factor holding the Avalanche back right now. They just don’t have enough talent to complement their core.

That group of Duchene, Landeskog, MacKinnon and Barrie is still young enough — and good enough — to be a part of a championship contending team in Colorado. But until the supporting cast around them starts to improve, it’s probably not going to happen. And it won’t be the fault of the guys that are playing at a top-line level.