Colorado Avalanche: Goodbye Playoffs, Hello Draft Lottery
For a packed Pepsi Center crowd expecting to witness the home-ice return of Peter Forsberg, nothing could be more disappointing than the news earlier in the day that Forsberg had retired.
And then when they eventually lost 9-1.
In the midst of a franchise record eight-game slide, the Avalanche trail the eighth place Calgary Flames by 10 points, effectively taking themselves out of playoff contention.
The dramatic fall in the standings is reminiscent to the 2008-09 NHL season, in which the Avalanche started the year 17-16-1, only to finish 32-45-5.
This season, they sit 25-26-6, despite holding a 19-10-3 record in the middle of December.
The Avalanche have had to deal with more than their fair share of injuries this season.
Important players like Chris Stewart, Ryan O'Reilly and T.J. Galiardi have all missed significant time over the course of the year, and forward Peter Mueller will likely miss the entire season due to a concussion suffered in the preseason.
Yet, none of these injuries even come close to explaining the Avalanche's rapid decent to the bottom of the NHL's standings.
Losing players will always slow a team down, but not to the point where they can no longer perform at an NHL level.
Right now, the Colorado Avalanche are not an NHL-caliber team.
Many critics of the Avalanche's surprise playoff berth theorized that many of the team's wins were a product of a "shock factor," and while the franchise was improving, predicted that they would lose a lot more games this season because they wouldn't be able to "surprise" teams.
They were on the right track, but undoubtedly they were mistaken. They would have been correct had they said, "Shut down the Avalanche's transition game, shut down the Avalanche."
A team built around a plethora of speedy finesse players, the Avalanche's offense has completely tried up other as other NHL teams have learned how to shut down their run-and-gun style.
To shut it down, it's as simple as clogging up the neutral zone.
Limit the skating lanes for the Avalanche's forwards, and they can't get into the zone because they don't utilize the dump and chase effectively.
And because of how spotty Colorado's defensive play is, they can't win if they fail to score three goals or more in a game.
This is not opinion, simply fact: the Avalanche's record when scoring less than three goals this season is 0-22-2.
Changes Needed, Even with Playoffs Out of Reach
Even though losing as many games as possible over the duration of the regular season may be in the Avalanche's best interest, as it will help increase the position of their draft picks in June, big changes need to be made over the final two months of the regular season.
Despite being one of the youngest teams in the NHL, Colorado still has a number of veterans on the roster who may be moved to give ice time to prospects in the AHL.
It's not a question of "if?" It's a question of "who?"
Is defenseman John-Michael Liles, who has 35 points this season, but only six in his last 20 games, a possible trade candidate?
After he was pulled three times in his last six games, and with a 13-15-3 record on the season, will the Avalanche try to move goaltender Craig Anderson?
Lastly, will the club make a coaching change during the season, and if not, will they in the offseason?
As the Avalanche, seemingly one of the NHL's emerging young teams, grinds out the rest of the regular season and finishes well out of a playoff spot, one can only ask themselves, "How did everything so right go so wrong?"
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