AVALANCHE

MacKinnon’s silly decision could derail the Avalanche’s cup dreams

Mar 29, 2022, 2:42 PM

Nathan MacKinnon is a star. His resume speaks for itself. He’s among the best players in the NHL.

MacKinnon has been an All-Star in each of the last four seasons. During that time, he’s finished second in the league’s MVP voting twice, third last season and sixth in 2018-19.

The perennial Hart Trophy candidate is a prolific scorer. He brings an element of speed, quickness and creativity that is impossible to miss. A hockey novice could watch 10 minutes of an Avalanche game and know that he’s the best player on the ice.

So it’s impossible to overstate his importance to Colorado’s chance of making a deep playoff run. If the Avs are going to parlay their great regular season into a Stanley Cup, they’ll need MacKinnon in the lineup.

That won’t be the case tonight in Calgary. And it might not be for awhile.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that MacKinnon would miss the Avalanche’s game against the Flames because of an “upper body injury.” The team also revealed that the star center was returning to Denver for further evaluation.

Uh oh. That’s not good.

The team is slated to play at Ball Arena on Thursday night, so they’d be returning after tonight’s game. MacKinnon not waiting that long is a red flag.

When asked about it on Tuesday, Jared Bednar didn’t downplay the potential severity of the injury. Colorado’s head coach categorized the team’s level of concern about MacKinnon’s injury as “high.”

That’s bad. Potentially, it’s season altering.

What makes it even worse is that the injury was totally avoidable. At least that’s the speculation.

In the third period of Colorado’s overtime loss to Minnesota on Sunday, MacKinnon got into a fight with Matt Dumba. He was upset with a hit the Wild defenseman had just delivered to Avalanche teammate Mikko Rantanen.

Here’s the hit, as well as the ensuing altercation:

Few thought much of the incident at the time. In fact, it seemed to spark the Avs.

Thirty-five seconds after MacKinnon got five for fighting, Nazem Kadri tied the game at 1-1. Four minutes later, Rantanen netted a power-play goal to take the lead.

MacKinnon was seen icing his hand in the penalty box after delivering punches, some of which caught Dumba’s helmet and visor, but he returned to the game. He didn’t seem to be injured.

On Tuesday, however, Bednar admitted that might not have been the case. The head coach didn’t dismiss the idea that MacKinnon’s injury was the result of the incident.

“Possibly could be stemming from the fight,” Bednar said.

Therein lies the problem. If that’s the case, it’s an absolutely inexcusable mistake by one of the team’s leaders. If MacKinnon’s hand is broken, Colorado’s alternate captain could be lost for three to six weeks by most estimates. Depending on the severity of the injury, it could be even longer.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in 34 days. That means MacKinnon’s availability could be in question.

Can the Avalanche survive without their star player in the first round? Sure.

Can they get beyond that without him? Well, they haven’t escaped the second round in any of the last three seasons with him on the ice. Doing so with him in street clothes seems unlikely.

That would be a shame. The best team in the NHL not being at full strength in the playoffs would be a huge missed opportunity. It would derail months and months of work, both on and off the ice. It could potentially rob the Avs of their best chance to win a championship.

For that reason, MacKinnon can’t do what he did on Sunday. It was a foolish risk, one with way more potential negatives than positives.

Was the center justified in being upset with Dumba? Maybe. The announcers didn’t seem to think it was a dirty hit on Rantanen; to be fair, it was certainly borderline. But it doesn’t matter.

MacKinnon’s job isn’t retaliation. His role on the team isn’t one of an enforcer. He’s not there to stick up for his teammates. He doesn’t get paid $6.3 million per season to throw punches.

That’s a job for someone like Kurtis MacDermid. He’s on the roster, in part, to protect his teammates. He’s there to fight their battles. He’s on the ice to ensure that players like MacKinnon don’t have to throw punches.

And now we know why.

If MacDermid breaks his hand and misses three to six weeks, no one would care. That’s just the blunt reality. The team wouldn’t miss a beat. It certainly wouldn’t affect Colorado’s chances of winning the Cup. Life would roll on, with the Avalanche remaining the favorites to win it all.

The same can’t be said for MacKinnon. If the diagnosis is bad, which seems like an unfortunate possibility based on Bednar’s comments on Tuesday, things change dramatically. A team that once seemed like they’d cruise to the Stanley Cup Finals suddenly looks vulnerable.

That’s why MacKinnon has to be smarter. It’s why he can’t let his emotions get the better of him.

It’s great that he wants to defend his teammate. It’s awesome that he’s not a prima donna who thinks he’s above dropping his gloves and mixing it up. But those benefits don’t outweigh the potential problems that come from his actions.

Nathan MacKinnon is a star. He needs to act like one.

Getting in a fight with Matt Dumba is a silly move that could derail the Avalanche’s dream season. If that’s the case, the punches he landed will hurt his teammates way more than the hit delivered by the Wild defenseman.

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