The Avs chances at a title defense were actually derailed months ago
May 1, 2023, 6:27 AM | Updated: 6:56 am
(Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
Ten months ago, the Avalanche were hoisting the Stanley Cup. Their title defense was short-lived, however, as Colorado was bounced in the first round by Seattle this season, losing Game 7 on their home ice on Sunday night.
It’s a shocking turn of events. A team that once appeared destined to become a mini-dynasty is one-and-done with a whimper the season after winning a championship.
There are a lot of reasons for the team’s demise. Injuries certainly we’re a factor, as Gabriel Landeskog didn’t play a single minute during the entire regular season or playoffs. But misfortune wasn’t the main reason why the Avalanche aren’t still playing.
That falls on the front office. At the top of the organization, a series of missteps and miscalculations doomed Colorado.
It’s hard for a title team to keep their roster intact. Other franchises want to raid their championship mojo. But it’s imperative to retain the key pieces.
This requires an understanding of chemistry. It’s not just about numbers. And that’s where the front office failed.
Last season, it was clear than Nazem Kadri was the heart and soul of the Avs. While Cale Makar was winning the Conn Smyth and Nathan MacKinnon was skating circles around the opposition, Kadri gave the team its swagger.
He’s the one who went into St. Louis, ignored death threats from classless and clueless Blues fans, and hung a hat trick on the board in a Game 4 win. He’s the one who came off the bench in Tampa Bay, nursing a bad thumb, to score the overtime winner in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Kadri was clutch. He was nails. He had stones.
The Avalanche could’ve used some of that brashness against the Kraken. They needed someone to make a play when everyone else was gripping.
But Kadri is in Calgary. Colorado let him walk when he was offered a seven-year, $49-million deal.
The Avs had the money to keep him. They chose to spend it elsewhere.
First and foremost, Joe Sakic and Chris McFarland decided to give Valeri Nichushkin big money instead. They gave him a eight-year, $49-million deal.
Why? Because of age. Kadri is 32. Nichuskin is 28.
The argument for going younger was that the Avs would regret the Kadri deal in four or five years. That was foolish then. It’s ridiculous now.
Championship windows don’t stay open very long. The Avalanche needed to worry about maximizing their current opportunity. Future cap problems are a concern for another day.
Throw in the fact that Nichushkin literally disappeared in the Kraken series and the choice seems like an egregious miss. Colorado’s forward went MIA before Game 3 and hasn’t been seen since.
There were other ways to keep Kadri, however. It wasn’t just an A or B decision.
The Avalanche could’ve also traded away Samuel Girard. The defensemen was paid $5 million this season. That money would’ve been much better spent on Kadri.
Girard was brutal against the Kraken. He was a team-worst -4 in the series, seemingly whiffing on every opportunity that came his way.
Again, the Avs chose youth. Again, they made a mistake.
Of course, they could’ve kept Kadri, Nichushkin and Girard if Erik Johnson had retired. The veteran defenseman returned for a 13th season, earned $6 million and contributed little.
These missteps were all during the offseason, however. Colorado had a chance to plug holes prior to the trade deadline. They still had an opportunity to add key pieces, as they did a year ago.
But Sakic and McFarland stood pat. They did nothing.
That mistake was compounded when Landeskog announced that he wouldn’t return. It made the inaction borderline inexcusable.
A year ago, the Avs were pushing all of their chips into the middle of the table. Desperate to get over the hump and win a title, they were willing to do whatever it took.
With the Cup in hand, however, their approach changed. Colorado’s front office became prudent, practical and passive.
As a result, their season is over. And the championship window may have already closed, after just one title.
Last year was great, but the accomplishment had lost some of its luster. That’s what a bad sequel will do; it diminishes the original hit.
Last season was “The Hangover.” This season was “The Hangover II.”
The Avalanche had a chance to achieve greatness. They should’ve been hoisting multiple banners.
Instead, it looks like their one title will be an aberration. It’ll be the outlier sandwiched in between second-round disappointments and first-round debacles.
That’s a shame. The Avalanche front office should’ve gotten much more out of an elite top-end roster.
Chris McFarland was dealt a pair of pocket aces and still managed to lose the hand. Badly. That’s going to sting for quite some time.