A few parting shots for 2016
December 29, 2016 | 11:48am ET
LOS ANGELES, CA -- Parity among pretenders has reduced activity at the
trade deadline to such an extent that it's the norm to watch James
Duthie and Bob McKenzie fill multiple hours on deadline day
And while the final 60 minutes before the 3PM Eastern bell still has
juice, there are two teams that shouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger
way earlier than the March 1 final trade bell.
If you've watched more than three periods of Colorado Avalanche hockey
over the past few weeks, you know the franchise has spiraled down to a
level that is unrecognizable from its glory days when rebirthed from
the ashes of the Quebec Nordiques.
Those vintage rivalry games against the Detroit Red Wings, the clutch
performances between the pipes by Patrick Roy, and the virtuosity of
Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg are so distant from this group of Snowmen
it's almost like they never existed.
The worse news is there doesn't appear to be a path on how to get back
to the days when playing the Avalanche has jeopardy attached to it;
for now, it's just a fun trip to Denver.
Sakic is taking heavy hits for the demise and rightfully so, his
attempt to replicate the success of a returning hero a la John Elway
has failed miserably. Free agent deals handed out to Carl Soderberg
and Francois Beauchemin (35+ deal with an NMC) is only matched by the
inability of the organization to draft and develop prudently.
Even its brightest lights, like young captain Gabriel Landeskog, have
been dimmed in a season whose only distinctions are the worst
goals-against and home record in the League. I can't blame any
Avalanche fan for staying away from the Can with the lack of quality
hockey displayed nightly; now 4-12-1after a what is now a typical 6-3
loss to Calgary on Tuesday.
It's not exactly the way you want to come out of the break, is it?
So, what's a Joe to do? Assuming his pride that won him multiple Cups
won't allow him to quit, he does have options -- but he should move
fast and not stick to a status quo that has quickened this Colorado's
reversal of fortune.
In the long-term, he needs to do one hell of a recruiting job to bring
in better personnel people (particularly on the pro side) and give
them a legitimate voice in the decision-making process.
I'm stopping short of suggesting a replicating the strategy of
Shanaplan because the allure of the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise
doesn't compare to that of Colorado, but clearly, it's time for new
voices and opinions at the top of the food chain. As he would pursue a
top prospect, Sakic needs to comb the executive suites of his
competitors for the best partners he can find to rebuild the talent
pipeline so he doesn't have to replicate his recent errors.
In the short-term, what do fans want? They want their team to give
them an honest assessment of the state of the franchise and most
reasonable fans who understand the hills and valleys of a professional
sport in the salary cap era will buckle in for the bumpy ride. It's
time for an admission from Sakic, either expressed or implied through
his actions, that this franchise is in full rebuilding mode.
Yes, that word is repulsive to most NHL owners and executives, but
like or not that time has drawn nigh for the Coloradans.
But what he shouldn't do is jettison Jared Bednar, who was the right
choice when Roy left the team in the lurch over the summer.
Yes, Roy is a fiery personality and I suspect that he will surface
once again when NHL hockey eventually returns to Quebec, but the
manner in which he walked away was an indicator of how this season
would go and it's manifested itself even worse than was expected.
Bednar did a wonderful job with the Lake Erie Monsters and is the type
of new-age coach in the mold of John Hynes and Jeff Blashill who needs
to be in position to manage the talent at a point in time when it is
competitive. To make him the scapegoat for the season would continue,
not reverse the trend in Denver.
So, I've addressed the front office and the bench boss, so on to Step
3, the players.
Even with poor decisions from the front office and a rookie coach,
results ultimately lie with the men who lace them up every night.
Their performance as a group shows that the depth of talent necessary
to be competitive is lacking and what makes it more crystal-clear is
that the Avalanche has the third lowest man games lost in the NHL
season (source: mangameslost.com), so despite being healthy, they're
just not good.
There's no need to wait until the trade deadline is on the horizon,
it's time to make a market for its assets especially if the lack of
marketable players we've seen over the past couple of deadline
As it with a franchise in a rebuild, there are a few cornerstone
players that should be deemed -- and I don't like the term
"untouchable" after P.K. for Shea went down. It's not as if the "touchables"
like Soderberg and Beauchemin will have to look for new homes on
Zillow.com anytime soon and that's why rebuilds take multiple seasons.
When I look at this roster, I see two players that are my keepers:
Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie -- (yes, he's got an awful +/- and
not the poster child for advanced stats for sure).
MacKinnon for his youth and speed, and Barrie because his comfortable
cap hit and the belief that at 25 years old, he still has the chance
to be an impact player in a better universe of players.
The easier part of the player movements to come deal with the pending
unrestricted free agents -- there are six on the active roster and I
suspect four have market value including the one marquee name, Jarome
Iginla's production this season (5G, 4A in 33 games) may reinforce two
axioms: 1) a 39-year-old winger can no longer compete in a league that
trends towards speed and youth, and 2) it's better to trade a player
one year too soon than one year too late.
Iginla's numbers last season (22G, 25A) could have arguably got the
Avalanche a conditional first round pick with a decent price tag of
$5M cap hit in his final season, now you're probably looking at a
mid-round pick unless he has a huge couple of weeks which is very
unlikely with the team's current plight.
The others of the group -- John Mitchell, Rene Bourque and Fedor
Tyutin -- should be moved for the first reasonable offer that crosses
Now on to the big boys: Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene -- clearly
the two assets that can and should be wheeled to get the Avalanche
When we last left Duchene, it was this time last year that trade
rumours fluttered around him like pesky mosquitos in summer. Some
argued the chatter kicked his game into high gear and resulted in a
30-goal campaign. Duchene is the leading goal scorer for the League's
worst offense and despite that he is still on track for a 30-goal
season. He's stayed healthy for the past three seasons (10 games
missed in two+ current seasons) and while he's not a defensive stopper
as a center, he's had a strong season in the faceoff dot and has the
flexibility to play on the wing.
This is the player that should retrieve three quality assets for the
Avalanche: a top four defenseman, a NHL ready prospect and a high
draft pick. If Sakic wants to take leave one bullet in his six-shooter
after his initial volley, this is the one and if he can't make a
market for a packages similar to what I suggest, he should hold onto
him and find a horse trader who can do it for him.
As for Landeskog, he was done a disservice by being named the youngest
captain in NHL history at the time of his appointment. The procession
from Sakic to Adam Foote to Milan Hedjuk to Landeskog would have been
logical if the team's level of play under the former three would have
continued. With the Avalanche in clear reverse gear and the weight of
having to deal with questions after every bad loss is likely impacting
his production notwithstanding the 10-game absence due to injury.
In his sixth NHL season, despite being only 24 years old, his
streakiness offensively (his two goals against Calgary ended a
one-goal in 13 games stretch) rates him a notch below Duchene in
market value, but still should garner a defenseman and a prospect
ready to step into a role or a high round pick.
Would the Avalanche lose its identity if their two most recognizable
players found new homes by March? They would and frankly an identity
loss isn't a bad thing if it leads to a path that can rebuild this
team where all logical NHL rebuilds start, from the back end out.
Even when the Avalanche had that miracle run in 2013-14 Central
Division title, they were an average defensive team and this
deficiency wasn't addressed in the Roy era (maybe to Patrick's own
liking) thru the present day.
Close to 1000 miles due southwest of the Pepsi Center, another
franchise faces similar decisions if not on the exact path that the
The Arizona Coyotes had reason to be more optimistic than Colorado
entering this season; they had a new age GM in the 28-year-old John
Chayka who had the statistical nerds overjoyed that another of their
kind was sitting in an NHL executive chair (I kid, I kid, I have no
idea if Chayka is a nerd, but as for the rest of you...).
Young talent like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair seemed poised to take
the next step in their development that would lead them into a new era
that includes to a proposed new arena in Tempe (AKA the right side of
town in the Valley of the Sun).
promise the organization offered was strong enough for Shane Doan to
decide it was worth it to saddle upon for his 20th NHL season. If the
season ended today, it was worth it just for the seminal moment of the
only captain in Coyotes history scoring his 400th goal in his 1500th
The hopes were high enough for unrestricted free agents Alex Goligoski
to commit to five years, Jamie McGinn to three and Radim Vrbata to
take a $1million, one-year flyer in hopes of landing long-term green
with a solid season. Mike Smith had a redemption season of sorts in
2015-16 season and with the salary cap trade maneuvering by Chayka,
the Coyotes were some people's dark horse (not these people, but
still) as the season opened.
With a third of the season in the books, it appears the only
legitimate race that the Coyotes will be in is with the Avalanche for
the top seed in the Nolan Patrick race in late spring and no doubt
it's very painful to watch former favorite son Auston Matthews as he
grows before our eyes with each game.
With an offense just a shade better than the Avalanche and defense
equally as porous, it's no time like the present for Chayka to start
managing his marketable assets.
Unlike Sakic, Chayka may have to make a move behind the bench based on
the underperformance of this group. While I still consider Dave
Tippett one of the best coaches in the NHL despite never getting a
full stocked roster, the lack of development by Domi and more
specifically Duclair in their Coyote sophomore seasons (yes, the Duke
had an 18-game taste with the Rangers) raises questions on his ability
to develop the newest generation of player.
Tippett was elevated to the role of Executive V.P. of Hockey Ops with
this new regime, but that position appears to be nothing more than a
"job well done" reward during the hard times with Don Maloney when the
League held the purse strings. While I don't suggest it's the right
time to make a move behind the bench, I feel it's far more likely
Tippett will be held accountable than Bednar.
Where my strategy differs with Arizona is the asset play. Other than
Connor Murphy and Goligoski, no Coyote has a contract past the 2018-19
season. That spells F-L-E-X-I-B-I-L-T-Y and the primary reason why
asset movement shouldn't include any player with the first name
Yes, Mr. Ekman-Larsson added to a contending roster is a game changer,
but Chayka should resist the inquiries that are sure to come (no NMC
for OEL) and build the defensive platform with him, Murphy, Goligoski
and this year's first round pick Jacob Chychrun. That's a core that
Colorado doesn't have and why despite similar records why I think
Arizona stands a better chance to rise from the ashes with a poor
Phoenix pun aside.
Building off who should stay, the players that should go are all
unrestricted free agents come July 1 and while none of them would
approach the aforementioned bounty that Duchene and Landeskog return,
the sheer volume of the moveable parts could eventually add one,
possibly two NHL eventual talents.
The biggest question come the trade deadline may be "what does Shane
want to do?"
Doan, with all he has done for this franchise both on and off the ice,
has earned the right to make any decision he pleases and the
suggestion that he has had multiple chances to waive his NMC and
always chosen to stay home. With the writing on the wall so early for
a non-contending season, I'm more convinced that this just may be the
season for Doan to agree to a deal that would move him to a contender
to chase a Stanley Cup which he's only realistically done once in 19
This season's poor results more likely affect the emotional part of an
equation that would make a Doan deal a Done Deal, a dialogue leading
to a trade can realistically open now, allowing Doan more time for
softening the blow of leaving home.
From the business side of the deal, there's two primary reasons not
present in other seasons that opens the door, one far more visible
than the other: 1) his full season salary cap hit is $3.876 million
(tack on close to $1 million for performance bonuses) as opposed to
the $5.3 million of his past deal, and 2) don't forget, Doan signed
his one-year deal not in the opening days of free agency but on July
12 after making a tour of interested (contending) teams. Shane has the
benefit of recent open discussions with multiple front offices about
their current roster and why he fits. Unlike other season, this
scenario affords him the luxury of a well thought out, fully informed
While the Doan Decision is still to be determined, the trio of
walk-away free agents behind him comes in various shapes and sizes.
Martin Hanzal should bring back the most return has he plays the
pivotal position of center. Scrolling back to last season, Eric Staal,
despite having a poor season, for the Carolina Hurricanes, he garnered
them a prospect (Finnish forward Aleksi Saarela 2015 third round pick)
and two second round picks and while Hanzal's top end never approached
Staal's, the annual lack of centers at the trade deadline should float
his value north.
Vrbata has achieved his goal of a redemption season coming off a
nightmare season in Vancouver where his goal production plummeted (31
to 13) in direct proportion to the Canucks regression in the standings
and nine goals in 35 games isn't stuff that materializes in a
first-round pick landing in the desert, trending to a 20-goal campaign
does give value. He's a logical fit as a second/third line winger but
not for everyone -- his game should suit the style of the acquirer
(think more Montreal than Los Angeles style), but should return the
choice of a prospect or a pick.
Michael Stone has been affected adversely by injury, missing two
stretches totaling nine games with a knee injury and upper body
ailment when he was hoping to build off his most productive NHL season
with unrestricted free agency pending. While Chayka may feel Stone can
be part of the solution, his $4 million per year current price tag
will move north on either an extension or in the free market. He's a
second pair, 20-minute a night defenseman who when healthy will
contribute to a team's 5-on-5 offense (it's been three seasons since
he's potted a powerplay marker but is a solid set up man). Like Hanzal,
he may not be the best player available at his position come the
deadline but the lack of availability could net two decent assets in a
On instant replay
The more I think about replay review, the more I'm convinced that The
Hoodie, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, has the right
idea. Bill suggested opening Pandora's Box and allowing everything on
the field of play to be subject to video review, referee's call
If we're looking to get as close to perfection when adjudication of a
match, why not allow us to review a bogus tripping or slashing call
that could determine the outcome of a game?
Sure, the referee's association will have to deal with some bruised
egos, but MLB umps have no problem overruling calls since the
inception of instant replay, so why shouldn't the NHL follow suit and
be progressive when the technology allows?
I'm not suggesting that every single call should be an automatic
review, but rather we expand the coaches challenge, possibly give each
coach one review per period and possibly automatic reviews of calls
inside the last five minutes a game when a blown call can be
significantly more impactful on a team getting 2, 1 or 0 points for
As far as the technology supporting the calls, the League needs to
scrap those handheld devices in favor of what the NFL does -- find a
technology partner (the NHL is closing in on a deal with Apple),
construct a booth at the Zamboni entrance with larger and better
resolution screens to assist in making the right call.
Yes, at first the process would be clunky and the whiners will moan,
but as with every new process, the kinks will be work out and the game
will be better for it.
A parting shot
I'll say goodbye to you until 2017 with some humor via my favorite
tweet of the week:
May 2017 be a happy and healthy year for you, and you, and especially
Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.