After failing to qualify for the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, the Colorado Avalanche face another offseason full of questions. Entering their fourth season together, head coach Patrick Roy and general manager Joe Sakic are feeling their seats get a little warmer with only one playoff appearance under their belt.
The Avalanche’s point total has declined each season since Roy and Sakic took over, going from a surprising 112 in their debut season to just 82 last year. The team is increasingly underperforming despite several key players entering their primes.
Plagued by a porous defense and terrible possession numbers over the last few seasons, Colorado has failed to address these repeated deficiencies adequately in recent offseasons. As such, there has been speculation surrounding the club making some monumental moves this summer in an effort to correct long-standing issues.
The two players who have continually popped up in trade rumors are center Matt Duchene and defenseman Tyson Barrie. While both players possess their own flaws, they are significant contributors to the team and the Avalanche would be hard-pressed to receive equally productive assets for the upcoming season.
Drafted third overall in 2009, center Matt Duchene led the Avs in scoring last season with 59 points and a career-high 30 goals. Possessing superior agility and speed, Duchene played much of last season on the wing, a position which demands less for a forward defensively. Despite the decent level of production, Duchene has rubbed wrongly on his head coach, especially after celebrating a meaningless goal late last year.
“The reaction of Dutchy [Duchene] after he scores—it’s a 4-0 (game). Big cheer. Are you kidding me,” said Roy in the Denver Post. “What is that? It’s not the reflect that we want from our guys. Not at all.”
Duchene is 25 and carries a team-friendly $6 million cap hit for three more years. On the trade market—especially after the NHL saw the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup with such a speedy team—Duchene would fetch a large return. But that would leave Colorado with less skill and quickness up front, potentially opening up another problem.
For Tyson Barrie, the likelihood of departure is much higher. The defenseman is a restricted free agent, meaning the Avalanche would receive draft pick compensation if another team signed him, but it seems Colorado questions his worth.
Barrie ranked 10th last season in even-strength points for defenseman in the NHL, placing him in select company. His 49 points overall paced the team’s blueline. But his -16 rating demonstrates his lack of defensive capabilities, as he struggles in his own end at times with his 5’10, 190 pounds frame.
A borderline elite puck-moving defenseman, Barrie’s ability to break the puck out and make crisp passes is sorely lacked on the Avs’ back-end. Despite his defensive flaws, he does provide Colorado with an extra offensive push. With Barrie likely seeking upwards of $5 million per season, the Avalanche will have to decide whether he is worth that amount—and current trade rumors indicate that they don’t.
Colorado should be seeking immediate help on defense this offseason, with an emphasis on getting bigger and more mobile, skilled players. With a poor history of drafting after the first round, the Avalanche are being handcuffed into using their main trade chips and core players to shore up their defensive woes. But quality defensemen are in high demand in the NHL, and Colorado may even find themselves strapped with more problems if they deal too handily from their strengths.