Another in a series of guest columns written by you, one of my subscribers. Those interested in posting a guest column as well: email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I enjoy hearing others’ opinions on the team we’re all so passionate about.
Today’s column is by Nathaniel Torok.
By Nathaniel Torok
I grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, and have been a fan of the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche since I was five years old. It’s a bit of a funny story about how I originally became a Nordiques fan. I was surrounded by Vancouver Canucks fans growing up, with a few family members being Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres fans as we were originally from Ontario. I played my minor hockey at the North Shore Winter Club in North Vancouver. This is the same club where Joe Sakic played his minor hockey until he was about fourteen years old before moving on to the Burnaby Winter Club.
His sister Rosemary was my power-skating teacher and I still have a vivid memory of Joe coming onto the ice with us one day with a stick and puck (we weren’t allowed a stick and puck with power-skating) and getting yelled at by his sister – “JOE! GET OFF THE ICE JOE!” Her brother had just been drafted by the Quebec Nordiques from the Swift Current Broncos in the first round of the 1987 NHL entry draft. In my eyes, he immediately became a superhero. I must have talked about my close encounter with a real NHL player to my parents non-stop – and I still remember getting home from school on my birthday and there was a brand new Quebec Nordiques Joe Sakic jersey hanging on my closet door. From then on anytime the Nordiques were in town playing the Vancouver Canucks I was at the Pacific Coliseum with my dad in my Joe Sakic jersey. And when I got home at night I had posters like these on my bedroom wall.
And my birthday cakes always said something like ‘Quebec rules’ written out in icing.
To make a long story short when the Nordiques relocated to Colorado in 1995 I immediately became a die-hard Colorado Avalanche fan. And not long after the relocation, there was an Avalanche jersey waiting for me on my closet door on my birthday. And soon after that this championship poster on my bedroom wall:
I guess what I am saying is that I love this hockey team and I have been there from the start. The two Stanley Cups. And the ups and downs ever since.
I like to think that this new iteration of the Avalanche began with the 48-point season five years ago. The team has clearly come a long way since then. I believe this team’s first real chance at a Stanley Cup was two years ago when they were defeated in game 7 by the Dallas Stars. I was not completely convinced they were ready though and I also knew they were not going to win with Michael Hutchinson as the eventual starter. Last year’s President’s trophy-winning team was the first time I expected them to win a Stanley Cup. I really believed they were the best team in the NHL heading into the playoffs and I was shocked at how they fell apart against Vegas in the second round.
There is one silver lining I took from last year’s disappointing end to the season. I truly believe in the notion that you have to have your heart broken before you can win a Stanley Cup. And I believe that the heartbreak that they experienced will make them a better and hungrier team moving forward. It’s part of the process. You have to be patient. How long did it take Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning to win a Cup? Take a look. Remember their Presidents Trophy a few years back and the first-round sweep by the Columbus Blue Jackets? The sky was falling. Heartbreak. And now look at them.
And this leads me to the realities of where this team is at now and how I think they did this offseason. I think this is a better team than last year’s. The heartbreak they experienced is the first reason why. I also believe Joe Sakic has done a great job this offseason.
I’m not sure what fans were expecting from Joe this offseason. There was just no chance that they could afford to bring everyone back. And if you took a quick browse on Twitter these days you would think the sky is also falling within #avsnation. The general sentiment with most fans is that this team has taken a step back. They have subtracted rather than added. How could they possibly be better? Why hasn’t Sakic done more? And why did they trade so much for this Darcy Kuemper guy when they could have lost nothing and brought back Grubauer?
Here are the reasons I think this offseason was a big success:
- The choice to let Graves and Donskoi move on. They were going to lose Ryan Graves to the Kraken, and they could also not afford to keep Joonas Donskoi. Sakic was able to kill two birds with one stone here. He was able to gain assets (a 2nd round pick and Mikhail Maltsev) for what should have been nothing. This left either Joonas Donskoi or JT Compher as the clear choices for the Kraken. Everyone knew they were taking Donskoi. And the Avs needed them to take Donskoi as well. It was all calculated. All of a sudden the Avs now have an extra $7 million to play with to make sure they can sign more important players.
- Gabriel Landeskog signing. I know there was some debate about this but most agreed that they should bring back Landeskog as long as it was the right price. I think Landeskog could have gotten $9 million on the open market if he chose to leave. He wants to be here though and wants to win a cup in Colorado. He took a discount and the Avs got him at exactly the $7 million AAV cap hit they wanted. This is a win all around.
- Cale Makar signing. No brainer obviously. This guy is phenomenal. And they signed him for less AAV than what Zach Werenski and Seth Jones and Darnell Nurse signed for.
4. Sakic’s decision not to make any unnecessary signings or overpay anyone including Brandon Saad. He may have had his hand forced with Saad here as they didn’t have the cap room but when I look at what free agent forwards were available and how much they got paid then it makes sense to pass on every one of them. 4.5 a year for Mike Hoffman? 3.8 for Nick Foligno? 5.5 for Philip Danault? 4.9 for Blake Coleman for six years!? 3.75 for an aging and slow skating Paul Stastny? And then who else was really available? Do we actually think guys like Nick Ritchie, Mathieau Perreault, Corey Perry, Ondrej Kase, Ryan Dzingel, Derek Stepan etc…make this team better? I don’t think so. I do believe Ryan Murray and Darren Helm were appropriate depth signings though. And I believe their agile skating ability fits well with this team.
5. Bowen Byram, Alex Newhook, Sampo Ranta and Logan O’Connor. I know this isn’t an offseason move but these guys all have another year of experience and are going to be improved players next season. It makes losing guys like Donskoi and Saad that much easier, and also makes those losses make a bit more sense as well. I actually believe Ranta finds a spot on this team and makes an impact this year. Maybe he beats Maltsev for the last spot?
6. Nazem Kadri protected and staying. I think he is a great player and I still believe in him. He is still the perfect second-line centerman for this team. I know how many chances he has had. I want to give him one more.
And now for the big one that everyone seems to be upset about and debating. This is actually the move I am most happy with and the main reason I think this team is better:
Kuemper over Grubauer, Timmins, a first and a conditional 3rd.
I add Timmins and the picks with Grubauer because that’s what they ended up losing in the end when they made this decision. To begin with I am a huge fan of Darcy Kuemper. I think he is capable of being an elite goaltender in this league. I thought he was incredible against Colorado in the playoffs two years ago. At the beginning of last season I was tweeting that the Avs should move on from Grubauer and make a move for Kuemper. I know I probably would have been wrong about this in the end as Grubauer had a great season while Kuemper’s was full of injuries.
I just believe Sakic and the Avalanche think Kuemper gives them a better shot at winning and they made their decisions accordingly. I don’t buy the argument that Sakic had to scramble after Grubauer signed in Seattle. They knew exactly what they were doing.
I believe they thought that Kuemper is a better goaltender and that it was worth losing Grubauer, Timmins and the picks to get their guy. And in the end it doesn’t matter that they lost Timmins and the first-rounder. As crazy as that might sound. If the belief is Kuemper is a better goaltender and gives them a better chance at winning then it is a no-brainer decision. I think they had those conversations before they chose to not up their offer to Grubauer. I also do not believe they had any other goalie in mind. I think it was Grubauer or Kuemper all along. I don’t think they really considered Frederik Andersen, Braden Holtby, Martin Jones etc … In fact I think if Kuemper was not available then they would have upped their offer and given Grubauer an extra year. He just wasn’t their guy anymore, and it was time to move on. And IMO they now have a better goalie and are now a better team. I may be proven wrong on this but time will tell.
The last thing that everyone has to understand is that just because they are entering this season with this roster does not mean it will be the same team come playoff time. Sakic has half a season to figure out if they need to add more scoring depth. Do I think that there is a possible hole on the second line? Yeah, I think so. I do not think that JT Compher fits there. He is a third-line player at best. I do believe that Alex Newhook could be successful on that second line though. Let’s see how the season goes. Let Byram, Newhook, Ranta, Maltsev, and possibly Kaut and Bowers show what they can do first and then decide if we need to add some more depth.
I think it is time for everyone on Twitter to stop being so negative though. Take a deep breath. This is a great hockey team. And an improved hockey team that has gone through the process of having their hearts broken.
And in a way, I love this team even more than when I was cheering on Sakic, Forsberg, Roy, Tanguay, Hejduk and Foote. I want nothing more than for this team to win another Stanley Cup. I’ll be making the trip from Vancouver to Denver when it happens. All we need is just a little more patience.