This is a transition period for the Avalanche.
Given that Joe Sakic, Chris MacFarland, Jared Bednar and others in the organization believe they both needed to improve especially the bottom six for the playoff run and also succeeded at it, there might be more nights like what turned out to be the Avalanche’s 3-1 loss to the Canucks Wednesday night at Ball Arena.
For one thing, I think back to sage Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz pointing out, “The other side gives scholarships, too.” (He also once told a then-Sporting News scribe sitting across from him in his office, “…and a greater display of ignorance I have never seen in my life.” But that’s another sport and another story for another day.)
The Canucks, trying to complete a stunning turnaround under Bruce Boudreau to pull out a playoff berth, were, well, desperate in ending an 0-2-1 slide. The Avs could only beat Jaroslav Halak for Nazem Kadri’s third-period power-play goal.
Hey, it happens.
The Avs came in on a four-game winning streak, so overreacting to a single game would be ridiculous.
It’s just that the ugly aspects of a loss to a scrambling, potential playoff team — and a possible Colorado first-round opponent — were remindful of the challenges for a reforged roster.
“The margin for error is going to get smaller and smaller,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “We’re playing desperate teams. And [the Canucks] played well.”
I bet you know this, but I’ve got to get it on the record: The Avs acquired Josh Manson, Nico Sturm, Andrew Cogliano and Artturi Lehkonen in the week leading up to the Monday trading deadline.
Lehkonen has joined the Avalanche but wasn’t cleared to suit up against the Canucks because of immigration details.
Cogliano, meanwhile, was on the fourth line with Darren Helm and Nicolas Aube-Kubel in his Avalanche debut. He logged 8:14 of ice time and in the limited role and especially seemed to mesh with fellow vet Helm.
“I thought the Helm line worked their butts off,” Bednar said. “They created some chances. They didn’t give up anything. I thought they did a nice job of it. Sturm’s line was a little bit quiet for us, but they just played two really good games for us. I’m not in panic mode that they weren’t jumping off the scoresheet tonight.”
Manson is struggling on defense, but that seems to have much to do with the marked differences in systems at Colorado and Anaheim.
If he looks befuddled in two weeks, then, yes, Houston (or Colorado), we have a problem.
Here’s the bigger issue: Barring more complications, by Friday night against the Flyers, four of the 18 skaters in the Colorado lineup will have been added to the organization since March 14. That’s — let’s see — 22 percent.
Even if and when the injured Gabriel Landeskog, Samuel Girard, Bo Byram and Ryan Murray return, the four newcomers — barring injuries among them — will remain in the lineup.
Then the transitional issue will be the four acquisitions becoming familiar with and to the injured who return. And the other way around, too.
“Obviously, there’s a transition period,” said Kadri, whose goal was his 24th of the season. “You haven’t really seen what our full lineup can be. We’ve got some guys on the shelf just trying to get healthy. I think the more [the acquisitions] are around the guys, they’re going to get comfortable.”
It’s fair to at least wonder if the Avalanche tinkered too much.
That involves chemistry built over a season or two, not necessarily direct comparisons involving individual players.
I asked Bednar if, as the Avs phase in the acquisitions, there will continue to be transitional issues.
“We gotta find the mix, right?” he responded. “We have to get Lehkonen in the lineup, hopefully as soon as he gets immigration and then we should be able to settle things out and take a look at some of the line combinations we want.”
As they shoot to win the franchise’s third Stanley Cup title, the precedents are at least interesting.
Here’s a look at the Avalanche late-season moves in the two years they ended up hoisting the Stanley Cup — 1996 and 2001.
It’s not meant to be evidence of anything, but rather just looks at the approaches in the championship seasons.
Of course, the Avalanche annals include many other late-season deals — major and minor — that didn’t precede championships in that same season, including the trades that brought Theo Fleury (1999) and Ray Bourque (2000) to Colorado.
But here are the ones in The Championship Seasons.
As the deadline approached, Hannan asked Sabres general manager John Muckler for a possible trade to a Cup contender.
Hannan later said the call from Muckler went this way: “Hannan, you’re going to Colorado. I hope you win a Stanley Cup.”
As a pending unrestricted free agent, he was destined to be a rental. Hannan played four games in the regular season and then had two assists in 13 games in the playoffs. Because he appeared in the Finals, skating in three games, he ended up with his name on the Stanley Cup. He finished his career with Ottawa the next season.
2000-01: The truly big deal, of course, was the acquisition of Rob Blake — plus center Stephen Reinprecht — on February 21, 2001. Colorado sent the Kings popular winger Adam Deadmarsh, defenseman Aaron Miller, the rights to prospect center Jared Aulin and a 2001 first-round pick.
Blake played 13 games down the stretch (missing eight with a sprained right knee), then had 6 goals and 13 assists in the Avs’ 23-game run to the Stanley Cup.
Reinprecht was a valuable part of the deal, given the loss of Deadmarsh at forward, and played 21 regular-season games for Colorado before getting 2 goals and 3 assists in 22 playoff games.
Also, the Avalanche on Jan. 23 acquired an insurance defenseman, Bryan Muir, from Tampa Bay for an eighth-round 2001 draft choice. He was in the lineup for eight regular-season games and three in the playoffs.
(Side note: Avalanche assistant Nolan Pratt was in the Colorado lineup for 46 games as a defenseman in the regular season, but didn’t play in the postseason. Also, defenseman Rick Berry, now a Colorado resident, was with Hershey most of the season, but was in the Colorado lineup for 19 regular-season games.)
That was so long ago — 21 years since the second title and Sakic’s touch pass to Bourque — the league has monumentally changed.
But it’s fun to at least compare.
Terry Frei (email@example.com, @tfrei) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sportswriter of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His web site is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html
His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here