The losing culture of the Colorado Avalanche is damaging players. This can carry through to next season.
Right now the Colorado Avalanche have little chance of winning. At the halfway point in the season (41 games in), they have just 13 wins. Only five of those have come at home.
Now, we all know how hard it is for us fans to watch a losing team. Heck, a lot of fans aren’t even watching anymore. It’s just so frustrating.
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However, I maintain that’s it’s so much harder for the players.
Acknowledged: Colorado Avalanche players, like all professional athletes, make really good money. Even the least-paid player makes six figures — I, for one, wouldn’t turn my nose up at Andreas Martinsen’s $640,000.
However, the lure of a payout isn’t what forces a player to undergo the grind of practices, flights and games — all of which wear a body down. (Especially since there seem to be mechanical problems with planes these days.) It’s the chance to win.
“Whether you’re in bantam or the NHL, it’s the same thing. Our whole lives have been about winning games and making the playoffs and winning.”
That’s not at all where the Avs are right now.
Pundits talk all the time about creating a losing culture in the locker room. That’s exactly what the Colorado Avalanche have right now.
Here’s the situation. Not only are the Avs dead last in the NHL, but they lose more often at home than on the road. They have just five wins in 21 games at home. The players have been booed off the ice more than once.
Not only that, but they’re getting roasted in the media. This is especially true of the young core players like MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. They hear at every turn how they’re supposed to be carrying the team.
Even worse, there’s constant trade speculation surrounding these players — all the players, in fact. There’s no way Jarome Iginla and Francois Beauchemin can’t know that the majority of Avs Nation would like to see them gone.
Duchene and Landeskog are also the constant center of trade rumors. They’re trying to keep their heads up but, as the Denver Post pointed out, the pressure is wearing on Duchene at least. Heaven knows Landeskog is also starting to look older than his 24 years.
In short, the culture of losing is damaging the players.
Here’s the most frustrating aspect about the Colorado Avalanche losing culture for me: It was somewhat planned. The front offices seem to have been willing to relegate this season to the dumpster.
Last season, when fans were calling for big changes in coaching or the front offices, I pointed out what was obvious to me. Such big changes mean the rebuild starts over. It’s not so much that the team did a 180 as they took a hard right turn.
For three seasons the Avalanche were building toward being a big, gritty, hard-working team with speed and talent. Whether you like that profile or not, that’s what the team was drafting and signing to be. You see that with acquisitions such as Francois Beauchemin, Jarome Iginla and Blake Comeau. You see that in their draft picks, especially Mikko Rantanen.
Last summer the team took that hard right turn. Now the emphasis is on speed and talent with a solid nod to analytics. Size, grit and hard work aren’t as highly prized. You see it in their drafting and, especially, in the acquisitions made during the season.
This may make you happy in the new team profile, especially the emphasis on analytics. However, the change is the reason this season was relegated to the dumpster. We’re still stuck with some of the players who are in the old mold.
And the front offices were cognizant that this would be the way of it. GM Joe Sakic has emphasized that the team will shed at least $17 million in salary at the conclusion of this season. The understanding is that they can make the changes they want next summer.
Already, just before the halfway mark of the season, Sakic admitted on Altitude Sports Radio that the Colorado Avalanche weren’t making the playoffs this season.
That may seem like a blatantly obvious point to you, but think about it from a player’s perspective. You’re not even halfway through the season, and your GM has already given up on you. The team hasn’t been mathematically eliminated yet, but your GM has tacitly stated that a run at playoff contention is impossible.
Tell me, as a player, how do you get the fire in your belly to push and win games after hearing that?
I’m going to guess that the Colorado Avalanche will win some more games — I doubt they’ll lose the remaining 41 in the season. However, I suspect they’ll still finish dead last in the NHL.
Though all kinds of money will be freed up this summer to make key acquisitions, this dumpster season is damaging to the team because it creates a losing culture inside the players.
Side note: I think this was the final piece of the puzzle in Patrick Roy leaving. He was a self-described player’s coach and someone who hated to lose above all things. If he saw that was the direction the front offices were taking, there was no way he could align himself with them.
Already the Avs players describe themselves as “fragile” — this has come from more than one player on more than one occasion. As soon as something goes wrong in a game, they feel the pressure of the losing culture weighing down on them.
Forward Taylor Hall, while with a losing Edmonton Oilers team, alluded the feeling in the Sporting News:
“You kind of forget how fun it is to be a part of a group of guys who win and have results.”
When your whole life is about winning, being part of a losing culture takes its toll on you. MacKinnon said it himself: “It wears on you.”
This is not something our core players are going to just get over. Sure, they’ll go on to have success at IIHF Worlds, especially the Canadian players. That’s the fun Hall was referring to in the quote above. Sure, the players are going to train hard over the summer to be ready for next season.
However, hockey is a fast-paced, passionate game. Next year, we’ll have all those small, speedy, talented players in place to support our core. How much will it matter, though? Players will have that losing feeling inside of them. They may experience the same mental lapses that have led to disaster in games this season.