There are many encouraging aspects of the Colorado Avalanche’s play on ice and in front office decisions over the last year, notwithstanding the current losing streak. Some progress is not enough if the organization is ever going to truly take the next step. The devil is in the details and that’s where the problems continue to persist.
As always, the Avalanche’s true colors show in management of their AHL team. While it’s been nice to see priority given to playing and developing Martin Kaut, Ty Lewis and Igor Shvyrev, the latter still has to play on the fourth line with no power play time and gets saddled with linemates such as Cody Bass on a regular basis however. At least they are mostly playing consistently, which couldn’t be said for Josh Dickinson. He was one of the organization’s first prospect signings in the spring as he left college after just his freshman season and is now only playing after seeing the bench for several weeks because Dominic Toninato got injured. A close eye will be kept on how forward usage evolves over the season but for once this is a smaller area of concern.
Brandon Saigeon never got the chance to sign a professional contract because despite drafting him in the fifth round in the 2018 draft as a 20-year old and ready to play professional hockey with his peers, he returned to the OHL to lap the field in an overage season. The Avalanche apparently signed too many forwards for both the AHL and to NHL contracts after he was drafted to give him any playing time. Regardless of his performance in the OHL, Saigeon will still fight the incoming crop of rookies for playing time in the AHL next season.
After the decision to send Saigeon back to junior the Avalanche then chose to sign the aforementioned Cody Bass, who is 31-years old and has played in 422 AHL games with 110 points and 877 penalty minutes. He recieved an AHL contract after he was released from his NHL Professional Try-Out in training camp where he only showed very little other than the Columbus Blue Jackets and coach Jared Bednar connection. He has dressed in every game for the Eagles he has been healthy for thus far and has been a fairly serviceable fourth liner but there could have been other options to fill that role.
Following the Bass addition the Avalanche decided to double down and claim Marko Dano off of waivers, yet another former Blue Jacket and player for Bednar. They used a NHL contract spot to bring their total up to 48 of the 50 allowable contracts, something the organization must be careful with especially if they want to sign Cale Makar this spring or make any (ill-advised) deadline moves. It is also a plausible reason why Saigeon couldn’t receive an Entry Level Contract this year.
Regardless of internal options that could perform at the same level Dano can, namely AJ Greer or even continuing to use new revelation Sheldon Dries once the roster becomes healthier, the organization thought they should add another forward to their stable of fourth line players which caused Vladislav Kamenev to sit out for several games. Now the game is to force as many of them in as small of a role as possible just to get them all in the lineup without any discernible plan or end game. This is on top of signing Matt Calvert to a three-year deal, Matt Nieto for two years and bringing Gabriel Bouque back for another year. Proper depth isn’t just hoarding multiples of the same player.
Oh, but the organization wasn’t done. Following two losses in an encouraging 4-2-2 start for the Colorado Eagles, they signed 30-year old veteran defenseman Justin Falk to a PTO. No discernible reason for it, they just likely wanted extra defensemen and gritty veteran leadership and decided to healthy scratch Nicolas Meloche initially to get Falk into the lineup. Apparently there wasn’t enough leadership from Alt, David Warsosky, Ryan Graves, Andrew Agozzino, Scott Kosmachuk and Bass with their collective 1,700+ games of AHL experience. If the concern was over Anton Lindholm, who hasn’t played in the last few contests either due to injury or poor performance, then Eagles AHL contracted defenseman Kevin Davis, who currently leads the ECHL in scoring from the back-end with 14 points in 11 games, might deserve a chance. That’s now unlikely with all the veterans in front of him.
Minutes in the AHL are an investment that will pay dividends down the line to the NHL club with a player who hopefully one day is above replacement level. That won’t happen if they keep sacrificing the cultivation of players with upside. This problem also manifests at the NHL level as well in playing bottom six players with no upside in trusted roles because that’s the safe thing to do and over matching them which degrades their trustworthiness and effectiveness.
Committing to a “younger faster” approach shouldn’t just be a catch phrase thrown out in a season with no expectations meant to generate positive press and optimism. It is imperative that the youth movement becomes a philosophy that encompasses the entire organization from the bottom up. As cracks begin to show on the surface it begs the question has anything really changed or are the Avalanche doomed to repeat the same mistakes?
Credit Colorado Eagles for the photo