The Avs 2020 deadline moves got mixed reviews, although generally positive. They sent a 2021 4th round choice to Ottawa for Vlad Namestnikov and sent Calle Rosen back to the Leafs for 3rd goalie Michael Hutchinson. There were a few subsequent roster moves between the Avs and Eagles with no net effect.
The feelings about this fork into two categories: folks who think the Avs needed to do something substantial in order to win the Stanley Cup and folks who didn’t. This week we’re going to delve into why management did and didn’t do various moves and why that’s ok.
We’ve seen three games since the deadline, all 3 were wins. Rosters are now unlimited until the playoffs so players are free to stay as long as they are needed. Here’s how it lined out on Saturday:
Landy – Mack – Nuke/Namestnikov
Nieto/Nuke – Compher – Donskoi
Barbs – PEB – O’Connor
random – Jost – Kaut
Sam – EJ
Graves – Makar
Zadorov – Cole
Scratch: Kamenev, Burky (LBI?)
Injured: Mikko (UBI), Kadri (LBI), Calvert (LBI), Grubi (LBI), Willie (ABI)
Namestnikov has seen time on every line and in every situation since joining the team. That’s to be expected while the staff finds his strengths and weaknesses and role compatibility. He’s been ok as a benign passenger in the top 6 but I liked him best with Bellemare and Kaut. No goals so far but he did assist on one vs Carolina on Friday. I like that he’s not of of place anywhere really. He’s quick, plays with an edge and seems responsible defensively despite little time with the system. I don’t have a feel for where he fits when guys start returning from injury yet but that can be said for a lot of the forwards right now.
Joe Sakic and the Avs management put together a really solid offseason in hindsight. Adding players in the top 6 like Kadri, Burakovski and Donskoi really augmented the Avs daily threat level. Val Nichushkin has been a revelation that no one saw coming. Summer is when the hard work gets done to build a contender, not the deadline. I think it’s fair to say that adding large pieces at the deadline means the staff didn’t do their jobs in June. The Avs didn’t need anything, which reflects well.
Sakic spoke before the deadline and said basically they were looking to improve the team if they could but weren’t going to borrow from the future to do it. The one concrete statement he made was that they needed another 3rd goalie and that was in the works. Both things turned out to be true.
In the post-deadline press conference Sakic kept coming back to two important points: they liked what they had done last summer and how the team chemistry was working and that there were assets they were not willing to part with to change the roster at the moment. The former statement is a massive change from 3 years ago when they had boatloads of dead weight on the way to a 48 point season but even going back to last year I didn’t get the feeling they were satisfied with the roster anywhere near as much they are now. The mainstream hockey media narrative of the Avs going “big game hunting” at the deadline was always a little forced and out of touch for me. They don’t appreciate how good this team is because of East Coast bias and their understanding of the Avs minor league and amateur prospect systems is superficial at best.
The other main point has to do with the Avs prospects and how they see them fitting into the team’s plans. They have a solid pipeline for the first time in ages and it’s easy to see the media saying they should buy a cheeseburger for $100 because they have a hundred bucks in their pocket and they’re hungry. Sakic knows what they have and also what it took to get there, smartly he’s committed to bringing those players along for the long haul. Forgetting rules and regulations for a moment, they could ice a 5-man unit of Bowers/Newhook/Kaut & Byram/Timmins tomorrow and they would be fine. That’s not roster depth, which is fleeting and only costs money, it’s organizational depth, which is how teams become yearly contenders. Sakic also knows that the days of top-20 draft choices every year are probably gone for a while so what they have has to count until they become strong enough to sell older players for top draft picks.
Overall it was reassuring to hear the commitment to what they had done so far and to making this the norm for the foreseeable future.
On the coaching side
Coach Bednar followed up Joe’s presser with a long one of his own that covered a variety of topics. He talked about Namestnikov being able to play a wide range of roles which is what we’ve seen so far. Also talked about Francouz and the team having a lot of confidence in front of him. A couple things stood out to me.
First off was about Tyson Jost. The rumors swirled leading into the deadline about him being as good as gone and maybe that’s true but listening to both Sakic and Bednar you wouldn’t know it. Both said his play had picked up a lot in the last few weeks, which I agree with and would tend to discount some of those rumors. The issue was scoring but as we saw this week that’s been corrected for the moment. He tied for the team lead with 2 goals (Landy & Kaut also did the same) and 4 points (with Sam). Maybe he was being shopped but got a vote of confidence instead and it paid off for everyone.
We haven’t seen a callup like Martin Kaut in… I don’t really know we have seen one. He’s rapidly earned Bednar’s trust, which he commented on, and not in a “warm body playing 6 minutes” kind of way like all the AHL vets this year. JB liked his competitiveness and how he creates opportunities, which like Jost also panned out well this week. JB definitely didn’t give the impression he was in a hurry to see him go. There are some hard barriers to sticking much longer, his ELC slide doesn’t happen if he starts 4 more games and once the injury brigade gets healthy he’s probably a victim of numbers, but this is a guy they’re already penciling into next October’s opening night lineup.
While talking about Kaut, JB mentioned Coach Cronin of the Eagles and how his evaluations jibed with what the NHL staff was seeing. He got another question later expanding on that and it’s an interesting relationship. The Avs NHL and AHL coaches have never really had much of a relationship. They would spend a few days early in camp together then it was see ya next year. Bednar talked about getting to know Cronin at this year’s camp and actually getting on the same page about how each could help the other be more successful. This is the piece of the puzzle we’ve been looking for. Interaction, discussion, common evaluation, one hand knowing what the other is doing. I like the idea of having a guy like Cronin as the AHL coach (and whatever other secret titles he holds in the org). He’s experienced enough to have the trust of the decision-makers but pretty much at the ceiling of his career so he won’t be bolting for greener pastures anytime soon. That’s not a knock on him, he’s accomplished a lot over the last 25 years. It’s still early in this confluence of ideas and there’s plenty of room for improvement but Bednar’s confidence in Cronin’s evaluations and the fact that Kaut was put in a role that fit and succeeded immediately is very promising.
Bednar has always been a guy that’s hyper-focused on the short term. During this presser he even deflected a question about what happens when Mikko & Co. return from injury and said that he’s not worried about what happens next week or next month. Part of the growth that Joe Sakic has shown as a GM is expanding his horizons and building for the long term. The Avs have short drafts in the next two years but that comes after two straight years with a surplus. He has yet to trade a 1st round pick and the only 1st round selection he’s traded was Connor Bleackley. So maybe he’s not as short-sighted as previously thought. It’s a good mix and this is how a GM and Head Coach should complement each other.
Another showdown with the wingys tomorrow then another 1-game homestand vs Anaheim and finally another trip out West.
Thanks as always to the NHL and Natural Stat Trick for numbers and visuals