The sky has almost officially fallen in Colorado. With just three wins in their past 15 games, it is clear that something isn't right for the Avalanche. Things came to a peak on Wednesday when superstar Nathan MacKinnon was seen in a screaming match with head coach Jared Bednar in the middle of their disappointing 5-3 loss to Calgary.
MacKinnon has every right to be upset this season as his line, featuring Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, has basically carried the load of the team all season long. The line has combined for 73 of the Avalanche 151 goals (48.3%) and sit 2nd, 3rd, and 15th respectively in the league points race.
The lack of depth didn't seem to affect the Avalanche until December hit. They were battling for first in the Western conference, and their one line approach had them winning eight games in a nine game stretch in November.
Everything hit a snag when starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov started battling both injuries and poor play. The Avalanche were forced to use offseason acquisition Philipp Grubauer as their starter and he did not fare well. With seven losses in his past nine starts, Grubauer has shown none of the promise that he did as the back up to the Capitals Braden Holtby. With a save percentage under .900, it seems as though Grubauer can't save a beach ball this season.
All of this, mixed together, has the Avalanche superstars on their last straw. While their best player, Nate MacKinnon, is locked up long term ($6.3 million through the 2022-23 season) and they don't have to worry about him leaving, they are dangerously close to a contract dispute with impending RFA and team point leader Mikko Rantanen.
Put yourself into Rantanen's shoes. The team is falling apart underneath your line, your goalie is a siv, and your team can't win to save it's life. Is this somewhere that you can see yourself for the next eight years? I know I wouldn't.
There's a real simple way to fix this, and its' one that might suit the Avalanche really well... start hitting the phones and improve. GM Joe Sakic has so much to work with it's almost comical. On top of having their own draft picks from the first three rounds this season, they also own the first and third round pick of the bottom dwelling Ottawa Senators. Essentially they could give away a first round pick this season, and still end up with 17 year old phenom Jack Hughes.
Outside of their draft pick situation, they have some incredible pieces in their system. Their system includes last years first round pick Martin Kaut, who tore it up in the world juniors for the Czech Republic, Shane Bowers, who they received in the Matt Duchene trade, and 2017 first round pick Cale Makar, who has looked incredible playing for UMass in the NCAA.
Whether it's one of these three, or any one of their lower level prospects the pieces are there to make a trade. And judging by the records of some teams this season, there are definitely some players available.
The first place I would look is Philadelphia. While the team has said they want to win now, and have no interest in rebuilding, there have been plenty of rumours regarding forward Wayne Simmonds. If they go this route, Simmonds would add some much needed depth and grit to the front end of Colorado for the foreseeable future.
The other option, however, is the most fun option for the NHL. There was one trade last year that was highly scrutinized in the NHL media world... The Matt Duchene deal. The Ottawa Senators gave up their first round pick (which will undoubtedly become a lottery pick), Shane Bowers, and Kyle Turris away in the deal and received Matt Duchene in return. The deal sent Ottawa into a nose dive, and their franchise has been in shambles ever since.
Just over a year later, wouldn't it be great if the Avalanche could trade the Sens their pick back in order to receive Mark Stone? It wouldn't be a far cry, given the Senators need to give the fans something to look forward to, and their inability to come to terms with Stone or Duchene. The winger would add one more above average winger to a team that desperately needs him on both ends of the ice.
These are just two potential deals that Sakic could look into. One thing is for sure though, he needs to do something ASAP. I understand that you can't let the inmates run the prison, but if your best player checks out early, and your second best player decides to sit out for any period of time in the offseason a la William Nylander, then you will be in big trouble as an organization.
The time is now for Sakic. He needs to handle this situation with care, and hopefully give the team exactly what it needs in order to salvage what's left of this once promising season.