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Avalanche ‘confident’ a turnaround can happen, but no one’s safe as off-season approaches

Jared Clinton
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Nathan MacKinnon (center) and Matt Duchene (right) (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Avalanche ‘confident’ a turnaround can happen, but no one’s safe as off-season approaches

Jared Clinton
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The Colorado Avalanche lost their final six games and blew a chance to overtake the Minnesota Wild for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference, and now no one is safe. GM Joe Sakic said he will "explore different options" to improve the team in hopes of breaking a two-year playoff drought.

When the Colorado Avalanche were officially eliminated from the post-season, coach Patrick Roy didn’t mince words. He called it completely unacceptable, saying he was disappointed and frustrated in the performance of the Avalanche. It’s hard not to be considering that the Minnesota Wild left the door wide open, and the Avalanche didn’t even take a step towards it.

The Wild, who were ahead of the Avalanche by three points on March 28, lost each of their final five games and gave Colorado every bit of help possible to make the playoffs. However, the Avalanche blew their opportunity, doing the Wild one better and dropping each of their final six games, finishing five points out of the post-season and missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. After disappointment like that, no one is pleased with the Avalanche’s performance, and GM Joe Sakic made clear that things are going to change in Colorado and that no player should be considered untouchable.

"Wayne Gretzky got traded — twice," Sakic told the Associated Press’ Pat Graham. "We have to explore different options to see how we can become a better team."

When it comes to exploring those options, there are plenty of notable moves that could happen. Chief among them is the potential trade of Matt Duchene. It’s the most attractive deal for a number of reasons, and there are reasons to believe the trade could happen. The talented pivot came under fire after he celebrated his 30th goal of the season too boisterously for Roy’s liking, angering the coach during the final days of the season, and he has long been rumored as a potential trade chip for the Avalanche. He’d surely fetch a good return, and Duchene himself acknowledged a trade could come to pass.

"Early in the year, there were lots of rumors, and it's part of the business,” Duchene told The Denver Post’s Terry Frei last week. “All I can do is be the best I can be and play as hard as I can for my teammates and do whatever I can do to help this team win.”

Duchene’s scoring ability and potential are what make him the most intriguing option, and the three years and $18 million remaining on his deal aren’t immovable considering he’s a consistent 20-goal and 50- to 60-point threat. Add to it that the Avalanche also boast talented, team-leading youngsters in captain Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon and it makes it that much easier Duchene to be dealt.

However, as Sakic said, anyone can be moved. As hard as it may be to believe, that could mean MacKinnon and Landeskog are possible options, no matter how unlikely that seems. If that’s the case, one would guess the return would have to be much greater. It’s clear, though, that Roy wants more from his stars.

“Eventually, we have to admit, (don’t we)? We need more from these guys,” Roy said following an April 3 loss to the St. Louis Blues. “I love these guys. I think (Landeskog) is pretty much alone in that. I think (Erik Johnson) is trying. But we need more from these guys. These guys need to prove to us that they’re capable of carrying this team.”

But no matter who is dealt, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which any trades the Avalanche make don’t change the forward group before anything else, if only because Colorado needs help most on the defensive side of the puck. They’ve got some offensive depth in Jarome Iginla, Carl Soderberg, Blake Comeau and John Mitchell, and the holes on the back end are far more apparent.

And while there may be no players who cannot be moved, Johnson, who Roy said was trying to be a leader, has a seven-year, $42-million contract begin in 2016-17. That will make him difficult to move, and the contract was a sign from the Avalanche that they value Johnson’s contributions. Veteran Francois Beauchemin signed during the off-season, has a no-movement clause and was serviceable for the Avalanche in his first campaign with the team. He’ll probably stick around. There’s also Tyson Barrie, who seems a near lock to stay as he’s already shown he can be a solid puck-moving blueliner for the Avalanche. Outside of those three, though, there could be some moving parts on Colorado’s blueline, specifically the bottom three defensemen. The depth of the blueline needs to be sorted out, and it’s an area that needs major improvement before the Avalanche take the next step forward.

Considering the state of Colorado’s defense, trading away offensive talent for a solid top-four blueliner could pay immediate dividends. There’s no guarantee of that, of course, but trading Duchene or packaging a few pieces together could definitely fetch some defensive talent in return if the Avalanche found the right trading partner.

The one move that won’t be made is, however, is the firing of Roy, even amidst troubling underlying numbers that the Avalanche will seemingly need to defy in order to make the post-season more than a thought. But Sakic said he has faith in the coach, and that might mean providing him with what he believes is the right personnel to get the job done.

"This isn't a quick fix," Sakic said, via Graham. "We're confident we can turn things around.”

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Avalanche ‘confident’ a turnaround can happen, but no one’s safe as off-season approaches