Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Who could be this year's Avalanche?

The Colorado Avalanche are suffering through one of the worst 12-month stretches in modern NHL history. Short of a team moving or some sort of off-ice tragedy, it’s hard to imagine how a year could go much worse for a team.

Their coach walked out on them. The maneuvered themselves into pretty much having to trade one of their best young players, then failed to make a deal happen. They sure seemed to make a clumsy pass at a future GM, only to came up empty. And worst of all, they suffered through what was probably the worst season of the cap era, then became the first last-place team to lose the same draft lottery three times.

And that’s why it’s somewhat jarring to remember that one year ago today, nobody thought the Avalanche would be all that bad. We weren’t exactly calling them a Cup contender, but they were coming off an 82-point season in 2015–16, good enough to finish ahead of eight teams and to tie them with the Montreal Canadiens. Oddsmakers were expecting them to finish a few points over .500, and had them ranked ahead of eventual playoff teams like the Blue Jackets, Senators and Maple Leafs.

And then it all went horribly wrong. But not many of us saw it coming until it was too late. So today, let’s ask the question: Could any of the current middle-of-the-pack teams be this year’s Avalanche?

To be clear, it’s exceedingly unlikely that any team implodes quite like Colorado did – that was a perfect storm of bad luck, poor timing and utter ineptitude. But could any teams that finished last season in roughly the same not-great-but-not-awful ballpark as the 2015–16 Avs be in danger of a major collapse of their own?

We’ll exclude the four teams that finished last year with 70 points or fewer – that’s the Canucks, Coyotes, Devils and (of course) the Avalanche – as well as the expansion Golden Knights, since all of those teams are expected to be bad. That still leaves us with 10 non-playoff teams that finished the year roughly in the 2015–16 Avalanche’s range. Of those, here are five teams who could be at risk of seeing a Colorado-style plummet down the standings.

New York Islanders

2016-17 finish: 41-29-12, 94 points, 17th overall

Warning signs on the dashboard: John Tavares. I mean, this should be done by now, shouldn’t it? Heading into the off-season, we were assured that the Islanders were going to either extend their franchise player for as long as possible or, failing that, explore moving him. Instead, nothing seems to be happening, and it’s starting to feel possible that no news is bad news.

We tend to talk way too much about distractions in the sports world, but this year’s Islanders feel like a team where it could actually apply. If Tavares heads into the season without a deal and suddenly every minor thing that happens starts turning into a referendum on the team’s long-term future, things could get ugly.

That seems unlikely – Tavares still sounds like a guy who wants to stay, and there’s a good chance this whole thing gets wrapped up and then Islander fans point and laugh at anyone who suggested it wouldn’t. But as Avalanche fans could tell you, sometimes the unlikely worst-case scenario is the one that ends up happening.

Why they should be OK: They’re the best team on our list in terms of last year’s standings; remember, they finished with as many points as the Cup-finalist Predators. They were also a downright impressive 24-12-8 under interim coach Doug Weight, who now holds the full-time job. And that was before they added Jordan Eberle.

Maybe more importantly, failure doesn’t seem to be an option right now. With Tavares looming over everything, new ownership looking for a new arena, and Garth Snow’s job potentially on the line, the Islanders don’t seem like a team that can afford to be bad this year. That’s a dangerous situation, because it can lead a team into some bad long-term decisions. But it should mean that a total collapse would be unlikely, if only because Snow would do everything in his power to prevent it.

But all bets are off if…: Tavares decides he wants out, and Snow has to go into scramble mode to salvage something of the situation. Again, that’s unlikely. But among more realistic scenarios, recall that the goaltending is still a question mark, and the blue line just lost Travis Hamonic. The Metro was brutal last year, and with the Flyers and Hurricanes on the way up there won’t be much room for error here.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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