Kevin Shattenkirk now of the St. Louis Blues moves the puck up ice against his former team, the Colorado Avalanche. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Let me be the first one to say that last season I was raving about the Colorado Avalanche as an example of how to rebuild an NHL franchise. Good drafting, successful development, smart free-agent signings, some good veterans and perhaps the most elusive ingredient, powerful chemistry that both players and coaches could feel. It oozed from them.
The intensity of the feeling was tangible when you visited their locker-room. Having covered two of their regular-season games as well as the first-round playoff scare they gave San Jose, it was easy to get a clear image of this team, their organizational culture and most importantly, their sense of direction.
The Avs were, without question, well ahead of their own three-year plan last year and one couldn't help but be excited with their wealth of young talent, passion and desire to play with and for each other.
The coaching staff created an environment that was the envy of all but three other teams I saw all last season, and that includes the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Guys in Colorado loved going to the rink.
In spite of battling injuries earlier in the season, the Avs were still very good at the quarter pole. Defenceman John Michael Liles was on a tear offensively, Chris Stewart was scoring at will, Matt Duchene took his game to a higher level, David Jones bounced back from an ACL reconstruction and was lighting the lamp the way he did prior to last season's injury and Kevin Shattenkirk was showing impressive poise and offensive instincts, especially for a rookie defenceman.
Craig Anderson, who carried this team on his back last season for a Vezina candidate type year, was nowhere near his consistent and spectacular level, but as important as he was to this team something more was happening: There was a sense of panic on the bench and that completely eroded the confidence and camaraderie of last season.
All of a sudden good utility men like T.J Galiardi, Brandon Yip, and last year's regular season and playoff leading goal scorer Chris Stewart are healthy scratches. What's that all about? Slick John-Michael Lies and playmaker Paul Stastny are not allowed to play a bit of the risk-reward game that skilled players need to play. I understand Duchene is the face of the franchise, but at the expense of other potential stars and solid complimentary players? Tell me one player that who can win and be successful alone.
The recent trade of Chris Stewart - a budding power forward and one of the most respected and favourite players in the Avalanche room - along with uber-talented offensive rookie defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk has left me literally scratching my head.
I thought Erik Johnson was tremendous for Team USA during last year's Olympics in Vancouver, and certainly can become a stud in the NHL - just not at the cost of Stewart and Shattenkirk.
I know first-hand that deals happen in pro sports, but trading two core pieces leaves me wondering not only where the Avs have fallen to but where they're going, and most important of all, what blueprint they are following.
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