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Avalanche are a team in turmoil after ignoring all the warning signs

Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, right, of Russia, makes a glove save of a redirected shot off the stick of Vancouver Canucks left wing Daniel Sedin, front left, of Sweden, as Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda, back left, of the Czech Republic, covers in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Denver on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014.

David Zalubowski/AP Photo

When the betting lines came out in early September, a week before NHL training camps opened, the oddsmakers weren't exactly high on the Colorado Avalanche.

A 112-point team last season, they had dipped to an over/under of 98.5 in the eyes of the bookies.

But when the public got a look at the line, they went with the under, hard and fast. So hard, in fact, that it started dropping within hours, first to 96.5 then 95.5.

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These days, those folks driving it down seem pretty smart.

Fourteen games into the season, the Avs are reeling. They head into Thursday's meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs on a three-game losing streak and with a 3-6-5 record that has been kept as high as it is only due to netminder Semyon Varlamov's terrific play. As far as the line is concerned, they're on pace for only 64 points.

As early as it is, that's not fatal. But the warning signs are everywhere that this is a team in turmoil after so many accolades last season.

Being booed off the ice after another stinker, a 5-2 loss to visiting Vancouver, earlier this week didn't help.

"Maybe it is time to start worrying a little," the Denver Post's Adrian Dater wrote. "Or maybe a lot."

"We have talked and talked about what we need to do, but if we don't start doing it, the season is going to slip through our fingers," defenceman Erik Johnson said.

"If we don't wake up soon, it's going to be too late."

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The Avs and Leafs are sort of twins in a sense because both organizations have been down this troubled path. Toronto was the team every analytics aficionado out there picked for a drop in the standings prior to last season, and it came in the form of a playoff-less 84-point year.

That brought in sweeping changes, with new assistant coaches, an analytics team and new management willing to embrace the idea that getting heavily outshot night after night wasn't a sustainable way to win.

Colorado's not there yet. The Avs off-season – which included losing Paul Stastny and PA Parenteau and bringing in Jarome Iginla, Danny Brière and Brad Stuart as the cavalry – wasn't great, and it appears to have only exacerbated their issues.

A team with some of the brightest young talent in the Western Conference is 23rd in goals scored and better than only woeful Buffalo in possession at 42.9 per cent.

They've already been hammered territorially by several teams, good (Minnesota) and not as good (Toronto), and are relying on a defence core where Nick Holden is the No. 2 and Stuart is counted on for 20 minutes a night.

The things that have gone their way – the goaltending and the league-best penalty kill – may not be sustainable, although Varlamov's certainly made a case early that last year was no fluke.

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What you can't take away from Colorado is the nice foundation they've built with Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly down the middle, remarkable centre depth in a league where teams are desperate for anything close to having two of those three.

Young defenceman Tyson Barrie looks like a player. Captain Gabriel Landeskog obviously does, too.

All is not lost, in other words – especially if the end result of all this losing is another decent draft pick.

Even still, none of this wears particularly well on the former Avs greats in charge. There were clear warning signs there that this could happen – hence all those bets against them – and they largely ignored them.

"At the end of the day, it's who wins the game," general manager Joe Sakic told the Post in September, in one particularly controversial article that suggested the analytics were off-base on the Avs.

"We gave up a lot of shots, yes," last year's coach of the year, Patrick Roy, added at one point during the off-season. "But it's not a concern to us."

Here's betting it will be come the summer of 2015.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More


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