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Klee: Colorado Avalanche's future in able hands of Roy, Sakic

By Paul Klee Updated: June 19, 2014 at 10:56 pm 0

DENVER — The Avs of 2013-14 were talented enough to win a playoff series or two.

But they weren't ready. They weren't mature enough to fend off the gritty Wild, much less the Kings or Blackhawks and their years and years of playoff moxie.

Patrick Roy tried to tell us as much, but we didn't listen. The giddiness of the moment overwhelmed common sense.

"It's tough to win the Stanley Cup," Roy whispered during the series loss to Minnesota.

There's no better summation for the lack of experience than a quick analysis of the playoff debut of Nathan MacKinnon, the Teen Who Will Be King.

In each of Colorado's three playoff wins against Minnesota, MacKinnon had at least three points. In the four losses, he had zero points. Nada. Zilch.

The day will come when MacKinnon is unstoppable in four games, instead of three, and the Avs move on to the next playoff series. That day might come next year, in fact.

"It was a faster league," top executive Joe Sakic said, "But he was still the fastest guy in the league."

How will the Avs take the next step, from sweet story to Stanley Cup contender?

Their plan, as Sakic and Roy laid it out Thursday, is to grow their young players — not to reach outside the Pepsi Center walls for a big-money free agent.

It starts with MacKinnon, whose performance proved to be the difference between winning and losing in the playoffs. It extends down the bench, from Gabriel Landeskog to Matt Duchene to Semyon Varlamov and, hopefully, to free agent Paul Stastny.

"We're definitely hopeful we will keep Paul here," Sakic said.

But if your fingers are crossed that the Avs will shell out big bucks to sign a top-flight defenseman when free agency opens July 1, untangle your finger and wave it back and forth like Dikembe Mutombo.

Not happening. That was the message from Roy and Sakic when they addressed the offseason priorities of a team that finished the regular season with 112 points.

They didn't sound like a couple of guys ready to ravage the market with a pile of cash. They sounded like a couple of guys with visions of a homegrown hockey team.

"We have to give time for these guys to develop. We certainly don't want to go on the fast track," Roy said. "But I think right now we need to remain very patient."

Patience? The combustible Patrick Roy? Against all expectations, patience was his finest quality in his first season as an NHL coach.

"I think we are going to continue that way," he said.

The new Avs have a core of young talents that roughly 24 of the other 29 teams would swap for tomorrow.

The new Avs also sent a message they are not afraid to play hardball, even if it means alienating their leading goal-scorer. By taking Ryan O'Reilly to arbitration, the Avs risked a long-term relationship with the forward in favor of sticking to their plan.

It is a message that says no player — not even a 23-year-old league leader in takeaways — is bigger than their blueprint. It's a message that says O'Reilly is, to them, a trade pawn as much as a vital piece of their future.

"Ryan is part of our core. He's a tremendous hockey player who we want to have here," Sakic said. "We're hopeful we can accomplish that. But we have our structure."

The local sports scene is ripe with unique examples of how different front offices build their rosters. So put it this way: the new Avs are more like the build-from-within Rapids than the spend-til-we-win Broncos.

On Thursday morning, Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni told me their plan in shaping a roster that can win the MLS Cup: "With the players we have, if they continue to believe in our message, in time you'll see a team that's really hard to beat."

On Thursday afternoon, Roy explained their plan in shaping a roster than can win the Stanley Cup: "It doesn't happen overnight. It's a process."

Similar, right?

Mastroeni was born in Argentina, Roy in Canada. But they share a uniform view on the path their teams must take to become true championship contenders.

Instead of seeing their rosters as being one big-name free agent away, they see them as being another year of togetherness away, another year of belief away.

"We want to continue to do what we've been doing all along: build from the inside," Roy said.

Is this the right way?

After a wonderfully entertaining season in 2013-14, the local hockey community learned it has a pair of leaders that can thrive behind a desk and on the bench, just as they did on the ice. Sakic and Roy got 'er done, balls on the table.

They earned the benefit of the doubt. This is their plan, and they are sticking to it.

"It would be very tempting to give a long-term deal and a higher price to a player," Roy said. "At the same time, if we are that close at the end, and we have already reached the (salary) cap, what are we going to do? It's very important we have a solid structure."

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Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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