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Klee: Talent, not coaching, the issue with Colorado Avalanche

By: Paul Klee
March 31, 2016 Updated: April 1, 2016 at 8:48 am
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Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy calls out to his players during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul, Minn., Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015. The Wild won 1-0. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

CENTENNIAL — It could be the steady stream of optimism that chaps your hide with Patrick Roy. He digs his guys, backs his guys, and right now, on the doorstep of another playoff-less season, "good job, good effort" is not what folks want to hear.

"I am very proud of the way we've been (playing). No one's giving up, no one's looking for excuses," the Colorado Avalanche coach said Thursday following a workout at Family Sports Center. "The guys are playing hard."

It could be his reliance (overreliance?) on Semyon Varlamov. Calvin Pickard has his moments in goal, doesn't he? Maybe you'd like to see more. Or it could be that Roy, the face of the franchise way back when and now, hasn't yet totally destroyed the pesky partition that separates the home bench from the visiting team's bench. Rip it down, St. Patrick! Where's the fire? Finish what you started on the night this era started.

All of the above — the positive vibes; his decisions on ice time; the fact Roy hasn't burned down the house, kicking and screaming - have been posed as issues that local puckheads have with Roy as another hockey season around here closes with a whimper.

Really, it's just the wins and losses. If a college basketball coach falls short of the NCAA tournament, his sideline demeanor goes under fire. If an NFL coach tumbles to a 7-9 record, his play-calling is ripe fodder for critics. 

And with five games left and the Avs on the brink of missing the playoffs for the second straight year, nitpicking the coach is understandable.

Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, of Russia, pauses after allowing a goal by St. Louis Blues' Troy Brouwer (36) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) 

But it looks from here like those criticisms are misdirected. The Avs haven't spiraled from playoff contention because of Roy. They simply don't have the talent or roster depth the playoff teams do. It's a ninth-place roster in a field that rewards eight teams.

Unless the ice in Minnesota thaws into a puddle and the Wild somehow blow a five-point lead over the final week, the Avs are headed right where they belong: Out of the playoffs.

The Avs and Wild aren't as close as the standings suggest - Minnesota in the final wild-card spot, the Avs on the outside looking in. Heading into Friday's home game against the rocking and rolling Washington Capitals, who already have clinched the Presidents' Trophy, the Avs show a goal differential of minus-13 on the season. The Wild's? Plus-20.

It's a glaring gap that suggests coaching isn't at the forefront of Colorado's issues.

Talent is. The Avs don't have enough.

To build the Avs into a consistent winner that enters April concerned over playoff seeding instead of a playoff berth, Roy's title as head coach will take a backseat to his title as vice president of hockey operations and his working relationship with general manager and ol' buddy Joe Sakic. The moves they make in the next offseason must strengthen their two greatest weaknesses, at the blue line and in their heads.

There must be moves — significant moves — since the same bugaboos that doomed the Avs in 2014-15 have surfaced again in 2015-16: Not enough capable bodies on defense, for one, and a penchant for folding when the pressure is on, for another.

When the going gets tough — whether it was in a seven-game series against the Wild in Roy's first season, or down the stretch this season — the Avs too often wilt.

"I really think highly of our group. Have we played the way we should during the season? Probably not. Can we learn? Yes," Roy said. "But this is a good group. This is a group that wants to do well. This is a group that plays hard night after night after night. One thing is there — the commitment of working hard, the commitment to perform well is there. That tells a lot of the group."

Again, not what folks want to hear. But the hunch here is that some time around April 9, after the season finale between the Avs and Ducks at Pepsi Center, the tune will change, that Roy and the front office will attempt to make the roster uncomfortable, that almost no one's job will be deemed safe.

"Do I believe our core could have done more? Yeah," Roy said. "But these questions are for the end of the season."

Like John Elway with the Broncos, Roy can't be above criticism because he brought a pair of championship trophies to Colorado as a player. Both should be fair game, and there will be no shortage of armchair goaltenders if the Avalanche are in this position in 2017.

But another playoff-less spring at Pepsi Center isn't an indictment of the coach. It's a testament to a roster that again has been exposed as not quite good enough.

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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