At this point, the Colorado Avalanche are likely thankful for the NHL lockout: 82 games of this level of mediocrity would have been unbearable. As it is, the team has just 9 games left until they’re put out of their misery. It would be completely understandable if the team just mailed it in down the stretch, accepted their last place finish, and started making their off-season plans.
On Monday night, that’s exactly what Colorado goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere accused his teammates of doing, unleashing some of the most devastating denunciations that I have ever seen a player direct at his own team. And, while understandable, giving up is also unacceptable.
Some guys are more worried about their Vegas trip at the end of the season than playing the games, than playing every minute of the games. Quite frankly, I don’t care about your Vegas trip right now.
Ouch. Giguere clearly has a lot of professional pride, and it’s taking a beating during the Avalanche’s slide (rhyming and pun not intentional). Shortly after, he said, “It’s embarrassing. I’m embarrassed to be here right now. It’s not even funny.”
Very little has gone right for the Avalanche this season, from the Ryan O’Reilly contract debacle to Paul Stastny scoring just 19 points in 31 games (albeit in very tough minutes) with a $6.6 million millstone hanging around his neck. They’re the second lowest-scoring team in the league and have only allowed fewer goals than the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers, who sit just above them in the standings. They’ve lost five straight and 13 of their last 15 games and are currently have a 3-point lead in the race for last place.
Giguere made his comments after a 3-1 loss to the Flames, a game that was, cynically speaking, in the Avalanche’s best interest to lose. A win would have propelled the Avalanche past the Flames into 14th in the Western Conference and 29th in the league. A small run of wins could even take them out of the bottom-three in the league and away from the consensus top-three draft picks, Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones, and Jonathan Drouin.
The 35-year-old has experienced success at the highest level, winning a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, as well as winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in a losing effort with the Ducks in 2003. He hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2009, however, and it has to be frustrating to see another season slip away, particularly when he sees his teammates seemingly content to coast down the stretch instead of playing with any sense of passion or commitment.
“We had a big meeting two or three days ago, a players-only meeting. We talked about some stuff and I thought we had a good response against Dallas at home (Wednesday). Then we have a day off, then come back and practice, and I thought our practice was just awful,” Giguere said. “The effort wasn’t there. We practiced defensive zone coverage, and guys weren’t taking the body and swirling and stuff like that. This is the stuff we have to work on every day. I told a couple of the guys that ‘I don’t think we’ll have a good game today.’ It’s unacceptable. It’s an everyday job. You’ve got to work hard every day. You’ve got to be a lot more desperate than that.”
Desperation is likely in short supply right now, as any chance of making the playoffs is long gone and there aren’t even that many players on the roster fighting for jobs or contracts for next season.
Most teams in Colorado’s position would have been stripped for spare parts at the trade deadline, trading away everything that isn’t nailed down for prospects and draft picks in hopes of improving the team for the future. Instead, they only swapped AHL prospects with the Dallas Stars and traded Ryan O’Byrne for a 4th round pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s a lot easier for a gutted roster to earn a first overall pick in the NHL entry draft; the Avalanche look like they’ll do it with essentially the same roster that they started the season with, if not one improved by the addition of O’Reilly.
What has to be particularly scary for Avalanche fans is that the team is largely set for next season as well. They have just four players on their current roster that are pending unrestricted free agents and just two of them are significant: Milan Hejduk and Chuck Kobasew. The rest of the roster is signed at least through next season, which means that without a significant free agent signing or some major wheeling and dealing in the off-season, next season’s Avalanche team is going to be about the same as this season’s.
It’s not all bad, of course. The Avalanche do have a number of very good young players like Gabe Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Duchene, and Tyson Barrie. Of course, it’s entirely likely that the youngsters on the roster are also the target of Giguere’s comments.
How will the team react? Will they dismiss the comments and Giguere along with them? Will it light a fire under them, causing the Avalanche to string wins together down the stretch and carry them further away from Jones, MacKinnon, and Drouin? Or will we just see a bunch of players change their off-season travel plans, so they’re not seen as the target of his invectives?