Watching the unfolding series between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche, one cannot but help be struck by how good the young Aves team are. They attack the net with ferocity, move the puck beautifully and are commanding in virtually every aspect of the game. First and only question: how the hell did this happen? When we last checked in with the Aves they were a feel good story, a team that turned it around faster than anticipated, but one that was still a few years from contending. Now – holy smokes, this is a real hockey team with a legit chance to go deep.
As my beloved Vancouver Canucks begin what will likely be a long rebuild, I cannot hope, desperately, that they develop their new young acquisitions like the Aves have – put simply, I want my team to be the Aves when they grow up. What exactly, you ask, have the Aves done? They gave their young players like Landescog, and O’Reilly, Johnson and most notably, Nate McKinnon, a chance to play together. The team did not worry about veteran leadership, hoping instead that the players would build on their immense talent and youthful connections as the season wore on. Then, they paired these young stars with a coach known for developing young players and getting the most out of his squads: legendary goalie Patrick Roy. Keep in mind, the team was drafting in the top three this past season and is now the best team in a very deep Western Conference. Pretty amazing. Watching the connection between Mackinnon and his linemates on Saturday night was something else. Their puck movement was breathtaking and they dominated the Wild in a game that was never anywhere resembling close.
At the other end of the spectrum lies the perpetually rebuilding Edmonton Oilers. The team has a seeming wealth of top picks, and a frightening amount of depth but simply cannot put it together. There is almost too much talent at the front end and none at the back. They have the same sort of guys Colorado has, but simply cannot win hockey games. They are a bad team that shockingly finds themselves in the top of yet another draft. Their new coach, Dallas Eakins (by all measures a pretty good coach) simply cannot find a way to get the best out of the oft injured Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle. Another hugely telling piece of the story? Injuries have prevented the Oilers young stars from gelling and attaining their frightening potential. Last year, at the end of the season, if you had to choose one of these teams to make the playoffs there would have been no hesitation picking the Oilers. Hall has made the leap into a top ten player, and there was nowhere for the team to go but up. Instead they remain stuck in the bottom three of the West.
Alongside my beloved Canucks. I could not have been happier to see Mike Gillis go – really all he did was make our team progressively worse while somehow giving away all our assets without stockpiling any prospects (unless you count Bo Horvat and I do not). We have to bottom out, and bottom out hard. We need to fix our scouting and make sure we draft quality young players who have not already peaked (see Edler, Alex) or sign unworthy players to cap killing contracts (see Burrows, Alex and tell me who else would have paid a 15ish goal scorer 20 mill over 4 years, anyone? Anyone? Did not think so).
In Vancouver we need to pick the right GM and coach and then begin to develop young players through the draft. We are okay with being back for a couple or four years! Just please, please, please, do not let us become Calgary, constantly bandaiding past their prime guys and fighting for the 8/9th spot in the West. Too bad for the playoffs, too good for a good pick. The NHL equivalent of purgatory.
Please hockey gods (and future Vancouver GM) please let us get worse, so we can get better…like the Aves and not the Oilers.