Can you measure the size of an Avalanche before it occurs? That’s an issue the Colorado Avalanche are asking after only six games in this season. The weaknesses of this team are highlighted by the loss of Jay McClemment and Peter Mueller to the free agent market, the loss of Ryan O’Reilly in a contract dispute and the loss of Gabe Landeskog and Steve Downie to injury.
It’s clear the Avalanche have a forward problem, averaging 1.7 goals per game. However, perhaps their worst move was made two years ago in the Erik Johnson trade.
February 19, 2011, the Avalanche and St. Louis Blues shocked the hockey world as the Avs picked up Erik Johnson and Jay McClement for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk. Erik Johnson, a defenseman, was the Blues first overall pick in 2006. Chris Stewart was the 18th overall pick by the Avalanche in the same draft.
The trade really came down to the two teams wishing to part ways with their frustrating young stars for new problems. The next year, the Blues finished with the second most points in the Western Conference, while the Avalanche were well out of the playoffs in 11th place.
The 2013 Avalanche, who have managed just four points in the standings through their first six games, lack physical forwards who create opportunities, especially with Landeskog out of the lineup. This was Stewart’s primary role, a physical forward who could also help the Avalanche score goals. Although Stewart was injured trying to fulfill the enforcer role that helped him break in to the league and he at times did not seem committed on the ice, his presence would immensely help the Avalanche as they are currently assembled.
The Avalanche instead gave in to their frustrations and shipped Stewart to the Blues and rewarded forward David Jones with a big contract. The year the Avalanche traded Stewart, Jones finished with 45 points to Stewart’s 53. Last year, Jones had 37 points and Stewart had 30. Stewart signed a one-year deal with the Blues worth $3 million for this season. Jones was given four-years totaling $16 million. So far this year, Stewart has four goals and Jones has one goal for the Avs while not playing particularly well for the club.
The Avalanche could kept both Jones and Stewart, but Stewart is more valuable to the Avalanche who have a unit of players of Jones stature. Shattenkirk has turned into a reliable defender for the Blues, and edged Johnson in point production by 17 last year.
Looking at the deficiencies of this club, it is better offensively with Stewart on the team, even with his struggles, than it is with Johnson on the blue line. The same can be said for O’Reilly and McClement, who the Avalanche did not retain. As these Avalanche try to measure the size of the fall, maybe its time to admit some of these mistakes.