Colorado Avalanche Vice President Joe Sakic announced that the team will pass on Seth Jones with the NHL Draft’s first overall pick and instead elect to pick a forward, probably Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin or Alexander Barkov. While Seth Jones, a defenseman with strong Colorado ties, had been projected as the number one choice, MacKinnon is likely the man who lured the Avalanche away and for good reason.
After the 2004-2005 NHL lockout, there was no question who the number one pick in that years NHL draft would be. Sidney Crosby was the closest thing to Wayne Gretzky since the Great One retired in 1999. Every team had an equal shot, but the Colorado Avalanche, a then proud franchise, acquired the 28th pick in the draft lottery as Crosby went to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not once has anyone questioned Pittsburgh’s decision as Crosby, when healthy, has been the best player in the league most of the last eight years.
Of course, the Sidney Crosby era of the NHL has been marked by the slow and painful decline of the once revered Avalanche franchise. The shortened 2013 season represents a low point for the team as they finished last in the Western Conference for the first time since taking the Avalanche name. They have entered the playoffs just once in the last five years. Their defense was atrocious and the Avs walked on the ice through the last half of the season.
With a young, promising core, the Avs seem like a team ready to make a jump. Their biggest weakness is a defense that often helped their opponent’s score, rather than clearing the puck out of the zone. Erik Johnson, a former number one pick himself, is the key piece of the defense, but is still not anywhere near the player he was projected to be. The defensive core as a whole managed just five goals for the team.
On top of a consensus number one pick tag in the upcoming draft, defenseman Seth Jones represents what the Avalanche need. The Avs do have defensive help coming from the minors, specifically Duncan Siemen’s, who may make the roster next year. However, there are few defenseman in the league with as much promise as Seth Jones and even though the transition is tougher for blue liners, he could provide immediate relief.
Easy decision. Right?
Well, let’s say an 18-year-old Sidney Crosby was thrown into the mix for this year’s NHL draft. Most would agree that the Avalanche would have to take him.
Enter Nathan MacKinnon, who was named MVP at the Memorial Cup, scoring seven goals and 13 points in just four games. Not only was MacKinnon’s team able to edge Jones’ team, but the comparisons to Crosby may also steal the number one draft spot.
The Avalanche could still take Jones and this could be a bluff on the part of Sakic. Jones fits well into the organization structure, would help shore up their biggest weakness, and would be a fan favorite because of his Denver connection. Sure it would be tough seeing MacKinnon win MVP awards, while Jones is only winning the Norris Trophy (for best defenseman), but no one could blame the Avalanche. However, picking Jones is the safe move and the new management team of Patrick Roy and Sakic are not going to play it safe.
If the Avs determine that center MacKinnon is in fact the next great force in this league, then they have to make changes. They have a crowd at center with Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly, which means that one would definitely have to go. Additionally, this would not solve the defense problem at all. If MacKinnon’s that good though, don’t the Avs have to pick the guy who will be better than any other player on the team?
I’m not envious of Roy and Sakic trying to make this decision. Druin and Barkov could also change the franchise’s fate. The Avs have said that a large offer for the number one pick might sway them to trade the pick as long as they keep a pick in the top three. The haul for what is projected to be the best defenseman and forward of the next few years would have to be very large indeed.
Why is the decision so hard? It’s going to be tough watching one of the other guys hoist the Stanley Cup before the Avalanche. That’s why they can’t miss.