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On Wednesday night, the Colorado Avalanche lost, rather badly in fact, to the Anaheim Ducks. Despite the fact that they outshot Anaheim 31-20, the final score read 3-0, and the Avs dropped to just 4-6-0 on the season.
There's a pretty good reason for that: they're missing an entire top line. Steve Downie, who was very good for Colorado after being traded there last season, played just two games before he went down for the season with an injury to his right knee. Gabriel Landeskog is likewise on the IR, but with an "upper body injury" that is definitely a concussion, so your guess as to when he'll be fit to come back is as good as just about anyone else's right now.
Those are two pretty good forwards, on whom the Avs were set to rely heavily this season. And I don't think it's too much of coincidence that in the six games the Avs have played without those guys, they're 2-4, with just 12 goals to show for their efforts. That shutout at home against Anaheim seemed to be something of a breaking point, as Matt Duchene, who led all forwards with icetime at 20:59 ahead of PA Parenteau (19:07) and Jamie McGinn (18:15), let his feelings on the offensive futility be known.
"It's painful right now," he said. "It's the same story every night. We're playing well 5-on-5, but we can't seem to find a win in those games. We've got to figure out a way to score a goal. It's the bottom line. We've been shut out three times in 10 games. That's unacceptable. That's almost 50 percent of the games we're getting shut out in. That's a joke."
He went on like that. CHL-level math aside, it's hard to find fault with what he's saying, except to note that if you continually play well at 5-on-5 you're going to end up winning games at some point.
The Avs' chances of reasonably contending for a playoff spot are very quickly slipping away. Following Wednesday night's games, they sat tied for 12th in the West, three points back of eighth-place Dallas. You might think three points isn't a whole hell of a lot of ground to make up, but when everyone is only playing intra-conference games, those points all have to come from somewhere. And more to the point, the Avs also had more games played than the three teams immediately ahead of them in the standings.
It's a shame. Paul Stastny and David Jones can't carry the heavy minutes all by themselves. Well, I mean, they can. But they can't do it successfully. Will Greg Sherman have to wade waist-deep into the dark and dangerous waters of the NHL's trade market? Lindy Ruff recently said there's just not a lot of activity out there because teams aren't looking to sell yet. If only there was some sort of answer to which the Avs could turn to correct their scoring problems.
I guess it comes back to the whole thing about them not having a top line. Steve Downie's the right wing. Gabriel Landeskog's the left wing. But there's someone in the middle they're missing too, right? Man, I can't remember that guy's name.
Oh right, it's Ryan O'Reilly, one of the 10 best centers on the planet. That's who the Avs are missing right now. And it's entirely their own fault.
O' Reilly is, in one sense of the word, a "holdout." An unsigned, restricted free agent who just happens to be one of the best players at his position currently living, who by the way is only 22 years old. The saga has, I think everyone but Sherman can agree, gone on entirely too long without resolution, and has now becoming a maddening, awkward disaster.
Adrian Dater has been on the ground with this story from Day 1, and the latest information he has is that both sides have now firmly dug into their positions and show little interest in moving into the shelled-out no man's land between what the Avs want to pay O'Reilly (two years, $3.5 million per), and what O'Reilly will accept (five years, about $5 million per).
The reason for both insisting on being the Immovable Object in this particular squabble is because there's good reason for them to act that way. On the one hand, Sherman has to be emboldened by the deal Marc Bergevin eventually outwaited PK Subban into taking. Low money, plenty of chance for show-me performances in the next two seasons, which is why that deal was alleged to have been mutually beneficial. Meanwhile, O'Reilly — and, more specifically, his agents — see just how quickly the situation is growing in Colorado, and the S in every "Shutout" is starting to look more and more like a dollar sign.
Here's the thing, though: The Avs have to lose this little battle for the good of the franchise. Sherman might not think O'Reilly is worth $5 million a year (and he's wrong), but this is as much about keeping up appearances as anything else. You can't, for example, give PA Parenteau and David Jones $16 million each over four years and then tell the best player on your team that he's not going to make that much. I understand that both were unrestricted free agent signings, and that Sherman is just trying to make the two-year, $3.5 million cap hit the standard second contract the team gives out (see also: Matt Duchene's current deal), but there was probably never a point at which Duchene was as good as O'Reilly is now, at least not at both ends of the ice. Thus, trying to tell him he should take the same deal as Duchene, who is trying really hard to prop up Colorado's offense all by himself, doesn't seem all that reasonable.
Plus, as Dater pointed out and Cam Charron echoed here yesterday, the reality is that the chances of a Ryan O'Reilly offer sheet seem to be growing more and more realistic. One supposes the Avs would match just about any contract another team could draw up — within reason; they're swimming in cap space but are probably operating on a tight internal budget — and would do so happily. But if Sherman's big plan here is either "wait for O'Reilly to come around as Subban did or let another team dictate the terms of his player's contract," that doesn't seem all that bright.
Bergevin eventually convinced Subban to sign that two-year, bad-money deal despite the fact that Habs fans were spending games chanting "We Want PK" every time their team went more than four minutes without a goal. On the other hand, he also had on his side the fact that the Canadiens are actually good this season. Sherman has the opposite problem: Their fans don't seem to give much of a rat's ass whether O'Reilly gets signed or not (based largely on an odd perception that O'Reilly is arrogant or something, and seeking more than he's due), even as every other fanbase circles like vultures with trade proposals and idle speculation about offer sheets that now seem to be drawing closer to becoming realistic.
Something, at some point, has to give, doesn't it? If this stretched on for the remainder of the season it would be really and truly shocking, but at the same time, if both sides are as committed to their positions as it seems —Dater admits there's no real way to predict how the saga ends — then that will at the very least make the trade deadline interesting.
But O'Reilly is the guy in the catbird seat here: The Avs are going to keep losing, perhaps embarrassingly, because they have no offense to speak of, and he can helicopter into that particular hot LZ and provide a lot of cover for nothing but the cost of his contract.
It's ultimately up to GM to decide when to make the call, whether it's to trade O'Reilly for help or simply sign him. But it's going to have to be soon, or the Avs are going to miss the playoffs for the third straight year, and Sherman might not get another chance to get this really easy decision right.
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