What the Stanley Cup champion Avalanche taught us

Justin Cuthbert and Julian McKenzie share their findings from the latest Stanley Cup champions after the Avalanche dethroned the Lightning.

Video Transcript

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: So what did you learn? What did Colorado teach you?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Colorado taught me that you need-- I mean, I knew this already, but you need depth at every single position. You need high-- at least, if not an absolute top-three player at each position, you need a high impact player to get you there. And it is going to take you time.

It is going to take you a while before you get there. It's not something-- unless you already have one of those fixtures in from a previous year and you're just trying to build around them, I say be prepared to wait three or four years before you can say, OK, we have high impact players up top, on defense. And at least with a goalie, with Darcy Kuemper, even though he's not better than Andrei Vasilevskiy, I mean, this particular one, I'm proud to say, you don't need the goalie to carry you to the playoffs, you need a goalie to get you there.

And if your defense is good enough in front of him, anything is possible. Even if they let Darcy Kuemper go-- I mean, I don't know if the Colorado Avalanche are comfortable enough going with Pablo Francouz, but they can at least put some money out there for a guy who's slightly above average. And they could have him in net and be comfortable with the top four that they have on defense and the guys up front that can score goals.

I think just as a GM, if I was running a team, I need some ability at the back end. You need guys up front. And I'm OK with not shelling out $9 or $10 million for the best possible goalie. Just get me someone who can stop pucks, who is above average, and we can go from there. But it's going to take me time.

The Avalanche didn't do this overnight. They were-- this is a team that was able to get Cale Makar after a terrible year, Nathan MacKinnon as well after a terrible year. They went through some pain to get some of those high impact players-- Gabriel Landeskog, you can add him to that as well. It took them a while before it got to that point. And they're here now.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: It took two rebuilds, honestly. They actually messed up the first time pretty significantly. I mean, they didn't just get MacKinnon and Landeskog, they drafted MacKinnon and Landeskog in 2011 and 2013. And they tried to build around what was the next captain and the next superstar. And they failed to do it.

They were running Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy tandem GM, and it just didn't work. They were bringing in veterans that didn't stick-- Jerome Iginla, Max Talbot, guys like that that just didn't work. They messed-- they fumbled the ball with their first opportunity.

But they realized as an organization-- and I think one of the big things here is that Sakic doesn't-- Sakic's not like any other GM in that he didn't have just one chance. He had all the chances in the world because he's probably the greatest Colorado Avalanche player of all-time.


JUSTIN CUTHBERT: So you weren't going to embarrass this guy. You were going to let him have another go at it. And they decided at some point-- I guess after-- actually probably before Patrick left, Patrick Roy left-- because Patrick Roy left so abruptly-- that they were going in different direction, right?

And Sakic started surrounding himself with different people, and they rebuilt it, again, around Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. And that meant bottoming out and that meant drafting Cale Makar once they bottomed out. That meant trading guys like Ryan O'Reilly, Matt Duchene.

They started from scratch over again. And because they did it the right way, in five years, they're Stanley Cup champions, four years, they're Presidents Trophy winners, three years we thought they might win the Stanley Cup. You can build it again. And you can give up-- not give up on something, you can just set the plan in motion a second time.

And that's exactly what the Colorado Avalanche did. They realized they didn't have-- they made their mistakes. They realized those mistakes. They realized they didn't have enough and they started over. And when they started over, they did it properly this time. Within five years, there were a Stanley Cup champion.

So it gives hope to other franchises that are struggling through things. You can just have a small nucleus. You can tear it down, you can start again, and if you do it right, this is the result you get. Colorado Avalanche could be the next dynasty, and they put it all together very, very quickly-- although there was a start-- MacKinnon, Landeskog, that's a start. Rantanen was there as well, but hadn't played yet.

But you can build this pretty quickly in the NHL. I think we give a lot of credit to Steve Yzerman doing it slowly. And maybe that works out great. But it can be done pretty quickly. I think Joe Sakic and that management team proved that. And what they did at the deadline this year is just another shining example of how well they are functioning right now.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: There's no one way of rebuilding a team, as I'm realizing. Like, again, to bring up the Rangers, this is a team that in a matter of four or five years they turned themselves into a really good Eastern Conference team. You can go back to the Tampa Bay lightning when they realized into the early-2010s when they were on their way down, they had to reshuffle the deck.

It didn't take them that long until they turned themselves into a truly competitive team in the 2010s, and now look at them as the power that they are. But the one team I thought of when you were describing how the Colorado Avalanche went through everything is the Buffalo Sabres. And I know they've gone through a lot worse than what the Avalanche have endured over the last decade.

But that's a team in the midst of its second rebuild as a franchise. But at least off of what we saw this past year the young core that they're developing, the players that they have buying into the system, and a head coach who's proven to be a really good communicator in Don Granado, they can look at a team like Colorado and say, hey, you know what? They had to do this for a very long time, and suffer a lot of pain, and rebuild over their rebuild.

It's entirely possible that it could happen. I'll mention also this, too, with Colorado-- Joe Sakic staying around there-- a lot of patience. Like, I mean, it's a little easier for him, you're right, because of what he means to that organization.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: You could have patience when you're given patience, right?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Absolutely. He could have easily gotten rid of a guy like Jared Bednar after last year and just said, you know what? We can't get out of the second round, this isn't good enough. But he was willing to stick by him, and look what happened.

But patience is also something you have to keep in mind if you're rebuilding over your team. It depends on when you apply it, but some guys are worth keeping around because they're able to show that they can get the job done. They just need a little bit more time.

And I'm not sure where the Avalanche would be without Jared Bednar as head coach, a guy who last year, I think his biggest downfall was not adjusting against the Vegas Golden Knights when the Golden Knights figured them out in that second round series and they walloped over them to win the rest of that series. Jared Bednar, at the very least, when the Lightning started to come out, the Avalanche eventually responded with their game plan.

And again, as we were talking about earlier, with the way they played that third period, that defensive style, we didn't really hype them up to be that good defensively entering that series. That credit has to fall on Jared Bednar for being able to get his players to play that certain way.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: When you-- I went back and listened to Joe Sakic's press conference to start the Stanley Cup Final, and I think the first words out of his mouth when he was asked a question was, you learn and you grow. And I think that speaks for him, that speaks for Bednar, that speaks for MacKinnon, that speaks for the entire organization.

They have been at this for a little while. These main players have been at it for a pretty long time. They learned and they grew. And they're now Stanley Cup champions.