Jussel: Avs make science of missing playoffs

The National Hockey League playoffs are in full swing.

And once again, for the fifth time in the past seven years, the Colorado Avalanche are not involved.

Folks, it is difficult not to get into the NHL playoffs. The Avs have made a science of it.

And it has turned them into an afterthought at best when it comes to paying attention to the regional sports scene. Second fiddle? More like 10th fiddle. Even Denver University and Colorado College hockey rate higher with area sports fans.

At one point, you couldn’t buy your way into an Avalanche game. Seats were expensive — and still unavailable.

This past season, you could pick up a ducat for the price of $1. One single, solitary Washington.

It has been a sad story over most of a decade, the demise of one of sports’ most powerful teams, a squad that turned downtown Denver upside down with two Stanley Cup titles and won nine divisional titles in a row at one point. They truly stirred the juices.

So why, Jussel, would you be bringing this up now?

Here’s why: The Avalanche is about to become relevant once again to those who have long given up, probably many who never knew about the craziness, the ability to drive heart rates up this time of the year.

I’m putting you on notice, for several long overdue reasons.

First, the Avs have pulled a Bronco.

Last week they announced the appointment of their very own John Elway, Joe Sakic, to the position of vice president of hockey operations.

Sakic, the team’s most popular player ever and a Hall of Famer who still resides in Denver, had been with the team as a consultant over the past two seasons. Now he has a real job, going from consultant who occasionally provided advice to the guy who has the final say-so, just like Elway with the Broncos (how’s that worked out so far?).

Another move the team made was to name Josh Kroenke team president. Kroenke, only 33, was rather nebulously called a governor of the team prior to this change. Kroenke is now the only team president of two pro sports teams, also obviously being in charge of the Nuggets.

Kroenke’s first move as president was to hire Sakic to make the hockey moves.

Kroenke says his first objective is to deal with the fan base and convince those who have left to return.

Those are two moves at the top that should help reverse the tailspin that has gone on and on.

Sakic is now charged with hiring a new head coach to replace the departed Joe Sacco, and names have ranged from former Denver University coach George Gwozdecky to Avs Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy to Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, whose contract runs out in June.

Once that happens, or perhaps even before that happens, the Avs will become a much better team virtually immediately thanks to a bit of luck.

Despite finishing with the second-worst record in the league this past season, they earned the top pick in the upcoming draft despite having only an 18 percent chance of that happening.

And that means Seth Jones will be returning to his home town.

Jones, the 18-year-old son of former Denver Nugget Popeye Jones, is a certainty to be the Avs’ pick, and not just because he grew up in Littleton. He is unanimously regarded as the top talent available, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound defenseman who can do it all, and he is still growing.

Jones may not make a huge difference in team fortunes early next season, but he will make an impression quickly because he stands out where the team most needs help, on the defensive side.

They are loaded with young offensive talent, with forwards Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and team captain Gabriel Landeskog all 22 or younger. Veteran forward Paul Stastny is still only 27.

Yes, the rebuilding started several seasons ago.

But now it has truly gotten a boost where it had to: from the top.

Sakic said he took on the job, the massive challenge, because the young Kroenke and father Stan (the team’s owner) “want this team back to where we were. ... I believe we have one goal in mind, and we have good hockey people and some really talented young players, and that we’re not that far away.”

You have been warned.

The Avs are about to become part of the region’s sports scene again.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.


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