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Friday, March 29, 2013
Need to know: C'mon, Avalanche, really?

By Scott Burnside

It’s a good thing for the Colorado Avalanche that the Calgary Flames are around to deflect some of what should be a mountain of criticism given their nightly ineptitude. But the Flames, because they are a Canadian market in the midst of trying to move iconic players Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff, have become a symbol for organizational dithering and dysfunction.

But just because everyone’s pointing a bony finger at the Flames these days does not excuse the embarrassment the Avs have become. Seems like a million years ago that the Colorado Avalanche were perennial Stanley Cup contenders and the benchmark for organizational success. They were a power in the boardroom, at the ticket window and on the ice. Now? The Avs quietly lost another one Thursday night, this time 4-1 to the Vancouver Canucks. They have lost four straight and have won just once in their past nine games and four times in their past 18, a stretch of futility that has seen them settle into a tie in points with Florida for last place overall in the NHL and an inside track on a franchise player at the draft. That’s quite an accomplishment for a team that at the beginning of this shortened season looked like it might have a shot at becoming a dark-horse playoff team. Ha, ha, ha.

Not that having high picks has helped the Avs in recent years. In spite of picking second overall in 2011 and nabbing eventual rookie of the year Gabriel Landeskog and third overall two years earlier with Matt Duchene, the team has managed to take zero steps forward and will miss the playoffs for the third straight season.

While all of the attention has been on the Flames’ potential fire sale leading up to Wednesday's trade deadline, there has been little discussion about what GM Greg Sherman needs to do to get his forgotten squad back on track. Given the colossal mess that was the Ryan O’Reilly offer sheet, one wonders what kind of plan exists for changing the culture in Denver and whether ownership has even noticed what’s going on under its collective noses.

As for the Canucks, a shifting of the sands there as well, as they have now won six in a row, all with Cory Schneider between the pipes. The Canucks are embroiled in a great to-and-fro battle with the Minnesota Wild, winners of seven straight, for the top spot in the Northwest Division and what will be home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The re-emergence of Schneider as The Man in goal for Vancouver has also heightened discussion about whether there might be a taker for the erstwhile Roberto Luongo before Wednesday's deadline.

Never a dull moment in the Northwest Division.