From the Rampage Desk: Au Revoir, Mssr. Veilleux

The Rampage capped off the 17-18 campaign a week ago Saturday with a shootout win against the Texas Stars. This gave them 80 points and a 35-31-10 record, good for dead last in the Pacific Division for the 3rd year straight and all 3 years that San Antonio and Colorado were affiliated.

After the season, someone pointed out that the Avs AHL team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011, which horrified many, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Since they took over day-to-day management of their AHL affiliate with the birth of the Lake Erie Monsters in 2007, they have only had one true winning season (get out of here with over .500 being meaningful) and one playoff appearance where they won 3 games and didn’t advance. Colorado’s impact on the AHL has been 11 years of failure, incompetent management, bad coaching, inconsistent development of prospects from rookie pros into NHL players and little accountability from those in charge. The players and coaches have changed over the years but the same people have been running the show from day 1.

The latest casualty of this miasma is the Head Coach for the past two years, Eric Veilleux. Early last week we heard reports from French-speaking media that he would not be returning as the Avs AHL coach and this was later confirmed by BSN’s AJ Haefele. Whether he was sacked or just out of contract is unclear and the Avs haven’t made a statement on the matter. Veilleux coached the Rampage to the worst season in Avs AHL history in his rookie season, mirroring the parent club, then backed it up with a 19 point improvement that still didn’t change where they fell in the standings.

There were things out of his control that put Veilleux in a tough spot, the lame duck status of the Avs in SA, St Louis annexing part of the roster along with chronic poor team construction. He did have control over who played outside of the bought and paid for Blues spots in the lineup, so let’s take a look at who dressed and who didn’t over the season. I’m going to take each player and pigoenhole them into a few categories then break usage down a few different ways.

COL/AHL/STL
F/D/G
Rookie/ELC/RFA/Vet/ATO

Girard COL/F/RFA – 76
Agozzino COL/F/Vet – 72
Geertsen COL/D/ELC – 72
Kostin STL/F/R – 67
Belzile AHL/F/Vet – 61
Butler STL/D/Vet – 61
Vogelhuber COL/F/Vet – 59
Meloche COL/D/R – 58
Ranford AHL/F/Vet – 57
Musil STL/F/R – 54
Petryk COL/F/ELC – 51
Grimaldi COL/F/RFA – 49
Nantel COL/F/ELC – 48
Warsofsky COL/D/Vet – 47
Graham COL/D/RFA – 46
Siemens COL/D/RFA – 45
Blais STL/F/ELC – 42
Husso STL/G/R – 38
Greer COL/F/ELC – 35
Beaudin COL/F/R – 34
St-Amant AHL/F/ELC* – 34
Martin COL/G/ELC – 34
Schmaltz STL/D/RFA – 31
Toninato COL/F/R – 31
Thompson STL/F/R – 30
Mironov COL/D/R – 26
Graves COL/D/ELC – 21
Sanford STL/F/ELC – 20
Bigras COL/D/ELC – 20
Joly AHL/F/ELC* – 19
Colborne COL/F/Vet – 13
Bleackley STL/F/ELC – 13
Vannelli STL/D/ELC – 12
Kamenev COL/F/ELC – 7
Sundqvist STL/F/RFA – 6
De Jong AHL/D/R – 6
Bourque COL/F/Vet – 5
Jost COL/F/R – 5
Dickinson COL/F/ATO – 5
Shaw AHL/F/ELC – 5
Cannata COL/G/Vet – 5
Poganski STL/F/ATO – 4
Ottenbreit COL/D/ATO – 4
Werner COL/G/ATO – 4
Goff COL/D/ATO – 3
Richart COL/D/PTO – 2
Barron COL/F/ATO – 2
Sampair STL/D/PTO – 2
Sergeev STL/D/ELC – 2
Noel STL/D/ATO – 1
Toropchenko STL/F/ATO – 1
Thomas COL/F/ATO – 1
Verpaelst AHL/D/ELC – 1
Brittain AHL/G/Vet – 1
Hammond COL/G/Vet – 1

I’m going to ignore the goalies, Husso was the #1 when he was around from about Christmas break on but he and Martin got a similar number of starts. Taking the arbitrary number of 1368 (76 games x 18 skaters, and yes I know they were short a few times) here are the man-game percentages and average out of 18, a per game average breakdown if you will, for each category:

COL – 837 (61%) 11/18
STL – 346 (25%) 4.6/18
AHL – 183 (13%) 2.4/18

Rookie – 311 (23%) 4.1/18
ELC – 383 (28%) 5/18
RFA – 253 (19%) 3.3/18
Vet – 375 (27%) 4.9/18
ATO/PTO – 25 (2%) 0.3/18

COL Rookie/ATO – 171 (12.5%) 2.25/18
COL ELC – 254 (18.6%) 3.3/18

COL D – 344 (75%) 4.5/6
COL F – 493 (54%) 6.5/12

COL Rookie/ELC/ATO D – 201 (44%) 2.6/6
COL Rookie/ELC/ATO F – 224 (26%) 3/12

COL/AHL RFA/Vet Skaters – 530 (39%) 7/18

We have no idea what the target number for the Blues/Avs breakdown was but it settled in right at 75/25 with Husso playing in half the games, which seems arbitrary and plausible. Also the vet number came in right at 5 per game, the AHL limit, so that seems planned as well. That’s half the lineup right there, no thinking involved and it showed.

The question is what were the priorities for the Avs 9 forward and 4.5 defensive spots every night? What did the Avs Development Staff and Coach Veilleux want to say they accomplished at the end of the season when they were doing their planning back in September?

I think winning at the AHL level is important, finishing dead last 3 years in a row is ridiculous. Any team can be randomly decent or even good at the AHL level, it takes a concerted effort to be the worst in the league and it’s almost unimaginable for the same people to guide a team to be this terrible over an 11 year stretch. The faces on the ice change every year but the philosophy remains. I don’t need to see a team that challenges for the Calder Cup to get a sense of progress, what is important is seeing players that have potential allowed to reach for it, improve and go on to roles in Colorado. Focusing on winning games with development as a by-product is backwards. Put talent on the ice, raw or whatever and then deal with filling in the blanks. No chance that can work out worse than the last decade.

The priority should be to take the players on ELCs and get them ready to play in the NHL as soon as possible. That wasn’t the case with the Avs but it was for the Blues, right in front of their noses and it didn’t register. Nic Meloche, AJ Greer, J-C Beaudin and Julien Nantel were all drafted out of the QMJHL more or less together and all saw the Avs system fail them to varying degrees this season.

Meloche had a great rookie camp but struggled with the pros and was cut early. It was a message, a harsh one for sure, but the Avs had big expectations for him. Instead of giving him the opportunity to learn he got little playing time and a short demotion to the ECHL. It wasn’t completely out of line, he wasn’t outplaying the older Ds given the chance, but it was incredibly short-sighted. Given that he turned into perhaps the best all-around defenseman later in the year, it looks asinine dragging out the process of getting accustomed to the pro game early in the year.

AJ Greer had a mixed bag of a pre-season, or perhaps it was mixed messages. The Avs and Coach Bednar needed a bottom 6 forward that could be responsible defensively, which isn’t the role he had in Rouyn-Noranda or San Antonio in his rookie year. The Mr Sandpaper routine looked forced and unnatural and they weren’t looking for another Cody McLeod anyway. Sent down to the Rampage, Coach Veilleux continued to give him offensive zone starts and PP time with zero chance to develop the PK and defensive skills that were the ticket to staying in the NHL. In his several callups he still looked dicey in the d-zone and that in turn made showing his offensive skills problematic. Again, this makes the Avs Dev Staff and EV look out of sync with the main branch of the Avs and that’s not good.

J-C Beaudin’s rookie campaign was pretty grim. He looked out of sorts in the no-skill Veilleux offensive system and like Greer seemed to be getting groomed to do one thing while needing work elsewhere. EV talked about needing him to step up and make offensive plays and moving him down the lineup or benching him when that didn’t happen. The Dev Staff stepped in and sent him to the ECHL for half the season because he wasn’t playing. I’m not sure what the deal is here, he’s a smart two-way center that should be a shoo-in for bottom 6 time in the NHL at some point and the minor league staff settled on asking him to score goals as a RW. Absolutely baffling.

Julien Nantel’s sophomore season was even more baffling. After playing regularly over the first month of the season he scores 3 goals in 2 games and then gets sent to the ECHL. Comes back for 3 months, playing every night, then gets demoted again for reasons unknown. He bounced back and forth 3 more times over the rest of the season. Nantel isn’t a filler guy on an AHL deal, he’s a 2nd year pro on an NHL ELC and the coach couldn’t be bothered to find PT for him unless forced to.

 

Former Avs player and coach Sly Lefebvre was recently let go by the Canadiens as head coach of the AHL’s Laval Rocket. Speculation of why was broken down into overplaying veterans and not playing or developing young players which resulted in extremely poor results (worst record in the league actually and far worse than San Antonio) not only for the team but for the Canadiens when they needed depth or skilled youngsters.

Eric Veilleux made some of the same mistakes for the Avs and Rampage. After getting burned by apathetic and ineffective vets last season he didn’t learn to trust the young talent on the roster and although the point total rose significantly, they still made no headway in the final standings. The offense was low-skill and predictable, when it went into slumps he doubled down on grit rather than ability to get things going.

Other than delaying Meloche’s development unnecessarily in the Fall, the defense made good use of young players. Mason Geertsen was healthy all season for the first time as a pro and was the most improved year-over-year player for sure. Meloche ended up playing 58 games and the last 42 without a healthy scratch. Credit to defensive coach Randy Ladouceur, the problems here were minor comparatively.

The problems with forwards however, were major. The Rampage controlled an average of 9 forward spots per game and they used only 3 of them on ELC age guys on NHL contracts. Take one veteran or AHL contracted player out of the lineup on most nights and they would have had plenty of room to play Nantel and Beaudin with the Rampage instead of the Eagles, with the added bonus that they make the team better. Leadership is important, but devoting 6 spots to guys that don’t help you win plus don’t have much of a future in the organization is dumbfounding.

I have written this at the end of every season I’ve covered, this didn’t need to happen. With proper talent evaluation and player usage the Rampage had more upside and skill available than they used and could easily have finished higher than where they did. The disconnect between the needs of the NHL team and the desires of the AHL coach did neither any good once again and the players involved suffered doubly so. There has to be some way that players get evaluated on talent, are instructed on ways to become what the organization needs, monitored for progress, then brought to the NHL comfortable with the roles they are asked to fulfill. Other clubs do this on a regular basis, I’m sure of it. It’s time for the Avalanche to do the same.

 

 

earl06

Scoring LW, punchy climber for the Ardennes classics, spirit guide

2 thoughts on “From the Rampage Desk: Au Revoir, Mssr. Veilleux

  • April 24, 2018 at 10:24 AM
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    Good article, earl06. My eyes glaze over looking at numbers, but you got your point across very well. Here’s hoping for better results in Loveland.

  • April 27, 2018 at 10:06 AM
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    Nice work, Earl! This makes me sad. They prioritize winning over development, and end up accomplishing neither! Brilliant! I’m normally the hopeful one, but unless I see some acknowledgment of this problem, I’ll remain skeptical that this will improve in Loveland.

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