UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – The Avalanche lead the NHL. Where’s the Buzz?

Imagine that you work for the Colorado Avalanche. Even more frustrating, you’re a player on Denver’s National Hockey League team.

The National Football League Scouting Combine in Indianapolis just ended, and the NFL Draft is coming up. Talk radio is buzzing. 

There are multiple stories daily, speculating on which “can’t miss” collegian should be taken No. 1 by the Broncos and reporting on which ones had the most impressive times in the 40 and highest vertical jumps, or could lift the biggest car.

Oh, and the Broncos still need a quarterback, too. Aaron Rodgers? Russell Wilson? Someone else?  More “expert” blather on talk radio.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is paralyzed by the inability of the owners and players to agree on how to share the billions that sport generates each year. With no games to cover, baseball writers are filling space with guesses about the eventual destination of unsigned free agents and attempts to explain the difference between what the players are seeking and what the owners are willing give up.

And, of course, March Madness is upon us. Conference tournaments will wrap up this weekend, and Selection Sunday will tell us which “bubble” teams made it. 

Also jockeying for airtime before the selection show will be one of the PGA Tour’s most prestigious tournaments, The Players Championship, which isn’t called a “major” but one that tour regulars value as much.

Somewhere amid that smorgasbord of sports frenzy lurks the Avalanche—the team with the best record in the whole National Hockey League.

But where’s the excitement? The widespread mania? The crazy shows of support? The buzz.

You can’t even follow this team on local cable television. Comcast and the Altitude Sports Network have been at loggerheads longer than Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association.

But it’s hard to convince Comcast that its position is damaging the cable company.

The truth is, the Avs have a core of spirited followers. But the pool isn’t very deep.

Colorado’s 2021-22 home attendance ranks 11th in the NHL, even though the team has won or tied 26 of its 29 homes games to date. 

Ten hockey towns are turning out in greater numbers than Denver and surrounding environs, including in Music City, the nation’s capital, the gambling mecca of America and Beantown. Through 29 dates, the Avs have averaged 17,292 and drawn 501,472—96% of capacity.

By comparison, the Rockies averaged 36,954 in 2019, the last full year without any pandemic restraint. They drew 2,993,244—despite finishing 71-91 and missing the post-season by 18 games. That was sixth, just ahead of Boston and its rabid Red Sox fans but behind the Dodgers, St. Louis, the Yankees, Cubs and Angels. Three of those cities each have TWO baseball teams competing for fans. 

In 81 home games that year, including one split doubleheader, the Rockies had 36 crowds of more than 40,000 and 28 more between 30-and-40K.  Only one game, on a Monday night in late August, drew fewer than the Avs’ average for this year.   

Nathan McKinnon is considered the best player on an extremely deep Avalanche team, and arguably the most talented in the whole league. Despite missing a quarter of the Avs games with an injury, he’s scored 17 goals and had 37 assists, for 54 points. That pace would mean 108 points over 82 games, which is enough to lead the NHL in eight of the last nine seasons.

If he were a quarterback, McKinnon might be as popular in Denver as John Elway. If he were a slugging first baseman, he might be compared to Todd Helton.

But he plays hockey.  So, he’s a superstar, but of a lower magnitude, at least here.

And he’s not alone. There are many exceptional hockey players on this team—Cale Makar perhaps the No. 1 defenseman in the league; Nazem Kadri, an all-star this year and the team scoring leader with 70 points in 53 games; and Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, who have combined for 121 points; to mention only a few. How many Avs players can you name?

That said, all is not lost. The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on May 2 and could extend through June. If the Avalanche advance toward the finals, fan interest will pick up steam, in part because many playoff games will be on national TV. 

If the Avs make it to the finals, the populace will be fully engaged. If they win it all, the parade will draw the predictably overflow crowd downtown. 

Go Avs!

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 13 books, seven of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.