Rampage suffer organizational failure

Brady T. Phelps

This weekend, the San Antonio Rampage missed an opportunity to extend their most recent losing streak to nine games, instead defeating the Grand Rapids Griffins 2-0 on Sunday.

The season-high eight-game losing streak dated back to a 3-2 loss in Stockton, Calif. on Feb. 28 – the final game of the Rampage’s annual rodeo road trip.

Upon returning from the road trip, the Rampage lost every game of a five-game home stand and two more on the road before returning to the AT&T Center on Sunday, March 20.

Center Sam Henley and defenseman Nikita Zadorov were the goal scorers in the Rampage win. Rampage netminder Spencer Martin was credited with the 31-save shutout, and Grand Rapids goalie made an impressive 39 saves to keep his team in the game.

The Rampage have only two wins in their last ten games and six in the last 20. Their .439 points-earned percentage places them dead last in the Pacific Division. Only three teams in the American Hockey League (AHL) have worse points-earned percentages than the Rampage.

Rampage Head Coach Dean Chynoweth is likely concerned about his job security as this will be his fourth straight season to miss playoffs as an AHL head coach – all with the Colorado Avalanche’s AHL affiliates.

Chynoweth hasn’t been given the shiniest tool set in his first season in San Antonio. Last summer, ESPN placed Colorado 25 out of 30 in a ranking of the quality of NHL organizations’ prospect pools. Hockey’s Future currently has them at dead last in the league in terms of overall prospect quality.

Despite having strong goaltending strength throughout the organization and a wealth of solid young defensemen, the Avalanche’s prospect pool lacks game-breaking offensive talent outside Mikko Rantanen, who is currently on the NHL roster.

Rantanen, a 19-year-old rookie winger from Finland, was a dominant force in the AHL this season with 52 points in 44 games – a Rampage franchise rookie scoring record.

After injuries and trades decimated the Rampage’s center depth, Rantanen was moved to the middle of the ice in an experiment that was orchestrated by Avalanche and Rampage management, according to Chynoweth.

After injuries decimated the Avalanche roster, Colorado recalled Rantanen on Sunday, March 20 and gave him a chance to slide into the NHL forward group.

The porous defensive style that persists throughout the Avalanche system has the Rampage’s penalty kill efficiency at fourth worst in the league.

The Rampage have a respectable 10-9 record when outshooting opponents this season, but have lost 15 of the 45 games in which they’ve been outshot.

The fact that the Rampage are outshot so frequently suggest organizational problems – the Avalanche are well-known among NHL followers for being a low-event offensive team that passes up low-percentage shots in favor of holding out for more likely chances.

The problem with this approach is that it relies on high shooting percentage and stellar goaltending, which is not typically sustainable over a full season of play.

Some teams, like the New Jersey Devils, have success with this offensive approach because their defense is able to limit scoring chances against. But the Avalanche consistently surrender more scoring chances than any other team, likely due to former franchise goaltender and current Head Coach Patrick Roy’s defensive systems.

Roy started his NHL coaching career employing a man-to-man defensive zone style that is usually better suited for junior hockey.

Whether or not the Avalanche system is partly to blame for the Rampage’s deficiencies this season, the Avalanche should no longer be given autonomy over the Rampage’s staff and personnel.

The Rampage marketing staff should be commended for their ability to continue to attract viewers despite the team’s sub-par on-ice product. The average attendance through 31 games is 5,976 attendees, good for twelfth in the league – not stellar, but 70 attendees above the AHL average of 5,906.

But Spurs Sports and Entertainment (SS&E), one of the most decorated and revered organizations in all of professional sports, should not be satisfied with slightly impressive attendance numbers. The time has passed for SS&E to intervene and give San Antonio hockey fans something to cheer about for once.

SS&E, one of the most progressive organizations when it comes to using analytics for internal evaluation, has a lot to teach the Avalanche management, if the Avalanche management is willing to listen.

The Avalanche are run by the aforementioned Roy and General Manager Joe Sakic – both former franchise athletes who won cups together while playing and were brought together a few years ago to reinvigorate the struggling Avalanche.

The problem with this arrangement is that neither Sakic nor Roy has the managerial experience needed to bring a franchise back to prominence, and holding them accountable will be tricky because of their beloved status among Colorado fans.

Roy and Sakic may well continue to run the Avalanche into the ground, but the Rampage shouldn’t have to suffer from Colorado’s lack of vision and poor decision-making.

After all, the San Antonio Rampage are still owned by the most professional and forward-thinking ownership group in professional sports. They may not know much about hockey, but they know winning, and they know that you have to put the right people in place to do that.