Mark Knudson’s 3 Strikes: Avs second round woes, Broncos cross-ownership and Buffs getting hit by the transfer portal

May 7, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Colorado Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz (39) celebrates with defenseman Erik Johnson (6) and defenseman Cale Makar (8) after a win against the Nashville Predators in game three of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Strike One: There will be much celebrating when the Colorado Avalanche finish off a first round Stanley Cup Playoffs beatdown of the Nashville Predators. It will be a job well done.

Again.

Then the second round will arrive. Again. During the recent run of this Avalanche squad, that hasn’t been as much fun.

Actually, the second round is where the last three Avalanche seasons have come to an abrupt halt, including last season, when following a first round sweep of St. Louis, the President’s Trophy winners took that 2-0 lead over the Las Vegas Golden Knights, only to, well, you know.

That came on the heels of the 2019 playoffs that saw San Jose topple the Avs in seven games, and 2020, when the COVID bubble playoffs ended for Colorado at the hands of the Dallas Stars in seven.

So after the Predators are vanquished, what happens next? If you’re Avs coach Jared Bednar, what do you do differently to get your team ready for (presumably) the second-seeded Minnesota Wild (or perhaps St. Louis, since that series got tied up at 2-2.)

If it’s the Wild – one of those outfits that many Avs fans love to hate – it could prove problematic once again. The two teams split four meetings this season, with the Avs winning a pair in Denver before the Wild captured two home games in the spring, including a 4-1 win just a couple of weeks ago. The Wild will provide Colorado with a very formidable foe.

After leaving Music City, it won’t come easy.

And that’s the way it should be. These Avs have to take the same approach the 2001 Cup Champs did. “Mission 16W” was the theme back then (it was going to take 16 wins to capture the Cup) and they weren’t the favorites going in. So there was a little bit of underdog mentality that served a team full of future Hall of Famers very well.

Even for a team that features the sport’s best defenseman in Cale Makar and several of the best offensive players in the game including Nathan MacKinnon, there needs to be something even more as a focal point, driving the entire squad. In 2001 the team that featured five future Hall of Famers was fueled by the desire to win the first Cup in the stellar career of Ray Bourque. That was the mission.

This incredibly talented group must find a similar focus to get them over the second round hump and beyond.

They’re favored by most to win Lord Stanley’s hardware, and they need to be pressed, pushed and challenged. Feel like they have something to prove. The pressure is now squarely on Bednar and his squad. There is no off ramp, no valid reasons or excuses for mission failure. They’re the best team in the NHL, and they have to respond to that pressure in a big way before this version of Mission 16W can be successfully completed.

Strike Two: Is having one entity own more than one professional sports franchise – playing different sports with teams located in different cities a good idea?

On one hand, you have an owner like Pat Bowlen – singularly focused on the success of his Denver Broncos. On the other hand, you’ve got a businessman like Stan Kroenke, owner of the Denver Nuggets/Colorado Avalanche/Colorado Rapids/Los Angeles Rams/Arsenal FC. Bowlen won three Super Bowls. Kroenke has won the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup and the MLS Cup to boot.

Doesn’t seem like a huge advantage one way or another.

So maybe it’s all good if out-of-towners Josh Harris – who currently owns a share of the Philadelphia 76’ers and the New Jersey Devils – and basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson – who already owns a share of the Los Angeles Dodgers – team up to try to buy the Broncos? Just another franchise to add to their successful portfolio, right?

Broncos Country is eager to find out who the next owner of their beloved franchise will be. Odds are still good that Walmart billionaire Rob Walton will get the nod, since he’s among the filthiest of the country’s filthy rich, and in NFL circles, money talks the loudest. But other names and groups are still in the running, including the group that includes Harris and Johnson.

On one hand, having a guy like Magic courting top-flight coaches and free agent players to town can’t be a bad thing, right? I mean, what football player wouldn’t want to rub elbows with one of sports biggest celebrities who happens to be one of basketball’s all-time greats?

On the other hand, with everything else he has going on, is Magic – or Harris for that matter – going to be able to give the Broncos all the attention they need and deserve?

Around here, we’re going to continue to have Mr. B as the measuring stick for successful ownership. He was at Broncos HQ every day, focused on the singular goal of making the Broncos Super Bowl champs. He was the exact opposite of an absentee owner. On the other hand, no one ever knows if Kroenke will be in town to watch his hockey or basketball team in person, or if he’ll be in Europe catching some futbol. That can’t be unusual for owners with multiple teams. No way they can give any of their individual franchises that kind of care and attention.

Yet the small “cross-ownership” fraternity of rich folks seems to keep growing, especially after Kroenke more or less pushed the NFL to abandon its rule against cross ownership in 2018. For a long time, there was a very small group of guys like the late Bill Davidson. He bought the Detroit Pistons in 1974 and the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1999. In 2004, both his teams won championships.

Kroenke has taken that to a new level of course, and has obviously done a lot of things right, with the Nuggets and Avs being perennial contenders and the relocated Rams winning the Super Bowl in their own palatial football arena this past February. Does that mean that folks around here would be okay with the Harris/Johnson group getting the nod to buy the Broncos? Even though Walton is considerably more well off than Harris and Johnson combined, he doesn’t have two things they have – sports team ownership experience and, very importantly, a minority partner element. With the NFL facing increasing scrutiny about it’s lack of ethnic diversity in coaching, front office AND ownership, that’s going to count for a lot and potentially give the Harris group a decent shot.

As for Broncos Country, they only care about two things – winning on the field immediately, and having their franchise remain an integral part of the greater Denver community in perpetuity. If Magic can help make both happen here, it’s all good.

Strike Three: At least temporarily, the insidious college sports Transfer Portal merry-go-round has come to a stop.

It’s not over of course, and it will get revved up again in a few months, but a May 1 deadline for athletes to transfer and be immediately eligible next school year has now come and gone. So at least the current game of “musical schools” can play out before the next one begins.

If you’re a fan of the Colorado Buffaloes, you’ve watched helplessly as your team has lost 19 scholarship players over the past school year, while adding just seven. It makes CU a net loser in more ways than one. The Colorado program lost quality players like Jarek Broussard, Brendan Rice, Christian Gonzalez and Mark Perry off a team that could ill afford it. Karl Dorrell’s building project has gotten that much tougher.

But the real tragedy isn’t the players who opted out and landed in better programs like Michigan State, USC, Oregon or TCU. The real tragedy is for the four former Buffs – including standout punter Josh Watts – that haven’t found a new place to play yet as well as the 11 former Colorado State Rams that left the program and are currently team-less. If they do find a new school (and some may have the option of returning should they choose) it will end up being a big step backwards from where they were when the music started.

And that’s the real sad part of this. Along the way, these kids’ heads have been filled with nonsense that they aren’t getting what they were promised they’d have handed to them when they “committed” and had some sort of birthright to expect. We’re teaching them that when faced with any sort of struggle or competition for playing time, that it’s better to take your ball and go find another playground than actually have to compete to win a spot.

Bad life lesson.

Nationally, just less than half the players who have entered the Portal over the past school year have found another place to play. Yes, when they bolt for greener pastures and don’t find any, it’s a self-inflicted wound of sorts. Still, does that excuse the adults that are running things from creating this mess in the first place?

Don’t these transfer failures tell us that there is a lot wrong with this process?

Having a May 1 deadline – like putting a limit on the NFL’s Free Agency period – is a start, but like most everything else that the NCAA does, it’s reactive, like closing the barn door after the horses had escaped, as they say. If the NCAA doesn’t get proactive and start regulating all this transfer and NIL stuff, programs like CU and CSU are going to be decimated and college football Saturdays are going to become meaningless around here.

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