Loyalty is one of the great illusions in pro sports, where the love between team and player is always conditional, forever tenuous and never perfect.
For example: Barely 48 hours after failing to ship Tyson Jost out of Colorado at the trade deadline, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar had him skating on the second line alongside J.T. Compher and Joonas Donskoi.
Jost responded to his opportunity with a nitty-gritty assist on a goal by Compher that allowed Colorado to beat Buffalo 3-2 on Wednesday night. A lesser man might’ve given up, gone home and cried in his pillow.
“It’s tough at times. I’m not going to sit and say it wasn’t tough,” Jost said. “There’s a lot of nights when you’re just asking: ‘Why?’”
With the outcome hanging in the balance during the final nine minutes of the third period, Jost emerged with the puck from a scrum behind the Sabres’ net and pushed it to Donskoi, whose nifty pass set up Compher for the game-winner.
Jost’s name was whispered so often in the hours prior to the trade deadline Monday that his ears must still be burning. Yes, he was the 10th overall pick in the 2016 draft. But that seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?
Jost, who had an apparent goal against Buffalo waved off for a high stick, has not put the puck in the net since November and has taken up residence alongside mascot Bernie the St. Bernard in the doghouse.
“I’m confident in the player I am,” Jost insisted. His faith, however, has been severely tested.
The trade deadline passed without Jost’s world being turned upside down. He’s not only still here, he’s filling a key role as Colorado tussles for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, while forwards Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri heal from injury.
“Sometimes,” general manager Joe Sakic said, “the best moves are the moves you don’t make.”
Only the paychecks are a sure thing in pro sports. Love is fickle. That’s why cornerback Chris Harris must chase the green in NFL free agency after bleeding orange and blue for nine seasons. Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado discovered the hard way his hefty $260 million contract offered no guarantees the team would surround him with talent to compete against the Dodgers.
There is no genuine loyalty in pro sports, only survival of the fittest.
Although defenseman Erik Johnson takes great pride in being the longest-tenured member of the Avalanche, maybe the most remarkable thing about his decade-long stint in Denver he has endured nearly 300 losses without ever demanding a trade or being dumped during the rebuild.
“In pro sports, I think ego gets in the way a lot,” Johnson told me in the latest edition of The Kickin’ It with Kiz Podcast.
On the verge of his 32nd birthday, Johnson no longer works on the top defensive pairing. His ice time is not what it once was. But chance to win a Stanley Cup with the Avs has never been so tantalizingly good.
“What happens to a lot of impact guys in pro sports is you might lose a little bit of playing time, or not get as many opportunities as you had in the past. And you complain and want out. But that’s not how I’m wired,” Johnson said.
“I’ve set goals for myself and the team … and we haven’t gotten to those yet. So I have business to finish, and I want to do it here.”
The Avs will go are far in the playoffs as Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar can take them. This team, however, won’t survive the long postseason grind without Johnson and Jost doing the dirty work on which championships are built.
And in pro sports, isn’t that the real definition of a labor of love?