Milan Hejduk is the last remaining member of the Colorado Avalanche, Stanley Cup winners in 2001. But at the start of the 2012-13 season, Hayduk knew his role would diminish. He called his teammate Gabriel Landeskog and told him to meet with him and coach Joe Sacco for a meeting at the team center when he got back to town.
I wasn’t sure what the meeting was about, I was a little confused, Landeskog says. I was young then. Heidi said he thought it was time to leave his captaincy and that I was the right person for the job. When he said that, I was still confused, but clearly very excited.
Landeskog is only 19 years old and is entering his second season in the league. At the time, he was the youngest captain in NHL history (he was overtaken by Connor McDavid, who was 20 days younger when he was named captain of the Edmonton Oilers in 2016). At least the avalanche was getting younger and better. Landeskog helped them forward, even though he didn’t know how bumpy the road would be.
Finally, eight years later, Avalanche is back where they thought he would be. The season began with Colorado as the favorite (+700) to win the Stanley Cup, according to William Hill’s Caesars Sportsbook.
Avalanche had to learn a lot about herself to get here. And they know that to get ahead… …and they forget that they’re in the second round… they’re gonna have to work even harder. There’s only one way for Colorado to find out: Respond immediately to expectations.
Of course we are not afraid to talk about the championship this year, Landeskog said. I think we’re ready.
About a week after Landeskog’s appointment as captain, a lockout took place in the NHL. The next few seasons were not much easier for the Avalanche. Two of the team’s top players, Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene, were traded. Another, Paul Stastny, went to the Free Agency. The 2016-17 season is over. Colorado scored less than 48 points in the league, then lost in the draft and fell to fourth place.
It’s been a really tough season, Landeskog says. We got to a point where we were so bad that we kept losing, and we were trying to fill one hole and open up the other three. We just couldn’t find a way to turn things around in the middle of the season or provoke the group. We had some good players, but even our best players didn’t play well. It’s gotten to the point where you’ve taken it to heart. You always talk about leaving hockey on the ice and separating it from your personal life, but that’s hard to do when you’re down for a season.
On reflection, it was indeed a turning point. Colorado’s Cale Makar, who proved to be a real gem, won the Calder Cup last season in fourth place. Nathan MacKinnon became a superstar, scoring over 90 points in three consecutive seasons. A new generation of young players joined the team and General Manager Joe Sakic began to outwit some of his peers in the business. Mr. Landeskog said the low point was not only a foundation, but an opportunity to learn. They haven’t missed the playoffs since.
According to Landeskog, the guys who were there in 16-17, we’ve been in trouble all season. We didn’t want to be the laughing stock of the NHL anymore. We wanted the fans and the organization to be proud of what we do on the ice. We just looked in the mirror and said we need to be better. We took it to heart.
Landeskog said they faced underdogs in the 2017-18 season. Even next year [2018-19], I don’t think people gave us much credit, Landeskog said. But that said, it’s about the same this year. Because for us, external expectations don’t matter. For us, it’s more important that we have expectations in the room and that we hold each other high.
What about that high level this year? Stanley Cup glory.
Last season, the Avs felt like they had something special brewing. The Colorado came into the postseason as the West’s second seed, but suffered an irreparable injury. Entering the second round series against Dallas, the Avs were on their third row, missing their starting defender and three key forwards, including Landeskog, with injuries. Colorado lost game seven to the Stars, marking the second time they have lost a game seven in the second round.
Obviously, we have to stay healthy – injuries happen to all teams, but our team came at the wrong time, Landeskog said. But in the end, it’s the performance that counts the most. This is something we need to acknowledge as a group, we need to move on when it matters most.
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All eyes were on Colorado for Wednesday’s season opener against the Blues on national television. The Avs don’t look like Cup favorites at all, falling to 1-4 with a sloppy and uninspired game on home ice.
The first game was really, really bad, Landeskog said. It was like we were feeling too much, too good, maybe we were holding ourselves to outside expectations too much, I don’t know. Louis, they played hard and made us look bad, but we wanted to make sure we responded and showed who we were.
Two nights later?
The Avalanche defeated the Blues 8-0, allowing St. John’s to win the game. Louis to shoot only 21 times. Colorado’s power play seemed unstoppable with five mascots. Landeskog scored two goals, bringing his career total to 200.
Ultimately, this is the new standard we need to adhere to, Landeskog said. It wasn’t so much about beautiful pieces or doing something crazy or personal. We’re gonna put on our work boots, and that’s how we’re gonna win this year.
Ultimately, it’s about performance when it matters most, Landeskog said. This is something we need to recognize as a group, we need to move on when it matters most. Isaiah J. Downing – Sports in the United States Today
Empty the notebook
1. Andy Sutton had a 14-year NHL career as a defenseman but never played a full 82-game season. In fact, he missed more time getting injured during that period than any other player in the NHL. Sutton, who studied mechanical engineering at Michigan Tech, has always taken an analytical approach.
I always looked for ways to renew myself while playing the way I wanted to, Sutton says. Working with my team’s coaches and equipment managers, I have learned that many of the problems have to do with equipment deficiencies. When Sutton retired in 2012, he launched his own brand of hockey equipment, Verbero. The idea was to create high-end devices, but to make them affordable by destroying the traditional distribution structure.
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Before the pandemic, Sutton was playing hockey in Los Angeles one morning when he noticed a player on the other team. I was surprised at how strong she was, Sutton said. Her lateral movement, the force with which she pulls the puck. I’ve never had the chance to skate with incredible players.
Sutton showed up after the game. She was Blake Bolden, a former Boston College player who now works as a scout for the Los Angeles Kings. Sutton and Blake met, which brought Sutton back to his senses: There is a huge shortage in the women’s hockey market. The hockey equipment company never created or designed a branded stick for the athlete and then branded it with his name. Sutton wanted Bolden first.
She said it was unexpected that I would meet Andy and that our mood was at that level where he was inspired. And I appreciate it. Because as a woman in this game, we always work and push a little harder. So this seems like a great accomplishment for women in hockey. It’s huge. It’s historic. I’m a brand now. I’ll remember that when I’m old and my grandchildren have an old baseball bat. And it’s going to be beautiful.
In December, Verbero presented the Mercury V350 Stick pickup from the Blake Bolden Signature Series, a true collaboration.
Blake Bolden proudly shows off the new BB MERC350! #Bold #BeDifferent #BeVerbero pic.twitter.com/Ly9mlB8cOP
– Verbero Hockey (@verberohockey) December 13, 2020.
Bolden chose red because his slogan is bold. Then I wanted everything to be black, she said. Because I think murdered objects on cars, wheels, or windows look classy, but also bad….
Then she thought if that’s her signature key, she should probably put her signature on it, like Steph Curry has his signature sneakers, she said. So that’s what inspired me. I love my initials, BB, so I wanted the leaf to be big and bold – front and back.
As for the technology? As a defender, I don’t like to hold my stick too tight, so it’s good to have some grip, Bolden said. My curve, as I played the last seven years in the pros, was a huge banana curve that made my swing very high. I wanted a curve, not very flat, but not a banana. It’s perfect for me because I can quickly take pictures of the wrist or tip. I can get off the shuffleboard quickly, and it does wonders for me.
Bolden is one of 15 athletes Sutton brought into the Verbero structure. He is also working on a signed stick for Canadian international Bridgette Luckett (whose design she commissioned from a prominent Indigenous artist) and a stick for Hayley Wickenheiser, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. (Can you believe no one has developed a Vic Stick yet? It’s wild to me).
For Sutton, this partnership is designed to encourage female athletes and make them feel heard, seen and supported. Bolden gets its own interface on Verbero’s website and is encouraged to market its own network from the small associations affiliated with its alma mater. Verbero will give Bolden 50% of the net profit from the sticks sold. We give the girls the opportunity to make a lot of money and support themselves through hockey, Sutton said. We know we should have done something very important and long ago. It’s inspiring.
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2. After a difficult situation in which players’ families were largely kept out of the NHL bubble this summer, I was curious to see how teams would treat family members attending games this season. According to the CBA, each team must provide two free tickets per player per home game, as well as a minimum of two tickets to be purchased per player for home and away games. In negotiations for 2021, the NHL and FNLPA agreed on an updated policy for that season. Each home player’s guest group sits in their own gondola while keeping their distance from the other players’ gondolas. Teams were also instructed to set up a separate area for outside players.
If you’ve seen the shows, you’ve probably noticed that there are some family members sitting around, but not in all the arenas yet. Some markets are not yet allowing family members due to access restrictions imposed by local health authorities, but this may change as the season progresses.
3. Some comments from players about the differences this season:
- I don’t do much behind the track. I feel like I’m living in a bubble at home.
- They definitely make noise in the arena, but it’s a different energy without the fans. Sometimes the reaction of the [fake] audience is delayed by a second or two.
- And the player in the street: I think there’s a team room where we can meet, but there’s not much to do in the hotel. Most boys will probably spend a lot of time in their rooms.
4. I asked a veteran how he would feel about playing for Columbus or Winnipeg, and he knew that a top player like Pierre-Luc Dubois or Patrick Len would want to be traded.
I don’t know all the details of the situations, the player said. But overall I don’t care, as long as he’s competing and giving everything for the team, as long as he’s there. What happens between the player and management is between them. I just need teammates who are willing to help the team win.
Neither the Blue Jackets nor the Jets are in a hurry to make deals, but they are waiting for deals that make sense. But it seems interesting to note that DuBois leads all Blue Jackets forwards in ice time after two games, and that Lane almost scored a hat-trick for Gordie Howe in the first game (he wasn’t credited for the fight, but he was engaged and attacked), plus he had that ugly wrist:
The craziest show of the young NHL season…. Forbort blocks Andersson’s goal and then Laine pic.twitter.com/2NY4WUuv6w
– World Hockey Report (@worldhockeyyrpt) January 15, 2021
Very few players can get away with that top-of-the-sleeves shot for a breakthrough.
What we enjoyed this week..
1. I bet you can find a clear post-match interview as clear as this with Devils rookie Egor Sharangovic after he scored the winning goal against the Bruins last Saturday:
It’s so ugly and healthy pic.twitter.com/3cNpQfasLz
– Dmitry Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) January 16, 2021
2. Nolan Patrick and Oscar Lindblom made their season debut. Is there a better story in the league this week than this one? Patrick hasn’t played in 652 days. He missed everything last season because of a debilitating migraine. Lindblom was diagnosed with a rare type of bone cancer in December 2019. He finished chemo last July.
Patrick is 22 years old. Lindblum is 24 years old. The Flyers are counting on both of them to contribute this season – they’re important parts of the much-touted young system that has finally arrived – but I’m just happy with the mental toughness it took to get there. I wish them health and success for the future.
3. It’s good to see that King is on the mend. The 38-year-old said he would remain in Cleveland for further testing before returning to New York, where he will continue his rehabilitation and recovery. While many have speculated that Lundqvist’s playing career is likely over after undergoing open heart surgery, no absolute medical determination has been made for the goalkeeper:
He left the hospital yesterday.
I have spent many days without my children for the past 5-8 years because I played hockey. The last nine days have been very different….
It literally warmed my heart as I walked down the aisle pic.twitter.com/jlxU8I8BQh.
– Henrik Lundqvist (@hlundqvist35) January 15, 2021
4. Bill Plaschke was a guest on Around the Horn on Thursday, but he just wanted to echo his praise of the Los Angeles Kings here. As you know, the NHL has allowed teams to put ads on their helmets for the first time this season, and most teams are using it as ad space for their sponsors at the stadiums. Los Angeles has taken a different direction. The Helmet now carries the logo of the California Hope Crisis Counseling Program, a mental health and wellness initiative. We look forward to the 10th. As we approach the end of the 19th month of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put many of us under mental, physical and financial strain, it is good to see professional candor leading the way in this area.
It’s easy to apply the badge, team president Luke Robitaille told the Los Angeles Times. But to have something that can really make a difference, that can really help us get the message across, I really took note of that. I was very happy.
5. It was nice to see Florida (for whatever reason) go back and put Keith Yandle in the starting lineup on Sunday. This has extended his Ironman streak to 867 consecutive races since 2009. This is the fourth longest streak in NHL history. That he scored a goal in the game (and celebrated it so emphatically) was an exclamation point:
Keith Yandle pic.twitter.com/OHF43V5dyh
– Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) January 18, 2021
Even Rick Pitino… Yeah, Rick Pitino… had something to say about that. Keep an eye out for Yandle this season, as there are already rumors of a trade. The 34-year-old male is under contract for two more years with an annual cap of $6.35 million. It’s clear that new general manager Bill Zito is trying to make his mark on the list he inherited, and he’s not happy with his current defensive group, as he’s already claimed two blustery waivers.
What we didn’t like this week
1. See Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s hopes and dreams shattered in real time. It’s a sad thing.
Here’s @andreburakovsky crushing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s dreams and telling him that the February game at Lake Tahoe won’t happen. #Avs pic.twitter.com/Umha9Srtpk
– Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) 12. January 2021
2. I didn’t mind the advertising on the helmets, but on opening night I had trouble getting around the new glass signage at the top of the panels. The situation was especially dire in Tampa Bay, where the small Adidas logos covering the glass made it difficult to see what was happening on the adjacent glass.
The NHL has heard the complaints from spectators: On the second day, the League ordered all the glass on the side of the room to be removed. Much easier to move on.
3. Few things are worse than a warm-up injury. And it wasn’t the ideal way for Ilya Sorokin to make his long-awaited NHL debut, as the Rangers beat the Islanders 5-0 after an unexpected goalie change:
Incident by Semyon Varlamov a few minutes ago pic.twitter.com/i5hvNIJKW
– Rob Taub (@RTaub_) 16. January 2021
4. Another year, more frustration for Colorado fans trying to watch the Avalanche. The Heights and Comcast have not yet signed a broadcast agreement, which means the team’s opening game against St. John’s will not air until the end of the season. Louis, broadcast on the NBC sports network, was picked up for Comcast subscribers. Brutal.
5. The AHL has many small players in financial limbo – and many in need. Players will be on the field until kickoff on the 5th. February is unpaid, and they’re not sure what their pro-rated salary will be in a greatly shortened season.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post covered the story here, including a thought-provoking quote from Larry Landon, executive director of the Professional Hockey Players’ Association : No one is at fault here, but I hope the NHL and the AHL realize that the financial and psychological situation that so many AHL players are in right now is serious. These players have exhausted their credit lines, they have accumulated debt since the end of last season and they are afraid of what is going to happen. Our players are full of misery and fear.
Kirill Kaprizov, RV, Minnesota Wild.
It was a six-year start (and three GMOs from Minnesota), and he did not disappoint. Kaprizov became the second player in the last 37 years to score a goal in overtime in his NHL debut (the other was Tim Sweeney in 1990). Kaprizov also set up Marcus Johansson for the victor two nights later and finished the week with a goal and three assists in two games.
Juice Saros, G, Nashville Predators…
The Predators say they will rely on Saros and Pekka Rinna this season, but Saros, 25, made his first two starts against Columbus and was on the wrong end of the stick. He turned away 71 of 74 shots for a .959 save percentage and an average of 1.50 goals per game.
Travis Konecny, RW, Philadelphia Flyers.
In their two season opening victories against the Penguins, including an 11-5 win over Pittsburgh, many Flyers put on a good show. Konecny was the most productive, with a hat trick and two more assists for five points in two games.
His teammate Travis Sanheim, however, won the title of best pre-game wearing a purple jumpsuit (bonus points for unworn socks):
Gameday Fit Check. #AnytimeAnywhere pic.twitter.com/xJECxNUwg1
– Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) January 13, 2021
Social security contribution for week
I told him to tell me. Convenient. He wouldn’t listen to me.
But we all won. pic.twitter.com/O5otVCLXEf
– New York Rangers (@NYRangers) January 17, 2021
Those good vibes are contagious. Artemi Panarin is a finalist for the Hart Trophy, but he should get more help from his teammates this season. Rangers coaches raved about Pavel Buchnevich at training camp, and it looks like the 25-year-old is ready for action – two goals, an assist and a 19:38 per game average in the first two New York leagues.
The best tape games of this week
Pay attention: Still E.T.
Wednesday the 20th. January: Edmonton Oilers at the Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m.
A sneaky bonus from the divisional realignment: no more Connor McDavid games in prime time (for those of us who don’t live on the West Coast). This is the first of two games against Auston Matthews and the Leafs (the second on ESPN+ on Friday). And it gets better: This season we will see the two young stars compete against each other seven (!!) times on a larger scale.
Friday the 22nd. January: Nashville predators at the Dallas Stars, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN+).
The Stars, who are defending Western Conference champions, will not make their debut until next week due to an outbreak of COVID-19 on the team. They’ll make up for their four missed games later, but for now I’m looking at their offense (which will be without Tyler Seguin for a while) in what should be a tight game.
Saturday the 23rd. January: Tampa Bay Lightning at the Columbus Blue Jackets, 7 p.m. (ESPN+).
He’s become one of my favorite NHL opponents in recent years, and I’m excited about the redesigned divisions that will bring him eight games this season. The Lightning’s offense looked good without Nikita Kucherov in the early season win over Chicago, but the Blue Jackets’ orderly defense often makes things difficult for them.
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