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Avs governor: “It really bothers me when people say we don’t care about hockey”


Colorado Avalanche governor Josh Kroenke wants fans to know he cares about the local hockey team.

In an interesting interview with Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post, Kroenke addressed complaints that he and ownership are cheap and don’t care about the Avalanche — but also owned up to making mistakes in rebuilding the team.

“I don’t want to say it so bluntly that it offends the fans. But they got spoiled the first few years the Avalanche were in town,” Kroenke said. “We won two Stanley Cups during the first five or six years we were here in Denver. Then we had stars retire and we came into a new system of doing business in the league.

“Could management have done a better job transitioning into the new system? I think that’s fair to say.”

Most of the criticism fired at Kroenke and Co. stems from the low numbers in the wins column — the Avalanche are tied for 13th in the Western Conference — and low numbers on the payroll. Only three teams are spending less on player salaries this season; the Avs are operating at $13 million under the cap ceiling.

Another big issue is the rudderless front office. Longtime executive Pierre Lacroix has experienced serious health issues (his body rejected the adhesive used in his artificial knee; doctors feared his leg might have to be amputated) and while he’s now on the road to recovery, things have been rough without him.

General manager Greg Sherman orchestrated three bizarre transactions — trading Craig Anderson for Brian Elliot and letting Elliott walk; giving up two young talents (Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk) for one (Erik Johnson), sending a first-round pick to Washington in exchange for unproven goalie Semyon Varlamov — and franchise icon Joe Sakic is still learning the executive side of the game.

Kroenke, meanwhile, admits he’s not a hockey guy by nature.

“I never played hockey. I wasn’t around the game growing up,” said Kroenke, who played basketball at the University of Missouri. “So I have to put a certain element of trust in the guys who make the hockey decisions. I think they feel pretty good about the young corps we have. Are we going to take a few on the chin in the meantime, while these players grow up? We might.”

That quote highlights another major criticism — that Josh and his father, owner Stan Kroenke, are much more interested in their other major property, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets. (The Nuggets just signed center Nene to a five-year, $67-million deal, so you can see why Avs fans would be irate.)

That said, Josh remains adamant he and the Avs are on the right track.

“It’s going to take time. That’s the tough part,” he said. “Everybody wants to win now. I understand that. I’m one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet.”

An encouraging start for the Leafs, except for the blown leads

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his first career NHL goal against the Ottawa Senators with team mates Jake Gardiner #51, Nikita Zaitsev #22 and Martin Marincin #52 at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are a young team, and they showed it last night when they jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Winnipeg, only to lose, 5-4, in overtime.

Winnipeg scored three times in the third and Patrik Laine completed his hat trick in overtime, marking the second time this young season that the Jets had won a game they trailed 4-1 after 40 minutes.

“They got better in the third and, in the end, you get what you get,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s disappointing, you want to shut the game down.”

Frederik Andersen had another tough outing. The Leafs’ starting goalie allowed five goals for the second time this season. After three starts, his save percentage sits at just .876. It’s still very early, and he did play well Saturday, but it’s a story worth monitoring given he’s signed through 2020-21 with a $5 million cap hit.

Overall, though, it’s been an encouraging start for the blue and white. Auston Matthews and William Nylander have been a dangerous duo offensively, even if Babcock would like them to be better defensively. Mitch Marner has shown well; he scored his first NHL goal on Saturday. The Leafs have had a chance to win all three of their games. They did win one of them; they blew third-period leads in the two others, falling both times in overtime.

Toronto plays again tonight in Minnesota, then finishes its road trip Saturday in Chicago.

Backup Jhonas Enroth is scheduled to be in goal against the Wild, his first regular-season start as a Leaf.

Auditions for Gaudreau-Monahan linemate in Calgary continue

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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One of the most appealing — and vacant — forward positions in the league will have a new look on Thursday night, as Alex Chiasson gets his chance to skate with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on Calgary’s top line.

That spot was initially held by Kris Versteeg, who turned down a contract in Edmonton partly because of the opportunity to play with Gaudreau and Monahan. Versteeg got his shot, but didn’t have much success — no goals, just one assist through the first four games — and was replaced by Chiasson during Tuesday’s 4-3 OT win over the Sabres.

Chiasson, 26, is an interesting candidate. He broke into the NHL with Dallas under current Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan — scoring six goals and seven points in seven games — and has, at times, shown offensive promise.

He scored 13 goals and 35 points for the Stars during the ’13-14 campaign, and 11 goals and 26 points for Ottawa two years ago. The Boston University product fell on hard times after that, though — his offense really dried up for the Sens last season, and he was flipped to Calgary in exchange for d-man Patrick Sieloff.

The goal, it would seem, is to find the next Jiri Hudler. The veteran Czech winger enjoyed a terrific year playing with Gaudreau and Monahan in ’14-15, scoring a career-high 31 goals and 76 points.

NHL, NHLPA launch program to ‘help players reach their full potential on and off the ice’

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29:  Bill Daly and Mathieu Schneider present Sidney Crosby #87 of Team Canada with the World Cup of Hockey Championship trophy after his teams win over Team Europe during Game Two of the World Cup of Hockey final series at the Air Canada Centre on September 29, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Team Canada defeated Team Europe 2-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The NHL and NHLPA have launched a program designed to help players plan their post-hockey careers long before they hang up their skates.

The Core Development Program will give players avenues to further their education, network and find out what jobs they may be suited for, such as finance and broadcasting. League and NHL Players Association officials say the program announced Thursday targets young players, not just those in the twilight of their careers.

“The sooner they can start focusing on the longer term, the better off they’ll generally be – as much in their careers as after their careers,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said by phone.

This new endeavor is independent of the NHL Alumni’s Break Away program that focuses on player transitions once they retire. Most professional leagues have a similar process, but the NHL and NHLPA believe their program for current players is unique.

The voluntary program was spawned from player feedback. Several retired players have said they wished something like this existed.

Former player Mathieu Schneider, now the NHLPA’s special assistant to the executive director, hopes the program benefits players on the ice, too.

“There have been studies done that show that players that are prepared for life after sports, after their careers, actually perform better during their careers,” Schneider said. “Maybe it alleviates the anxiety or the some of the pressure that might come normally. I think generally guys just have that awareness that, yes, it is an important part of the development of pro athletes.”

Some players have taken their own initiative in establishing non-hockey interests during their playing days, such as Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara getting his real estate license. Longtime forward Jeff Halpern, now an assistant coach for the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch, said examples such as Chara are the best ways to sell this program to current players.

“I think it’s great because a lot of guys, I think, are just scared of what happens after they’re done playing,” said Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt, who’s currently studying for his real estate exam. “Even for a guy that has a college degree, I’m kind of nervous for when that day might come.”

Dumba to be healthy scratch for Wild, is ‘trying to do too much’

Minnesota Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba (55) dumps the puck behind Los Angeles Kings left wing Dwight King (74) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Matt Dumba turned 22 in July, so he’s still pretty young for an NHL defenseman. But for a seventh overall draft pick, the Minnesota Wild might’ve expected him to be making more of an impact by now.

Alas, Dumba will be a healthy scratch tonight at home against Toronto. He’ll be replaced by AHL call-up Mike Reilly.

“Dumba is going to be a really good player,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. “He is right now. He’s trying to do too much. We just want him to calm it down.”

The 2012 draft was notable for the eight defensemen that were taken with the first 10 picks. Four years later, some of them have panned out, like Morgan Rielly (fifth overall) and Hampus Lindholm (sixth). Some of them haven’t, like Griffin Reinhart (fourth). But for most of them, it remains to be seen what they’ll ultimately become. Dumba is in that boat, along with Ryan Murray (second), Derrick Pouliot (eighth), Jacob Trouba (ninth), and Slater Koekkoek (10th). Even Reinhart may figure it out, though it doesn’t look good right now.

Dumba signed a two-year, $5.1 contract extension over the summer. It was the kind of deal that highly touted young players sign when they still have something to prove, which Dumba clearly does.