Blake Comeau

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Culture Change: How an attitude adjustment has slowly begun to turn the Colorado Avalanche around

WINNIPEG — Gabriel Landeskog knew. 

A change in the cultural fabric in Colorado is something the Avalanche had talked about for a couple seasons, and something that hadn’t happened.

The warning signs for the 25-year-old captain of the Avs were abundant, including a treasure trove of terrible that attached itself to a historically brutal season in 2016-17.

Like the natural phenomena they’re named after, those problems finally broke free early last season for the Avs. Unable to be controlled, they tore down the Colorado Avalanche, only coming to a halt at the end of the season at rock bottom. 

“You take it pretty personal,” Landeskog said on Saturday in Winnipeg, hours before his team would lose 3-0 to the Winnipeg Jets, a fourth loss in their past five games since winning 10 straight.

It was a far cry from the days of Forsberg, Sakic and Roy, when the team was dominating the Western Conference, not wallowing as the team others trampled over at will.

That winning culture was gone, replaced with mediocrity in recent years and then utter failure after last season.

Nothing looked quite like last year.  

Colorado’s 48 points was a franchise worst. They lost 56 games. They were last or close to last in numerous statistical categories.

“You’re not supposed to take it home with you, but I would,” Landeskog said. “This is our job, this is what we do. It’s something that is hard to put behind you, going home and trying not to think about the fact that you just lost six in a row.”

The Avs needed a core leadership group to emerge to start those changes. Landeskog said himself, Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Nathan MacKinnon and Blake Comeau came together to figure out how to begin to mend their ailing team. 

“It was really embarrassing for us,” Barrie said of the 2016-17 campaign. 

Barrie, along with the now-departed Matt Duchene, led the team with a minus-34. It’s a flawed statistic, sure, but one indicative one what was happening on the ice. Only four players that played some sort of role for the Avalanche were zero or better in that category. 

“It was a bad season and we knew we didn’t want to be back there. It was a long summer for us,” Barrie said.

With a core trying to steer this ship and a coaching staff in the same boat, Barrie said training camp prior to this season was the hardest and toughest he’s taken part in.

“Physical, testing, everything like that,” he said.

Landeskog said the leadership group assembled wasn’t a dictatorship, noting that every team has its core and it was a potential solution to the massive problem. 

“It’s easier said than done,” Landeskog said of changing the team’s attitude. “There were a lot of Xs and Os. We had a young team that maybe didn’t have to be accountable where they came from before. Maybe there was a different attitude. We had to establish one attitude here, and it started with the veteran guys.” 

Both Landeskog and Barrie agreed that there wasn’t a particular switch that was flipped this season. Hard work from training camp didn’t immediately translate as the Avs flirted with .500 in October.

But Landeskog pointed to the trip they took to Sweden as a possible turning point.

The Avs lost both games to the Ottawa Senators — close affairs — and were dealing with the departure of Matt Duchene, who had been traded days before they embarked to Landeskog’s homeland.

“You talk about team building and stuff like that. Some people might not believe in it, but I’m a strong believer in it,” Landeskog said. “That trip brought us a lot closer.”

The on-ice product started to follow suit. The work they had put in since the beginning of the season began to pay off and the Avs rattled off 10 straight wins to climb back into the playoff picture.

“We’re a different team this year,” Barrie said. “I think having some fresh, new faces in here, some guys who were really excited to be in the NHL and be a part of a team like the Avalanche, gave us some energy.”

MacKinnon has put himself in the Hart Trophy conversation with what many believe is his breakout season. A 2-to-4 week suspected shoulder injury has derailed that a little bit, but MacKinnon’s stellar play leading by example has helped the Avs to where they are, just outside the playoff line — something unimaginable at this point last season.

Mikko Rantanen has taken a step forward in his sophomore year and rookie Alexander Kerfoot has been a godsend down the middle, especially now that he’s tasked to help stem the bleeding in MacKinnon’s absence.

“There’s been a lot of turnover,” Barrie said. “You look at guys like (MacKinnon) taking the next step. And we’ve had guys just elevate their play and these young guys come in (who are) so excited to play. They’ve been a big part of our team… it’s really exciting for the future.”

It’s a start, Landeskog said.

“We’re growing together.”

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

For Pens, Tuesday’s moves were all about depth and finances up front


Following a busy day in which he flipped Brandon Sutter to Vancouver for Nick Bonino and Adam Clendening, then signed ex-Capital Eric Fehr, Pens GM Jim Rutherford explained how those moves met two of his biggest objectives.

“The two deals went hand-in-hand so we can add more depth,” Rutherford said. “We have enough good players now that guys are going to have to compete for those spots [in training camp] and compete for them all year.”

He then addressed the money issue.

“When you look at the structure of our salaries and our cap, it’s important to get those bottom-six cap hits in better shape,” Rutherford explained. “That’s what we were able to do with these two deals.”

It’s not surprising that depth and finances were two of Pittsburgh’s biggest offseason priorities. Money allotment has been an issue — Sutter, a pending UFA potentially in line for a raise, was making $3.3 million while playing what amounted to a third-line center role.

Combined, Bonino and Fehr are a $3.9M cap hit.

(Lest we forget that, in the Phil Kessel trade earlier this month, Rutherford dealt away another relatively expensive third-liner in Nick Spaling, who makes $2.2M annually.)

Earlier, veteran depth guys Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Daniel Winnik and Craig Adams were allowed to walk in free agency, giving likes of Beau Bennett ($800K), KHLer Sergei Plotnikov ($925K), Swedish prospect Oskar Sundqvist ($700K) and Czech Leaguer Dominik Simon ($692K) a chance to get into the rotation.

So that’s the financial side.

In terms of depth up front, Pittsburgh seems far better suited to deal with injuries — something that, you may remember, was a recurring issue in ’14-15. Kessel gives the club a bonafide scoring winger to play alongside either Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while Fehr and Bonino, both natural centers, provide nice depth down the middle.

Fehr could even bounce outside if need be.

“Eric is definitely comfortable as a two-positional player,” Rutherford said. “He could possibly jump up into the top six, if that situation presented itself, but he’s coming off of a year where he played center.”

Pascal Dupuis is expected to return after playing just 16 games last year, and the club will get a full season of David Perron, acquired from Edmonton in January. Add it all up, and it’s easy to see why Rutherford is so pleased with Pittsburgh’s new-look forward group — it’s deeper, with a more sensible financial structure.

“If a guy falls off, there’s a guy waiting to jump right in there,” he explained. “I like the fact that we have enough guys that each guy can push each other.

“I like our depth at forward now.”

Avs ink former first-rounder Hishon to one-year deal


Colorado has re-upped with RFA forward Joey Hishon — the club’s first-round pick (17th overall) in 2010 — to a one-year deal.

Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

Hishon, 23, made his NHL debut during the ’13-14 playoffs and his regular-season debut last year, scoring two points in 13 games. The former OHL Owen Sound standout has struggled mightily with health issues over the last few years — most notably, a concussion suffered with the Attack that sidelined him for 22 months, delaying the start of his pro career in the AHL.

Last season Hishon suffered both neck and elbow injuries, which limited him to the aforementioned 13 games.

It’ll be interesting to see where Hishon fits next season. The Avs replaced outgoing center Ryan O’Reilly with ex-Bruin Carl Soderberg, so it could be a struggle for Hishon to find minutes down the middle. If Colorado contemplates a move to the wing, Hishon will have a pair of new faces challenging for playing time: Mikhail Grigorenko, acquired in the O’Reilly trade, and Blake Comeau, who was signed in free agency.

PHT’s 2015 free agent frenzy tracker


Throughout the day, we’ll be keeping tabs on all the signings across the NHL. Check back regularly for all the biggest signings, trades and other acquisitions from July 1:

Wednesday, July 1

• Washington signs Justin Williams: two years, $6.5 million (link)

• Arizona signs Antoine Vermette: two years, $7.5 million (link)

• Anaheim signs Shawn Horcoff: one year, $1.75 million (link)

• New Jersey signs Jim O’Brien to one-year, two-way deal

• Boston signs Matt Beleskey: five years, $19 million (link)

• Toronto signs Daniel Winnik: two years, $4.5 million (link)

• Columbus signs Gregory Campbell: two years, $3 million (link)

• Montreal signs Mark Barberio: one-year, two-way deal worth $600K at NHL level (link)

• Anaheim signs Matt Hackett to a two-year deal and Chris Mueller and Joe Piskula to one-year deals

• Detroit signs Brad Richards: one year, $3 million (link)

• Minnesota signs Zac Dalpe: one year, $ TBA

• Toronto signs Mark Arcobello: one year, $1.1 million

• Florida signs Cameron Gauce and Brett Regner: term and $ TBA

• Pittsburgh signs Steven Oleksy: one year, $575,000

• Pittsburgh signs Kevin Porter and Kael Mouillerat to matching one-year, $575,00 deals

• Detroit signs Mike Green: three years, $18 million (link)

• Boston extends Ryan Spooner: two years, $1.9 million (link)

• Pittsburgh signs Sergei Plotnikov: one year, $ TBA

• Ottawa signs Mike Kostka: one year, $800,000

• Minnesota signs Ruslan Fedotenko: one year, $ TBA

• Toronto extends  Richard Panik: one year, $975,000

• Vancouver signs Taylor Fedun: one year, $ TBA

• Ottawa signs Zack Stortini: two years, $ TBA

• Dallas extends Curtis McKenzie: two years, $1.35 million

• Buffalo signs Cal O’Reilly: two years, $1.4 million

• New York Rangers sign Viktor Stalberg: one year, $1.1 million (link)

• Toronto signs P.A. Parenteau: one year, $1.5 million (link)

• New Jersey signs John Moore: three years, $4.8 million (link)

• Nashville signs Cody Hodgson: one year, $1.05 million (link)

• New York Rangers sign Raphael Diaz: one year, $700,000

• Tampa Bay signs Eric Condra: three years, $3.75 million (link)

• Vancouver signs Richard Bachman: two years, $ TBA

• Pittsburgh signs David Warsofsky: one year, $600,000

• Minnesota extends Ryan Carter: one year, $625,000

• Chicago signs Viktor Tikhonov, one-year, $1.04 million (link)

• Winnipeg signs Alex Burmistrov: two years, $3.1 million (link)

• Nashville signs Barrett Jackman: two years, $2 million (link)

• Carolina extends Riley Nash: one year, $1.5 million

• St. Louis extends Chris Butler: one year, $675,000

• Minnesota extends Nate Prosser: two years, $1.25 million

• San Jose signs Paul Martin: four years, $19.4 million (link)

• Los Angeles signs Jhonas Enroth: one year, $1.25 million (link)

• Calgary signs Michael Frolik: five years, $21.5 million (link)

• Vancouver signs Matt Bartkowski: one year, $1.75 million (link)

• Arizona signs Zybnek Michalek: two years, $6.4 million (link)

• Arizona signs Dustin Jeffrey: one year, two-way deal

• Arizona signs Steve Downie: one year, $1.75 million (link)

• Arizona signs Anders Lindback: one year, $875,000 (link)

• Arizona signs Brad Richardson: three years, $6.24 million (link)

• Colorado signs Francois Beauchemin: three years, $13.5 million (link)

• Colorado signs Blake Comeau: three years, $7.2 million (link)

• Edmonton signs Mark Letestu: three years, $5.4 million (link)

• Edmonton signs Andrej Sekera: six years, $33 million (link)

• Winnipeg extends Matt Halischuk: one year, $750,000

• Philadelphia signs Michal Neuvirth: two years, $3.25 million (link)

• New York Islanders sign Thomas Greiss; two years, $3 million (link)

• Washington extends Stanislav Galiev: two years, $1.15 million

• Toronto signs Matt Hunwick: two years, $2.4 million (link)

• Winnipeg extends Adam Pardy: one year, $1 million (link)

• Vancouver extends Yannick Weber: one year, $1.5 million (link)

• Minnesota extends Mikael Granlund: two years, $6 million (link)

• Detroit extends Tom McCollum: one year, $ TBA

• Detroit extends Andy Miele: one year, $575,000 (link)

• Calgary extends Karri Ramo: one year, $3.9 million (link)

• Dallas extends Patrick Eaves: one year, $1.15 million (link)

• Nashville extends Mike Ribeiro: two years, $7 million (link)

• Chicago extends Artem Anisimov: five years, $22.75 million (link)

• Anaheim extends Kevin Bieksa: two years, $8 million (link)

Previous deals of note (post-draft)

• Brandon Saad, Michael Paliotta and Alex Broadhurst to Columbus for Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a ’16 fourth-rounder (link)

• Detroit re-signs Brendan Smith: two years, $5.5 million (link)

• Kevin Bieksa to Anaheim for a ’16 second-rounder (link)

• Isles re-sign Anders Lee: four years, $15 million (link)

• Martin Jones to San Jose for a ’16 first-rounder and Sean Kuraly; Sharks sign Jones to three-year, $9 million deal (link)

• Jets re-sign Stafford: two years, $8.7 million (link)

• Calgary signs Dougie Hamilton: six years, $34.5 million (link)

Avs sign ‘versatile, dependable’ Comeau to three-year, $7.2M deal


The Colorado Avalanche continued to stay busy on Wednesday — shortly after signing veteran d-man Francois Beauchemin, they agreed to a three-year, $7.2 million deal with former Pens forward Blake Comeau.

From the team:

Comeau, 29, spent this past season with the Pittsburgh Penguins where he recorded 16 goals and 15 assists for 31 points in 61 games. The Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, native shared the team lead with five game-winning goals, which included two overtime winners.

All 16 of his tallies came at even strength, ranking fourth on the Penguins. Comeau finished second on the team with 188 hits.

“Blake is a versatile forward who is dependable and can be used in all situations,” said Avalanche Executive Vice President/General Manager Joe Sakic said in a statement. “He will add not only scoring but also some grit to our lineup as well.”

Previously, Comeau had expressed an interest in staying with Pittsburgh after the club signed him to a one-year, $700,000 deal last July.

“[Blake] is definitely interested in the possibility of returning to Pittsburgh,” Kurt Overhardt told PHT on Thursday. “It’s our goal to try and work something out, but of course we always have July 1 pending.”