Getty

‘Not much positive’ to take from Avs’ miserable season

10 Comments

DENVER (AP) Defenseman Erik Johnson neatly summed up the Colorado Avalanche’s dreary season.

“Not fun,” he said. “Don’t want to go through it again.”

Here’s how far the Avalanche tumbled: Their 48 points were the lowest in a full season since 1999-2000, when the expansion Atlanta Thrashers had 39. Colorado was pretty much out of the playoff race by Christmas.

Now, the real work begins for Hall of Fame forward-turned-general manager Joe Sakic. Colorado will have a high draft pick – maybe even the top pick – but some big decisions to make. Namely, whether or not to completely overhaul this team by possibly trading captain Gabriel Landeskog or forward Matt Duchene after a third straight season of missing the playoffs.

“I want to be here and figure this thing out,” Landeskog said. “From the bottom of my heart, I want to be here and build this thing, because this is truly rock bottom.”

The season got off to a rough start before it even began when Patrick Roy surprisingly stepped aside in August. Taking his place was first-time NHL coach Jared Bednar.

Colorado’s unraveling started in late November, when the team went 0-4-1 on a homestand. Soon after, the Avalanche endured a 2-18-1 stretch. They finished 61 points behind Central Division winner Chicago.

“It shouldn’t happen, with the players we have here. It’s unacceptable to have as many losses as we did,” defenseman Francois Beauchemin said.

Asked about any positives he can take from such a downtrodden season, Beauchemin paused.

“I can’t think of anything,” he said. “There’s not much positive.”

Well, maybe a few things, like the development of 19-year-old Tyson Jost, who was taken with the 10th overall pick in 2016, signed a three-year entry contract on March 29 and scored his first NHL goal last week. Or the play of Mikko Rantanen, the Finnish forward who earned his 20th goal in the season finale.

“We have a lot of good, young players coming up,” said the 21-year-old Nathan MacKinnon, who led the team with 53 points and played in all 82 games. “It’s going to take some work, but I think the future is bright.”

Colorado has a 17.9 percent chance of earning the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft lottery and won’t finish lower than fourth. The team also has until Aug. 15 to negotiate a deal with University of Denver standout defenseman Will Butcher, who recently won the Hobey Baker Award and a national championship. He was a fifth-round selection by Colorado in 2013.

Johnson doesn’t think this team is all that far from being a contender again.

“It’s not like we re-gutted it and took on a new team. It’s just one of those years,” said Johnson, who missed 36 games with a broken leg. “Just have to hit the reset button and come back hungry and remember what this feels like.”

Related: Fixing the Avs won’t be easy

Here are things to know about the Avalanche’s worst full season since moving to the Mile High City in 1995-96:

RUMORS, RUMORS: Duchene’s name will surface in trade speculation this offseason – just like it did at the trade deadline. “Whatever happens, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be an Av,” said the 26-year-old Duchene, who moved into the top 10 this season in franchise scoring. “We’ll see what happens.”

HARD TO FATHOM: Colorado was in contention for a playoff berth down the stretch in 2015-16, so the sudden deterioration is a surprise. “They’ve got some great talent there. To me, it’s a mystery why they’ve not had the success they should’ve had,” Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NO EASY ANSWER: One quick fix to get the Avalanche back on track? Probably not that simple. “We’ve proven we can play some good hockey at times,” Bednar said. “We have to get there more consistently.”

VARLY’S RETURN: In 2013-14, goaltender Semyon Varlamov was a candidate for the Vezina Trophy after a 41-win season. This season, Varlamov was limited to 24 games before undergoing season-ending hip surgery in late January. “I’m looking forward to getting a fresh start in September,” he said. There’s a chance Varlamov could be left unprotected by the team in the upcoming expansion draft with Las Vegas set to join the league.

FREE AGENTS: The Avalanche’s most notable unrestricted free agents are John Mitchell, Rene Bourque and Fedor Tyutin. The restricted free agents include Matt Nieto, Mikhail Grigorenko, Patrick Wiercioch, Nikita Zadorov and Sven Andrighetto.

Space Needle time capsule includes NHL Seattle’s final five name choices

1 Comment

Seattle NHL’s expansion franchise will have an official name sometime in 2020, but as of Monday the team is down to five choices ahead of their entry to the league for the 2021-22 season.

On Monday, a time capsule that was sealed and won’t be opened until the famed Seattle Space Needle’s 100th birthday included items such as Nirvana records, Twinkies, one share of Amazon stock, and signed baseballs from Seattle Mariners legends.

The stainless steel and aluminum capsule stands over three feet tall and weighs more than 160 pounds. It will hold over 100 items, including one hockey-related inside.

While we’ll know what the NHL Seattle franchise will be called some time next year, come April 21, 2062, when the time capsule is opened, inside will be an envelope featuring the final five options for the team’s nickname. The odds are low, but we may have a long wait to learn what choices were debated before the ownership group landed on something like Emeralds, Sockeyes, Cougars, Kraken, Rainiers, Totems, or something else.

“Every name has a nuance,” NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke told the team’s website in August. “Our job is to think through the nuances. Sometimes the best intended names can mean one thing to one group and another thing to another group. It is important the name reflects the values of the Pacific Northwest.”

“Those who think we are sitting on a predetermined name, nope,” Leiweke added. “We work on this every day. We are right on time with the naming process. We are still on a journey of self-identity but also on a journey to understand not just what we are but what we aren’t. Names that might have made sense a year ago, today don’t make as much sense.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Boyle ready for ‘great opportunity’ with Panthers

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Life threw Brian Boyle another curveball.

Expecting to be signed this summer when he was an unrestricted free agent, the 34-year-old forward did not latch on with any NHL teams, either through a contract or a tryout. Boyle had planned to be in a training camp somewhere with his family settled, but that didn’t happen. Instead, he had to wait for a call from a serious suitor.

Working with a trainer back home in Massachusetts, Boyle kept in shape as best he could all while keeping in contact with teams, including the Panthers, who signed the veteran to a one-year deal on Sunday.

“This is a great opportunity,” Boyle said Monday. “This checks so many boxes. Ultimately, I’ve been around, I’ve played a lot of games, I’ve played in playoff games. I really just want to win. That’s really all that’s left to do.”

The 3-2-3 Panthers aren’t off to the start they hoped, but Boyle’s experience will serve them well in a season where expectations are high following a summer where Joel Quenneville and Sergei Bobrovsky were among their big additions.

“He played a lot of playoff games, meaningful games,” Quenneville said. “Big games are something that we want to get to. There’s some veteran experience that’s going to come out as we go through the season. He wants to be here, and I think it’s a good fit in a lot of ways.”

Boyle, who beat leukemia after a 2017 diagnosis and dealt with severe medical issues with his young son as well that season, has 766 regular season games and 114 playoff games, which includes back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances in 2014 and 2015, under his belt. It was a bit of a surprise he went unsigned for so long, but now he’s relishing the opportunity to be back in the NHL.

“It worked out. There were waves,” Boyle said. “I was up and I was down, some days when you’re bummed out wondering if you’re going to get the call and other days that you’re excited. I’ve had a great career. I’m not owed anything by this league. It’s a privilege to be in, and I’m happy I’m back.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Hawerchuk’s cancer fight; NHLers on rules

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk is undergoing chemotherapy after being diagnosed with stomach cancer in August, saying he is optimistic as he battles “the fight of my life.” [TSN]

• Before Monday night’s game against Columbus, Mitch Marner paid tribute to seven-year-old Hayden Foulon, who passed away over the weekend after battling leukemia for the past six years. [Sportsnet]

• NHL players talk about the current rules they’d love to see changed: “Losing in a shootout, it’s probably the worst feeling ever. I’d rather, you know, lose it going against your opponents and fighting for it.” [Toronto Star]

Ben Bishop‘s home was damaged turned a tornado that hit the Dallas area on Sunday. A house that Tyler Seguin is currently selling was also damaged. The Stars forward moved to a different home last November. [Dallas Morning News]

• Why the struggling Blues need to find the “buy-in” again. [Post-Dispatch]

• Trade winds may be swirling around Kyle Turris, but his play has been strong for the Predators. [Nashville Post]

• Local boy Sam Lafferty is authoring a really nice story with the Penguins. [Tribune-Review]

• Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic has a lot of “old school” in him. [Calgary Herald]

• Should the Flyers trust Alain Vigneault’s process? [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

• Paul Maurice on how the Jets want to approach shot blocking. [Jets]

• A ranking of “worst to first” jerseys for the Jets. [Hockey by Design]

• The Rangers are “struggling” to find out what’s gone wrong during their current losing streak. [NHL.com]

• Andrew MacDonald has signed a one-year deal with SC Bern of the Swiss league. [Swiss Hockey News]

• Explaining Todd McLellan’s system for the LA Kings. [Frozen Royalty]

• Colby Saganiuk making impression with U.S. Under-17 team. [NHL.com]

• Ovie the Bulldog talks friendships, snacks and what he’d do as NHL commissioner for a day. [Dog o’Day]

• Finally, what’s a number worth? A pretty good haul for the Panthers’ Frank Vatrano:

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Russian hockey team fined for coach’s arson threat

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian hockey team has been fined after its coach threatened to set fire to a referee’s car.

The Kontinental Hockey League fined Amur Khabarovsk 300,000 rubles ($4,700) after coach Alexander Gulyavtsev shouted ”I’m going to set fire to your car in Perm,” a reference to the Russian city where both he and referee Viktor Gashilov are from.

Gulyavtsev was protesting a penalty awarded against his team in Monday’s game against Dynamo Moscow.

Gulyavtsev later claimed he meant the comments as ”a joke,” adding that ”I just said car, it’s not as if I said apartment.”

However, the KHL ruled the comments breached its rules on insulting and threatening officials. The league warned Amur that cases like this ”tarnish the image” of the league.

Dynamo Moscow won 5-1.