Sakic embraces win-now mode with contract decisions looming

DENVER — Deep down, this is precisely the sort of depth Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic always pictured.

Two goaltenders to back up one of the best in the league. Three balanced lines to complement a top one that’s anchored by Nathan MacKinnon. A blue line filled with the perfect mix of young and veteran defensemen.

Only one thing may stop the Avalanche going forward: the salary cap.

Not this season, of course, but next. That’s why Sakic chose to make a strong push at the trade deadline with several deals to bolster his NHL-leading team.

“This is as deep of team as we’re going to have here,” Sakic said. “We’re going to have to get cheaper starting next year at some of those positions.”

That’s due to looming contract decisions with three big pieces of the team: goaltender Philipp Grubauer and captain Gabriel Landeskog, who are both free agents after this season, along with defenseman Cale Makar, a restricted free agent.

At the moment, Sakic is locked in on the playoffs, not contract talks. The last Avalanche team to hoist the Cup was the 2000-01 version that included a forward named Sakic.

“Everybody is focused on trying to win a Stanley Cup here,” Sakic said. “We’ll get to all those guys when we get to them. I don’t really have any information on that. I think we’re just focused on hockey right now.”

In order to boost his team, Sakic surrendered some draft picks and young players in trade swaps. Because as they’ve learned through past experiences with injuries, there’s no such thing as too much depth.

To acquire veteran defenseman Patrik Nemeth from Detroit, Sakic sent a 2022 fourth-round pick to the Red Wings.

To pick up backup goaltender Devan Dubnyk from San Jose, Sakic included a 2021 fifth-round pick in addition to defenseman Greg Pateryn.

And to get veteran forward Carl Soderberg from Chicago, Sakic packaged a pair of young forwards in Ryder Rolston and Josh Dickinson.

“We’ve got a lot of prospects we feel,” Sakic said. “We feel this is the right time to do that.”

One thing Sakic didn’t want to do was disrupt team chemistry. So he picked up Nemeth and Soderberg, who both have been around the organization.

Nemeth was actually one of Makar’s first defensive partners. The 29-year-old Nemeth spent two seasons in Colorado from 2017-19. Nemeth is also an insurance policy for Erik Johnson, who won’t return for the regular season due to an undisclosed injury but could possibly be available if the Avs make a deep playoff run.

Soderberg was with the Avalanche from 2015-19, collecting 57 goals and 94 assists.

Both know the Avalanche way — and style.

“I know how excited they are to come back,” Sakic said. “Our dressing room is excited, the guys are excited to have them back. They both fill the needs that we wanted to get accomplished.”

Colorado won’t have goaltender Pavel Francouz this season after he had an undisclosed surgery. That led Sakic to acquire Jonas Johansson from Buffalo — for a sixth-round selection — and later Dubnyk. The Avalanche ran into key injuries at goalie during the postseason last year.

Grubauer has been on his game this season. His 25 wins entered the day tied for most in the league. He also had a stretch from March 10 to April 5 where he went 12-0-1, which was a franchise record for consecutive games with a point.

The 29-year-old Grubauer was sharp in a 4-2 win over Arizona on Monday with 35 saves. This after getting a two-game break to recharge.

“He looked rested,” forward Mikko Rantanen said. “He looked sharp. It was fun to watch.”

The same can be said of Colorado’s four stacked lines, which are led by the top group of Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen. They’ve combined for 58 goals and 85 assists.

“We believe in the players we have,” Sakic said. “Their expectations are to win and our one goal is to win the Stanley Cup. I know we’re not the only team with that same goal. A lot of quality teams here, and a lot of teams think they’re in a good position to make a run at this thing. We’re the same.”

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    Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

    Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

    John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.


    Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

    “I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

    Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

    BIG MO

    The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

    The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

    “He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”


    Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

    Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

    “I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

    The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

    “He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

    The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

    “This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”


    Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

    Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

    “Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”


    The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

    Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

    The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

    Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

    “He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

    Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

    Harry How/Getty Images

    CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

    The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

    The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

    The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.