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


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.

A ‘single voice’ is back running the Florida Panthers


In hindsight, the Florida Panthers had too many cooks in the kitchen, trying to run a team that ended up being one of the NHL’s most disappointing in 2016-17.

So today, the Panthers put the old head chef back in charge, naming Dale Tallon general manager and vowing that every hockey decision will go through him.

“Everything was done with the best intentions,” team president Matthew Caldwell said, per the Miami Herald. “We want to win. We want to look at a lot of things that were out there, a lot of voices, but I think what we learned is that having a singular voice who listens to everything — listens to analytics, listens to scouts, listens to his gut for many, many years — and have one single voice that reports to ownership is most important.”

It’s a far cry from what we heard a year ago, when Tallon was “promoted” to president of hockey ops, with Tom Rowe taking over GM duties, assisted by Eric Joyce and Steve Werier.

“I wasn’t a big fan of doing contracts,” Tallon said at the time. “It frees me up to do what I think I do best, and that’s go scout, evaluate talent, mentor our young guys, and help develop them. That’s basically what I like to do. I like going to rinks. I like freezing my rear end off in these little rinks. That’s what I enjoy most about this job.”

Rowe, of course, ending up coaching the Panthers after Gerard Gallant was fired in November. The team is not keeping Rowe behind the bench for next season, though he’ll remain with the organization as a special advisor.

Tallon said the Panthers have “a list of young coaches that we’re interested in and we’re going to go in that direction.”

Nill wants experienced coach, could make a hire ‘pretty quickly’


Jim Nill wants an experienced coach who can get the most out of the Dallas Stars.

“This isn’t a rebuild,” Nill told the Dallas Morning News after it was announced Sunday that Lindy Ruff would not be back behind the bench. “I think we’ve got a lot of good pieces in place.”

Nill already has a few names in mind.

“Right now I’ve had three people I’ve been talking to,” he said. “May get expanded here a little bit more. I’m hoping this is going to happen pretty quickly. These guys are all good coaches. This league moves pretty fast. I know there’s other teams looking at things also. I hope that this happens pretty quickly.”

Given Nill’s desire to hire an experienced coach, Ken Hitchcock would seem to be a potential candidate. That being said, Nill also wants a coach who can bring the most out of the Stars’ “skill” players, and Hitchcock’s reputation is built on defense and physical play.

Read more: Who’s going to coach the Stars?

As for the team’s perceived biggest weakness — goaltending — Nill did not offer any clarity regarding what might happen this offseason.

“I thought the goaltending early in the season probably kept our head above the water when we had six of our top nine forwards out,” said Nill. “And then they had their moments I think from January on where they were very inconsistent.”

Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are both signed for one more year.

Yzerman won’t blame injuries for Bolts’ playoff miss


The Tampa Bay Lightning made a valiant attempt to overcome a number of key injuries this season. Alas, their quest to make the playoffs fell just shy of the mark.

At least, that’s how a lot of people saw it.

But not GM Steve Yzerman.

The way Yzerman saw it, the Lightning blew it early on. They didn’t start the season well enough, and missing the playoffs was what they got.

“We as a team, we got humbled a little bit here,” he told reporters today. “We had injuries, but I don’t think injuries are why we aren’t in the playoffs.”

What was it then?

“For whatever reason, we gave up too many quality scoring chances for the better part of 50 games,” he said.

But the injuries can’t be denied. Steven Stamkos only played 17 games. Also missing significant time: Ryan CallahanTyler Johnson, Jason Garrison, and Anton Stralman.

Even Nikita Kucherov only managed to play 74 games, though that was a lot, relatively speaking. Nobody on the Lightning — not one guy — appeared in all 82 games. And don’t forget, the Bolts traded Valtteri Filppula, Brian Boyle and Ben Bishop at the deadline.

For the record, Yzerman was happy with his team down the stretch.

“It was playoff mode for the last month and I thought the team responded well,” he said.

The key will be to start next season in the same mode, taking care of both ends of the ice, not making it so hard on the goalies.

Of course, fewer injuries would help, too.

Canucks fire Desjardins as head coach


The Vancouver Canucks have fired Willie Desjardins as head coach.

The news, first reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, should come as no surprise.

The Canucks missed the playoffs for a second straight year under Desjardins. They finished 28th overall last season, and dipped to 29th this season.

“We made a very difficult decision to relieve Willie Desjardins of his duties as head coach today,” said GM Jim Benning in a statement. “It’s been a challenging season and we all share responsibility for the results; however, we felt this change was necessary as we continue to develop a young team and look ahead to the future.”

Particularly damning for the coaching staff were Vancouver’s special teams — the penalty killed finished 28th, and the power play 29th.

Assistant coaches Doug Lidster and Perry Pearn were also fired today.

Desjardins was hired in the summer of 2014 and led the Canucks to the playoffs in his first season behind the bench. But a loss to Calgary in the first round marked the turning of the team’s fortunes. It’s been a tough go ever since, and today Desjardins paid the price.

Vancouver joins Vegas, Dallas and Florida as teams with a head-coaching vacancy.

Travis Green, the head coach of the Canucks’ AHL affiliate in Utica, could be a candidate to replace Desjardins.