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.”
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.
– By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)