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Avalanche season falls well short of expectations


DENVER - The lockers are empty. The players have had their exit interviews. Coaches and management have discussed the highs and lows of the season, identified problem areas, and have begun the long process of fixing them. And for a second straight year, the iteration of the Colorado Avalanche that started the season looked vastly different from the one that finished it. At the season ending media availability, several players, coaches, and front office staff gave their insight on the season as a whole. When asked about his experience, first-year coach Craig Berube said:

"It was an interesting year, for sure. As a coach, you like to get familiar with players, figure out where they fit in your system. I didn't get a ton of that with a lot of key guys this year, so I had to kind of learn on the go. That's hard for a coach. Do I think it impacted our year? I talked with Joe and Kaylen about that and I'll keep that conversation private."

Coach Berube's squad changed frequently this year as Avalanche brass seemingly shifted gears mid-way through the season. Joe Sakic, Colorado's President of Hockey Operations, explained that "ultimately, the opportunity to obtain a player of that calibre was too good to pass up. Struggling out of the gate played a factor in that decision, but we were playing good hockey at the time of that trade, and the trajectory of our season changed shortly afterward."

"I talked to Craig," he added, "I told him this one is on us, and ensured him we're all on the same page moving forward, in terms of the direction of this team." Incumbent GM Kaylen Noga echoed Sakic's comments, lamenting the disappointing season, stating "Starting off the year that way after the moves we made last summer was really difficult to see. We expected more from some of our guys this year, they know that. We needed more from our goaltenders at the beginning of the year. I love the way the team is constructed now, though. I wish we started the year with this team, I really do."

Berube seemed upbeat despite the disappointing season, stating "it's time to just move on from this and focus on next year. The guys up top, they have the draft to focus on and we have a lot of work to do as well. I'm looking forward to have a full training camp with Dylan, John, Dmitry and Nik. I got a look at Linus at the end of the year, I liked what I saw. I really enjoyed the leadership we brought in, Dylan and John really acclimated well. The guys all get along, and we're all really looking forward to next year."

Dylan Larkin, acquired in a Christmas blockbuster with the Carolina Hurricanes, said he's used to being disappointed, but he agrees with his coach: "yeah I mean, look where I came from, right? Carolina is basically a synonym for disappointment, that's nothing new for me. This team is different, though. We're all disappointed in how things went this year but we know what we're capable of, and we're motivated to work hard this summer and prove it next year." When asked how it felt to be named captain of the team immediately upon arrival, Larkin said "it was a huge honour. The day of the trade they called me and gave me the head's up, so that was nice. Joe and Kaylen have been pretty open with me the whole time, it's comforting. I'm excited to be a part of the plan here."

Sophomore forwards Pierre-Luc Dubois and Jake DeBrusk are already among the current team's longest-tenured players. After enjoying breakout rookie campaigns, each player went through a season of growth. "It was tough," Dubois said, "a really interesting season to go through. Obviously I was hoping we'd be playing playoff hockey, but there's always next year." DeBrusk, who missed a few games due to injury, just wanted to put the year behind him, stating "yeah I'm on to next year. This one wasn't one for the books, and we expect way more out of ourselves. So I'm already on to next year, because me personally, I have a lot to prove."

Before next season, though, Colorado needs to navigate the entry draft and free agency. The Avalanche have the 9th best odds of landing the top-pick, likely to be Rimouski forward Alexis Lafrienère. "We've taken a long look at the top-15 to 25 guys, we have a list of players we like," said Sakic. "I think there are like 15 kids that have top-10 potential or something like that, so we're still getting a very good player." GM Noga added "we might trade it, too. We hear that usually goes over well, so we'll definitely consider moving the 1st overall pick if we win the lottery."

Whoever they draft will join a prospect pool stocked with highly-touted prospects like Owen Tippett, Conor Timmins, Nicolas Hague, and Alex Newhook, recent receipient of the Tim Taylor Award for being the best rookie in the NCAA. "We check in on our prospects regularly," commented Sakic. "We really like the direction that Sour (Martin Kaut) and Bowie (Shane Bowers) are going, we think they'll be ready to contribute in 1-2 years. Obviously we're excited about Sammy (Ilya Samsonov), and Newie (Newhook), they showed a ton of growth this year."

In all, the Avs' GM felt this season was a slight step forward, saying "this year was a learning experience," GM Noga said, "We aren't happy with the way the season ended, not one bit. But we are ecstatic with the group we've assembled here. I had high hopes for Robin, but you just don't pass up acquiring a player like Dylan Larkin. We took a long look at Ilya Samsonov and Linus Ullmark, and we think we have one very good goalie ready to step in very soon. This team is about to turn a corner, hopefully it's really exciting to watch." For Mile One Hockey, this was Sandy Bunns reporting.