Truth be known, the Avs’ defense of their glorious NHL championship in 2022 ended at the victory parade.
After taking long and glorious gulps from the Stanley Cup, the Avalanche could never shake the hangover.
Gabe Landeskog, the best captain any hockey team could want, came up with a lame knee that stubbornly refused to heal.
Nazem Kadri took a well-deserved payday in free agency and took his mess-around-and-find-out attitude with him to Calgary.
Rather than getting down to the difficult task of building a dynasty, coach Jared Bednar was stuck endlessly trying to patch cracks in his lineup.
Although the Avs never surrendered to the grind, they also never regained that championship mojo, and after making a late run to win the Central Division, it felt like this team was already out of gas before the playoffs even began.
“We were kind of like a loaded gun. I felt like we weren’t ready to fire all year. We were always just reloading,” Cale Makar told me Monday, reminiscing about the failure to repeat as champs before the Avalanche hopped on a flight to Los Angeles, eager to drop the puck on a new season.
In retrospect, it seems clear now the Avs made the mistake after the championship of saying goodbye to Kadri then running it all back as best the NHL salary cap would allow.
Nobody asked me, but I think Chris MacFarland has taken a smarter approach during his second season as general manager by making more of an effort to re-invent and re-imagine what this team can be. The most potentially impactful moves: Adding veteran forwards Jonathan Drouin and Ryan Johansen to refortify the top two scoring lines.
“Your goal is always to win, and when you don’t, it stings,” Colorado defenseman Bo Byram said.
But after sending forward Valeri Nichushkin home from the playoffs and getting bounced in the opening round by the Kraken, how quickly these new-look Avs can get back in the chase for the Cup, much less embrace the bold ambition to be a dynasty, will depend first and foremost on Makar.
OK, I have not forgotten how Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen can light the lamp with goals. The big two on Colorado’s top line are perennial all-stars.
Makar, however, is a generational talent.
While the speed of MacKinnon can take the breath away of everybody at the rink, it is Makar who’s more likely to grow into one of the top 10 players at his position of all time.
What’s more: Although his cheeks still burn with the crimson glow of a child every time he finishes a shift, the 24-year-old is the most likely candidate to fill the leadership void in the dressing room that lingers with the prolonged absence of Landeskog, whose chronic health issues will cost the captain another season.
“We know we’re not going to win the Stanley Cup in Game 1. It’s a building process that you have to work through. And that’s what we did in our Cup year,” said Makar, who logged a workmanlike average of 26 minutes, 22 seconds of ice time per night last season but appeared in 60 of 82 regular-season games due to a hard-knock year of his own.
“That’s what we’re going to try to instill in our new guys. But coming here is not easy. Every day we’re going to compete and make each other better. We’re not just going to float around.”
The Avs have been remade. But have the dreams of a dynasty been truly rejuvenated?
“We should be a hungry group this year,” Bednar said.
On the ManningCast of the Raiders’ victory on Monday night against Green Bay in Las Vegas, Peyton and Eli Manning watched the Golden Knights raise the Stanley Cup they won last season for the pleasure of their diehard fans.
“The Avalanche are just letting the Knights have it for a year,” said PFM, who drank a cold beer from the Cup when the big silver chalice was in the Avs’ possession. “It’s coming back to Denver.”
We hear you, Payton. We’re all thirsty for another sip.