Avs launch Cup defense after summer filled with celebrations
DENVER (AP) — Mikko Rantanen can’t believe how quickly the summer flew by. One moment the Colorado Avalanche were riding through the streets of Denver on firetrucks and the next they’re back on the ice.
“But it was a good reason for a short summer,” the Avalanche forward said.
They’ve turned the page on the celebrations that carried on throughout the offseason after winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title since 2001. It’s time to get down to the business of defending the Cup, something only two teams have done in the cap era that began in 2005.
“We’re not planning on just winning one,” said Nathan MacKinnon, who’s fresh off signing an extension that made him the highest-paid player in the NHL’s cap era. “We have experience now. We’ve been through a lot as a group. We have most of our guys back, and there’s no reason why we can’t repeat.”
It’s been a busy summer for the front office after the Avs dethroned two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay in six games. The Avalanche made some big trades (acquiring goaltender Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers) and brought in a few new scorers (Evan Rodrigues) as some key players left through free agency (Nazem Kadri to rival Calgary). They also brought back forward Artturi Lehkonen and defenseman Josh Manson, who were both acquired in late-season trades and came up clutch as the Avalanche went 16-4 in the postseason.
Not surprisingly, the Avalanche enter the season as overwhelming Stanley Cup favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. They’ve built around a core of MacKinnon, Rantanen, captain Gabriel Landeskog and Cale Makar, the 23-year-old defenseman who not only won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top blueliner but also the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP.
“The goal is the same,” said Hall of Fame forward turned team executive Joe Sakic, who was promoted from general manager to president of hockey operations over the summer. “It’s to try and win another Cup and have the same amount of fun that they did in the summer — as you probably saw on Instagram.”
NEW GUY IN NET
Georgiev has already found a place in Denver. He’s hoping to settle in between the posts just as smoothly as he takes over for Darcy Kuemper, who is now with Washington.
The 26-year-old Georgiev doesn’t think it will take much time to get in rhythm with a defensive group that includes Makar, Devon Toews, Erik Johnson, Bowen Byram and Samuel Girard.
“So skilled,” Georgiev said. “I’m excited to play behind these guys.”
Georgiev was 15-10-2 with the Rangers last season with a 2.92 goals-against average as he backed up Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
With Kadri now with the Flames, Rantanen is raising his hand to play center if needed.
Rantanen typically is on the right wing, but has occasionally played the center position. He’s coming off a season in which he set career highs in goals (36) and points (92).
“The more you play there, the better you get at it,” Rantanen said. “So if we need to play me there, I’m ready to do that.”
MacKinnon will be wearing the burgundy and blue for quite a while after signing an eight-year contract extension worth $100.8 million. The 27-year-old MacKinnon is coming off a postseason where he tied for the NHL lead with 13 goals.
“Nathan’s a No. 1 center, a franchise center. They’re unicorns, right?” general manager Chris MacFarland said. “What he does for us is really important.”
Landeskog feels the same way.
“He’s been the guy driving our team for a long time,” Landeskog said. “I couldn’t be happier for him — as a teammate, as a friend, as just somebody that’s seen him develop for a long time. Super well-deserved.”
WORST TO FIRST
The Avalanche went from worst-to-first in a five-year span. The team had just 48 points in 2016-17 before their run to the Cup. The players on both rosters included Rantanen, MacKinnon, Landeskog, Johnson and J.T. Compher, with Jared Bednar the coach.
The franchise also finished in last while the team was based in Quebec in 1990-91 and in its first season in Denver (1995-96) went on to hoist the Cup.
The Avalanche will raise their third Stanley Cup banner on Oct. 12 against Chicago. They travel to Calgary the next night to face a familiar face in Kadri, who signed a $49 million, seven-year contract with the Flames.
In early November, Colorado will travel overseas to play the Columbus Blue Jackets in back-to-back games in Tampere, Finland.
The Avalanche realize teams will be using them as a measuring stick.
“It should just help us raise our game,” Bednar said. “In order to have success we’re going to have to.”
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