By Adrian Dater | @adater
DENVER – Colorado Avalanche players were not short-changed in their partying with the Stanley Cup over the summer. Denver is a city known for its many beer drinkers, but Avalanche players drank everybody under the table on Cup parade day. Not since the Boston Bruins and their infamous team bar tab after winning the Cup in 2011 has a team partied as hard as the Avalanche.
Nobody in Denver begrudged that. It ended a 21-year Cup drought in Denver, and people here were thirsty.
But after a 3-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 2, the Avalanche had just a 19-14-2 record and weren’t even in the top eight in the Western Conference. Can this already be characterized as the dreaded Cup Hangover-type of season?
There’s still plenty of hockey to be played before that judgment can be made. But there is no question that fans are getting a little jittery about their heroes. A bit of complacency no doubt figures into the team’s so-so first half, but the bigger culprit is the injuries that have plagued the team nonstop since training camp.
And right now, there are serious worries about the availability of two top players before the season is up. Captain Gabriel Landeskog is the biggest worry.
The 30-year-old left winger underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on October 18 to correct problems from a previous injury to the knee late in the regular season. Landeskog played hurt but played well in the playoffs and was the first to hoist the Cup on Amalie Arena ice in Tampa as the Avs dethroned the two-time defending Cup champion Lightning.
After the Oct. 18 surgery, the Avs said Landeskog would be out 12 weeks. Those 12 weeks will be up Jan. 18.
On Monday, however, Avs coach Jared Bednar said Landeskog was “nowhere close” to returning and said the previous timetable was out the window. While Bednar said Landeskog is “expected” to return before the end of the regular season, there are no guarantees. Besides, how good will he be after not having played any hockey for nearly a year?
Young, quality defenseman Bo Byram (lower-body) also has no firm timetable on a return, other than Bednar saying the same “expected to return at some point” before the end of the regular season.
The team has been beset by injuries to many other players as well. Yet, there is still room for optimism moving forward. The Avs still have superstars Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, and a bunch of other quality players. If Landeskog and Byram are, indeed, back in time for the playoffs, this will be a team nobody will want to play.
While he has struggled some of late, new goalie Alexandar Georgiev has made fans and Bednar happy with his play. The Avs also might make a trade for a new No. 2 center by the March 3 deadline. Sam Girard ($5 million cap hit) is most likely to go to create enough space for a quality center (Jonathan Toews, Ryan O’Reilly, Bo Horvat?), and there is some speculation the Avs might part with young forward Alex Newhook if the deal is right. Newhook, with 12 points in 36 games, just hasn’t cut the mustard this season after starting the year as the No. 2 center.
The Avs still have plenty of time to wake up and smell the coffee before this season is through.