The Colorado Avalanche finished this past season the closest it had been to a championship in more than 10 years, but close isn't good enough for the club.
Winning the Stanley Cup remains the ultimate goal for the Avs and is the center focus of general manager Joe Sakic heading into a busy offseason for the squad.
"Just got to keep building and getting better. As great as the end of the year was, we still didn't accomplish the end goal," Sakic said. "We still got to find a way to get better and it starts here in the offseason. We took a little break here. [I'll] meet with the coaching staff here, go over our players and just got to go to work and get ready for the draft and free agency."
Colorado's season ended nearly a week ago as it fell one game short of reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2002. The Avalanche was one of only a handful of clubs still playing in early May before losing 3-2 in Game 7 to the San Jose Sharks last Wednesday.
Despite the loss, the Avs displayed a ton of resiliency over the past few months. They went on an 8-0-2 run in the final weeks of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth in their second-to-last contest. Colorado reached the postseason for a second consecutive year, marking the first time the franchise had accomplished the feat since an 11-season run from 1995 to 2006.
"The finish was great. Unfortunately we lost Game 7, but it was a hell of a series," Sakic said. "Two good teams, lot of momentum shifts, but someone had to lose that series and unfortunately it was us. But it was a great series, I think our guys learned a lot in that series, learned how to play against a team like that. So a lot of positives to take from this year."
Sakic's attention now turns to several important tasks that need to be accomplished before October, making this summer possibly one of his busiest since he took control as the executive vice president of hockey operations in 2013. Colorado holds eight picks at the NHL Draft in June, has several of its own players to re-sign and will be active in the open market once free agency begins.
"We're excited about this offseason. There are a lot of things that we can do to improve this club and make us a stronger team for next year," Sakic said. "You saw the growth the last couple years here, and we want to keep growing like that. You see the Pepsi Center and the playoff atmosphere all year. I think there is a lot of excitement about this team, and we got to keep building and try and get it to the next level."
Video: Avs GM Joe Sakic on the 2018-19 season
The Avalanche can continue to solidify its depth throughout the organization at the 2019 draft in Vancouver on June 21-22, with the club holding five picks in the first three rounds. In addition to its own picks, including No. 16 overall, Colorado has the Ottawa Senators' first rounder at No. 4 and their third-round selection.
Sakic said he just finished his end-of-year meetings with his amateur scouts and is confident that they're going to get a good player at No. 4 and 16, but they also need to have success with their other selections
"We got to do our best to hit on those because you don't always have that opportunity to have that many picks in the first three rounds," he said.
When it comes to the current players, Sakic has seven players on the Avs' active roster that are restricted free agents, including J.T. Compher, Alexander Kerfoot, Mikko Rantanen and Nikita Zadorov.
Rantanen is coming off back-to-back career seasons and recorded personal bests with 31 goals, 56 assists and 87 points in 74 games in 2018-19.
"It's a priority to get him done," Sakic said of the Finnish right wing. "We prefer long term, but if it has to be short term than it has to be short term. We want to make sure that we get him signed."
As far as the unrestricted free agent market, Sakic plans on being active on July 1 and already has eyes on several potential players. However, any new additions have to be the right fit for a growing squad that has playing with speed a priority.
"It's a pretty good class this year. We already have targeted players in mind if they become available that we're going to want to talk to about joining our club," Sakic said. "We have positions of need that we're going to want to look to [fill]. There are a few players that we want to talk to if they become available. We'll be more aggressive this year with that, but keep in mind if it doesn't work out for the players that we want to talk to, we're not just going to spend on anybody."
All of the work over the next few months will be geared toward making a better and more consistent Avalanche club for the 2019-20 campaign.
Colorado had an up and down past season, with a strong start and finish but a bumpy middle that could have proven costly in its championship ambition. The Avs got through the adversity, entered the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league and took down the Western Conference's top seed, the Calgary Flames, in five games.
"Once we got into the playoffs, and the way we played; guys want to win the Stanley Cup," Sakic said of the club's approach. "The end goal is to be a champ and win a Stanley Cup. The process from the group, there was a lot of growth, especially in the playoffs. I was really happy with our mindset, the attitude, got into playoffs which is great. The whole mindset was to win and focus on that. It's a good quality to have from your group."
The Avalanche's summer goals aim to get the squad into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in a better position than this past year and keep the team playing into June, giving it a chance to win the final game of the season.
"We tried to go the youth movement, trying to get younger and faster, and we believe that we accomplished that," Sakic said. "There has been a lot of growth with our players in our dressing room, and now we got to try to find a way to keep making steps and keep getting better and keep the excitement going here."