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Roy determined to get Avalanche back in playoffs

by Rick Sadowski | NHL.com / Colorado Avalanche

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

Changes were inevitable when the Colorado Avalanche missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, the fourth time in the past five seasons the club failed to qualify.

The Avs went from first place in the Central Division in 2013-14 to last with a 39-31-12 record and 90 points, seven short of the playoffs. Patrick Roy coached them to 112 points his first season to win the Jack Adams Award.

"I'm here to win the Stanley Cup," Roy said. "I'm not in Denver to see us missing the playoffs, I'm here to see us winning. I really want to make sure that's the last time we're missing the playoffs. It makes you very humble. First time I missed the playoffs as a coach in junior and the NHL."

The Avalanche went 17-9-1 in the final 27 games but couldn't climb out of an early hole that saw it win four of its first 17 games.

The Avalanche is determined to have a better start this season and made a slew of offseason moves to help make it happen. The club upgraded a spotty defense while adding size and depth to a stable of forwards led by Matt Duchene, Jarome Iginla, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Tanguay.

Colorado's most significant acquisitions were centers Carl Soderberg (6-foot-2, 216 pounds) and Mikhail Grigorenko (6-3, 200); defensemen Francois Beauchemin (6-1, 207) and Nikita Zadorov (6-5, 235); and left wing Blake Comeau (6-1, 202).

"Let's face it, in the Western Conference we have to go head-to-head with some big teams," Avalanche executive vice president and general manager Joe Sakic said. "We weren't the biggest team."

The Avalanche signed Soderberg to a five-year, $23.75 million contract after acquiring his rights from the Boston Bruins for a sixth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Soderberg, who turns 30 in October, had 13 goals and 31 assists in 82 games last season. He's expected to replace Ryan O'Reilly on a line with Landeskog and MacKinnon.

The Avalanche couldn't agree on a contract extension with O'Reilly, who was traded with Jamie McGinn to the Buffalo Sabres on June 26 for Grigorenko, Zadorov, the rights to University of Michigan forward J.T. Compher and a second-round pick (No. 31) at the 2015 draft.

Grigorenko, 21, had six goals and eight assists in 68 games in parts of three seasons with the Sabres, who made him a first-round pick (No. 12) in 2012. Colorado is counting on his relationship with Roy to get his career on track. Grigorenko had 88 goals and 93 assists in 115 games in parts of three seasons for Roy with the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Comeau is a versatile forward who can kill penalties. He signed a three-year, $7.2 million contract as a free agent after he had 16 goals and 15 assists in 61 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.

The Avalanche brought in Beauchemin, 35, and Zadorov, 20, as left-shooting defensemen to pair with Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie, respectively. The goal is to spend less time in the defensive end and more on the attack by setting up the forwards with outlet passes.

Beauchemin, who won the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, signed a three-year, $13.5 million contract as an unrestricted free agent. He had an NHL career-high 11 goals last season and played 22:44 per game, along with a 25:24 average in the playoffs.

"We wanted someone we knew could play top minutes against top lines. He brings toughness, leadership," Sakic said.

Zadorov had three goals and 12 assists in 60 games. The Sabres' top pick (No. 16) in 2013, he can provide some physical protection for the puck-rushing Barrie.

"He is going to be on the back end for a good 10 years for us," Sakic said of Zadorov.

Finnish right wing Mikko Rantanen, 18, will be given a long look in training camp. The 6-4, 211-pound forward was the Avalanche's first-round pick (No. 10) at the 2015 draft.

The Avalanche chose not to re-sign defensemen Jan Hejda and Ryan Wilson, and center Daniel Briere.

Colorado also made off-ice changes. Chris MacFarland left the Columbus Blue Jackets to join Craig Billington as an assistant general manager. Greg Sherman moved from that post to senior vice president of business and team operations.

Former NHL defenseman Dave Farrish replaced Andre Tourigny as an assistant coach. Brett Heimlich, who had been with the San Jose Sharks, replaced Mario Duhamel as video coordinator.

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