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Season Recap

Core will be key to Avalanche's success

Patrick Roy: 'only way we're going to be a contender is if that happens'

by Rick Sadowski / Correspondent

DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche, following a season in which they went 39-39-4 and finished sixth in the Central Division, packed up for the offseason Monday, disappointed and frustrated with a late-season collapse that cost them the chance to take part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Avalanche finished with a season-worst six-game losing streak, with eight losses in the final nine games. They lost their last five games at Pepsi Center, where they were 17-20-4.

An inability to hold late leads cost the Avalanche valuable points. They lost eight games after taking a lead into the third period, six in regulation. The trend began Oct. 8 on opening night when the Avalanche turned a 4-1 third-period lead into a 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Wild, who finished five points ahead of them for the second wild card from the Western Conference.

"It's kind of funny," center Matt Duchene said. "You look back at the first game of the season and it kind of summed up the year. Obviously that is not the reason we didn't make the playoffs, but it was kind of our year in a nutshell, Game 1 of the year. That hurts. That is something that we're all going to go home this summer and it's going to sting. Hopefully, that sting and that hatred of that feeling and of that losing will drive us to be better next year."

WHAT THEY SAID: "We believe that we have a good enough team to make the playoffs, and there's no doubt in my mind about that. But when you don't, there are going to be consequences. As much as I hate to be standing here answering these questions, we didn't play good enough. We should have been in the playoffs and we should have made a run." -- Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog

THE BURNING QUESTION: General manager Joe Sakic and coach Patrick Roy are challenging the core group of Duchene, Landeskog, center Nathan MacKinnon, defensemen Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson, and goalie Semyon Varlamov to play at a much higher level and on a more consistent basis next season. Are they capable?

"We need a lot more from our core, and the only way we're going to be a contender is if that happens," Roy said.

Duchene led the Avalanche in goals (30) and points (59) after a slow start; though he ended with 21 goals and 52 points, MacKinnon had three goals in his final 20 games before sustaining a season-ending knee injury March 18 against the Calgary Flames; Landeskog had 20 goals and 52 points, but he took too many undisciplined penalties and served two- and three-game suspensions.

Barrie, a restricted free agent July 1, was among the NHL's top-scoring defensemen with 49 points, including a career-high 13 goals, but he had a minus-16 rating. Johnson was minus-19 with 11 goals and 16 assists after signing a seven-year, $42 million contract extension that begins next season.

Varlamov, a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2013-14, was spectacular for some stretches and mediocre or worse in others. He allowed 26 goals while losing seven of his final eight starts; his 2.81 goals-against average was the second-worst of his NHL career.

INJURIES: Duchene played the final five games with a brace on his left knee after getting injured March 16 against the Vancouver Canucks. MacKinnon missed the final 10 games after spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. The Avalanche said he won't need surgery.

WHO COULD GO: Asked if there are any "untouchables," Sakic said, "Wayne Gretzky got traded ... twice. We're going to look at all different options on how to get better and really, really consider different avenues and different things we might look to do."

Defensemen Andrew Bodnarchuk, Nate Guenin and Zach Redmond will be unrestricted free agents July 1, along with right wing Jack Skille, left wings Mikkel Boedker, Patrick Bordeleau and Shawn Matthias, and centers Ben Street and Jesse Winchester.

WHO COULD ARRIVE: A poor puck-possession team, the Avalanche need a major upgrade on defense and better depth up front. They spent entirely too much time in their own end, allowed 40 or more shots 14 times and forced Varlamov and Calvin Pickard to face a barrage of quality scoring chances. They were outshot in 51 games.

Defenseman Chris Bigras, 21, and Nikita Zadorov, 20, are expected to be on the roster next season. Bigras, a second-round pick (No. 32) in the 2013 NHL Draft, was impressive in 31 games following his Jan. 13 recall from the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL. The 6-feet-5, 220-pound Zadorov, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in the Ryan O'Reilly trade last summer, spent most of the season in San Antonio, where he had 10 goals and 19 assists in 52 games.

Right wing Mikko Rantanen, a first-round selection (No. 10) in 2015, also is expected to begin next season in Colorado. The 6-4, 211-pound 19-year-old, didn't have a point in nine games with the Avalanche, but he had 23 goals and 36 assists in 50 games with San Antonio and was a second team AHL All-Star.

Left wing J.T. Compher, 21, will get a long look in training camp. Acquired from the Sabres in the O'Reilly trade, he had 16 goals and 47 assists in 38 games while captain at the University of Michigan. A Hobey Baker Award finalist, Compher will play for Team USA in the IIHF World Championships.

2016 DRAFT PICKS: The Avalanche have six draft picks, one in each in rounds 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM: Roy, who will return for a fourth season, acknowledged he needs to take responsibility for missing the playoffs again and will look for ways to get better.

"There's things that I could improve," he said. "Maybe I'm going to have to change my (game) structure."

Although the Avalanche's best players have been around between three and eight seasons, they're all still young and should be entering their prime. Barrie, Duchene, Landeskog and MacKinnon are 25 or younger; Varlamov is 27, Johnson 28.

"The one thing I will say is that every single guy in here has the right goal at heart and the right motivation and thinks about the right things," Duchene said. "We have a character group in here. There is not a guy or two guys or three guys when I look around the room and say, 'That guy doesn't have his head in the right place.' That is one positive thing. We win and die as a team, and that is how this ended and it (stinks), but there is stuff to build on going into next year."

The Avalanche have done a better job in recent drafts to stockpile the organization with players who eventually should be capable of playing in the NHL. Other than first-round selections, the only players on the current roster who were drafted by Colorado were Barrie, Bigras and Pickard.

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