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Landeskog determined to turn Avalanche around

Captain took last-place finish hard, plans to 'find solution to this problem'

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The burden was heavy and the soul-searching extensive for captain Gabriel Landeskog last season, when the Colorado Avalanche finished with the worst record in the NHL.

But he is not ready to give up. Even with uncertainly surrounding the future of forward Matt Duchene, who has been the subject of trade rumors, and low expectations facing the Avalanche heading into this season, Landeskog is determined to turn things around.

"I've said from Day One that I'm going to keep learning and I'm going to keep growing," Landeskog said leading up to training camp. "I don't want to go anywhere. I want to find a solution to this problem. And I want to figure this thing out and stick this thing out until the end. And that's exciting, a challenge."

Challenges are nothing new to Landeskog. On Sept. 19, 2012, he was named the youngest captain in NHL history at 19 years, 286 days (a distinction that went to Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, who was 20 days younger, last Oct. 5). 

Landeskog is entering the fourth year of a seven-year, $39 million contract (average annual value of $5.57 million) with a modified no-trade clause that begins next season, according to CapFriendly.com. So he's invested in the Avalanche, and trying to change the mindset that comes with losing. 

"You have to find a good level of caring," Landeskog said. "It's not easy to describe. But [if] you take every loss too hard, all of a sudden you'll beat yourself down. Everybody talks about not getting too high when things are going well, not getting too low when things are down. But it's true. When you're on a losing team, it's hard to stay somewhere in the middle.

"There were a lot of us that underperformed last year. It's hard, then you bring things home and it started affecting your personal life. Then you realize you're grown up and it's your job and you've got to figure this thing out. Last year, I'm being honest when I'm telling you we learned a lot. And I learned a lot about myself last year, things that you can do better and things that you did well."

The Avalanche, who appeared to hold so much promise after some surprising success four seasons ago, finished with 48 points (22-56-4) last season and out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight time.

Video: COL@DAL: Landeskog lights the lamp with slick tip-in

That would be hard on any player, but it may have been harder on Landeskog as the leader of the Avalanche.  

"Something that you realize when you're the captain is that you take every loss that much more personal," Landeskog said. "You take it home with you even when you try not to. And especially when the losses add up."

The improvements required are obvious.

The Avalanche scored the fewest goals (165) in the NHL and allowed the most (276). Landeskog, selected by Colorado with the No. 2 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, had the least productive of his five full NHL seasons, scoring 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists) in 72 games.

When he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 2011-12, Landeskog scored 52 points (22 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games. The forward's best NHL season was 2013-14, when he scored 65 points (29 goals, 39 assists) in 81 games.

That season, the Avalanche were one of the surprises of the NHL. After going 16-25-7 and missing the playoffs in 2012-13, Colorado finished first in the Central Division in 2013-14 with 112 points (52-22-8).

"Nobody expected us to do anything," Landeskog said. "The way I look at it, if we embrace that challenge … get that ball rolling in the right direction, an underdog can get really dangerous. I'm excited about that.

"Obviously last year was rock bottom. That was as tough a year as it will probably get for a hockey player in the National Hockey League and a team in the National Hockey League. It was tough.

"But all of a sudden, we're the underdogs again."

In 2013-14, the Avalanche lost a seven-game series to the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference First Round. They haven't been to the playoffs since. 

"It was easy, '13-14, that was an easy year to be a captain," Landeskog said. "We were doing really well, won the division, went to the playoffs and things were easy."

But the NHL is not easy. When expectations grew, the Avalanche didn't have enough of a foundation to continue their success, Landeskog said.

"I think our group changed a little bit with Paul Stastny leaving and a few other guys," he said, referring to the forward who signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Blues after that season. "We weren't ready to handle that pressure and those expectations and I think as a captain, once that ball starts rolling in the wrong direction, I don't think I found a way to stop it."

Landeskog said that since the middle of last season he has concentrated on finding ways to remain calm and focused, and how to continue to prepare to do his best the next day. And the next.

Since his early days as captain, Landeskog has been determined to learn, to figure things out.

"Looking back at it, maybe I was too young," he said. "That's something I'm thinking about. But at the same time, you learn every day and you're forced to learn by doing.

"I came in when I was named captain with a mindset that I wasn't going to be a perfect captain from day one. I had a lot of work ahead of me and I had a lot of things to learn and I still do to this day."

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