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Avalanche will 'stay the course' after playoff series loss

GM Sakic wants to get younger, faster following bounce-back season

by Rick Sadowski / NHL.com Correspondent

DENVER -- Stay the course. That's the game plan for the Colorado Avalanche, general manager Joe Sakic said Monday.

One day after the Avalanche were eliminated by the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference First Round, Sakic said the goal is to get even younger and faster. The Avalanche were the youngest team in the NHL entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs with an average age of 25.8.

"The key for us is we're going to stay the course," Sakic said. "We had an amazing year from our guys. We have a young team, we expect growth from them. We're going to stay young. In the next couple years we may even get younger. If we can, even try to get a little bit quicker and faster.

 

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"We love the way we play the game, it's fast and entertaining. You see the Pepsi Center in the last couple months with the new generation of fans; the building's been alive, back to what it was. It's exciting. We know the fans are excited about this group of players. The dressing room had great chemistry, and we want to make sure that whatever we do the chemistry in the dressing room is good."

Sakic said he met with coach Jared Bednar last week and they reached agreement on a one-year contract extension through the 2019-20 season.

"He's done an amazing job, the entire staff," Sakic said. "Working with the players, the respect that the coaching staff and the players have for one another, they did an amazing job in keeping this team at an even keel and never letting it slip."

Video: COL@NSH, Gm5: Landeskog ties it up in the 3rd

Bednar was hired Aug. 25, 2016, two weeks after Patrick Roy's unexpected resignation. A rugged defenseman during a nine-season playing career in the minors, Bednar was a highly successful coach in the American Hockey League and ECHL; he won a championship in each league.

The Avalanche finished last in the NHL with a 22-54-4 record and 48 points in 2016-17, but improved by an NHL-best 47 points this season, finishing 43-30-9, a 47-point improvement, and earning the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the West.

"I liked the way he coached last year, the way he held our guys, especially our young guys, accountable," Sakic said. "We really believe in Jared, we think he's a great coach and he's done a tremendous job."

The Avalanche were led by 22-year-old center Nathan MacKinnon, who finished fifth in the League with 97 points (39 goals, 58 assists) in 74 games and is expected to be a Hart Trophy finalist.

Video: NSH@COL, Gm3: MacKinnon pots second goal of the game

"You see when he touches the puck, he's electrifying," Sakic said. "He's got to be one of the top two or three most exciting players in the game. If you want to bring somebody to their first hockey game, you want to bring them to watch Nathan MacKinnon play because he's unbelievable what he can do with the puck."

Sakic and his staff will take a few weeks off before bringing in their pro and amateur scouts to evaluate player personnel and prepare for the NHL Draft on June 22-23 and the start of free agency on July 1.

"But make no mistake, we're not going to chase it, we're going to stay the course and keep letting this team grow because they deserve it," he said. "If there's free agents out there that we may want to look at and speak to, we definitely will. I don't plan on just going into free agency and trying to sign a bunch of free agents."

The Avalanche will have a new, more convenient AHL affiliate next season: the Colorado Eagles, now in the ECHL, who play in Loveland, Colorado, 51 miles north of Denver. The Avalanche and St. Louis Blues shared San Antonio of the AHL this season.

"We're all excited about having our players 45 minutes up the road," Sakic said.

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