Avs try to rebound from dismal year
DENVER — Matt Duchene is still here despite persistent trade rumors and Semyon Varlamov is healthy again.
Those are two intriguing things to watch as the Colorado Avalanche head into the season with an erase-what-happened-last-year mentality. The Avs are coming off a dreary season in which they finished with 48 points — the lowest in a full season since 1999-2000.
There’s this: Varlamov will be back in net after hip surgery last winter to alleviate lingering groin issues. Ever so steadily, the Russian goaltender is returning to form — possibly even to the form that saw him set a single-season franchise record with 41 wins in 2013-14.
Coincidentally, it also happens to be the last time the Avalanche made the postseason.
“Four years ago is four years ago. I don’t want to look back,” Varlamov said. “Of course, the stats were great for me, for this team. We played unreal that year. Of course, we want to repeat that.”
But there’s also this: Duchene, one of Colorado’s core players, appears unhappy after having his name bandied about in trade talks. General manager Joe Sakic wasn’t able to move Duchene before the trade deadline, on draft night or over the summer. At the start of training camp, Duchene said: “I’m here to honor my contract. I’m here out of respect for the fans. I’m here for my teammates.”
The talented scorer has two years left on his contract and will make $6 million this season.
“He’s a big part of our team right now. … We need everyone pulling the rope in the same direction,” second-year Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “We can be an exciting team and a team that surprises some teams throughout the league if we can be consistent.”
A big role in that resides with Varlamov, who was limited to 24 games before undergoing surgery in January.
“I felt like I didn’t have a season at all last year,” the 29-year-old Varlamov said. “It was such a frustrating season for all of us. It’s history, and nobody wants to think any more about it.”
Things to know heading into the season opener on Oct. 5 in New York against the Rangers:
NUMBERS GAME: After being acquired in a trade from Nashville, forward Colin Wilson checked the Avalanche roster to make sure No. 33 wasn’t taken.
“And then I realized in my head why,” Wilson said.
That jersey number belonged to Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy before it was retired in 2003.
“I wasn’t going to try to take that down out of the rafters,” Wilson joked.
So, he went with No. 22.
SPEAKING OF NUMBERS: Retired Avalanche forward Milan Hejduk was assigned No. 23 in his first training camp, made the team and held on to that particular jersey.
He will have it raised to the rafters in a ceremony on Jan. 6. He becomes the sixth Avalanche player to have his number retired after Joe Sakic (19), Peter Forsberg (21), Roy (33), Adam Foote (52) and Ray Bourque (77).
THE FALL: It’s been quite a tumble for Colorado since Roy surprisingly walked away as coach more than a year ago. A forgettable season was followed by a drop to No. 4 in the draft — the team selected defenseman Cale Makar, who’s slated to play at the University of Massachusetts — and losing valuable backup goalie Calvin Pickard to Vegas in the expansion draft.
The team brought in journeyman goalie Jonathan Bernier. There’s also the emergence of college free agent forward Alexander Kerfoot to go with a talented group of young scorers that includes Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Jost.
STAYING HEALTHY: Erik Johnson’s goal remains simple: Stay healthy. One of Colorado’s top defensemen, he missed a chunk of the season with a broken leg.
“Last year was just bad luck. Just one of those things,” Johnson said.
STAYING PUT: Restricted free agent defenseman Nikita Zadorov signed a two-year deal just as camp was getting started. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Zadorov led the Avalanche with 153 hits last season before missing the final 25 games with an ankle injury.
With the league’s decision to skip the Pyeongchang Olympics in February, Zadorov was asked if he contemplated playing in the KHL this season in order to suit up for Russia.
“I want to play in the best league in the world,” Zadorov told the media. “I’m still 22 years old. I have a few Olympics to go, right?”