Cale Makar may have stolen the spotlight, and the attention may have been on Nathan MacKinnon getting his first Stanley Cup, but this year’s championship run was a long time coming for another member of the Colorado Avalanche.
Gabriel Landeskog has been the captain of the Avs for the last 10 years – and he fought through a number of tough seasons before finally getting to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time. It was the winningest season in Avalanche history, and Landeskog was a huge part of it. However, this wasn’t just one great year, but an 11-year journey for the Colorado captain.
Struggles at the Start of Landeskog’s Career
Landeskog didn’t take long to make a splash in the NHL. He was drafted second overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and jumped right into the league to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie that following season. He played all 82 games in that rookie campaign, racking up 22 goals and 30 assists. The Avs won just 30 games that year, and Landeskog played in just one playoff series through his first six seasons.
That lone playoff appearance in that first half dozen seasons was gut-wrenching, as the Avalanche lost to the Minnesota Wild in seven games. Four of those games went to overtime, and all but two were decided by one goal. Landeskog had three goals and an assist in that series. That team had a great youthful base, as Landeskog was joined by the likes of Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly, as well as a rookie MacKinnon.
Through his first five seasons, Colorado struggled under coaches Joe Sacco and Patrick Roy. The three years with Roy in charge were particularly abysmal, and the Hall of Fame goaltender hung the team he won two Cups with out to dry by stepping down right before the 2016-17 season started. The team won just 22 games that season, but they had something in first-year coach Jared Bednar.
After that first-round exit against the Wild, Landeskog and the Avalanche did not make the playoffs until 2018, which was Bednar’s second year as coach. They were dumped in six games to the Nashville Predators, never really threatening in the series after dropping the first two games. But things took off from there. Since that forgettable 22-win season in 2016-17, Colorado hasn’t missed the playoffs under Bednar since his initial season at the helm. Landeskog didn’t win a playoff series until 2019. That kicked off the first of three seasons that ended with heartbreaking losses in the second round.
Colorado upset the Calgary Flames in the first round in 2019 and then fell to the San Jose Sharks in seven games in the second round. Landeskog scored 34 goals that season, a career-high for him that was second on the team only to MacKinnon’s 41. Colorado followed that up with a 42-win season in 2019-20 and fell to the Dallas Stars in seven games of the second round of that season’s playoffs. That loss was especially difficult since the Avalanche had to use three goaltenders in the series, and Dallas went on to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Avalanche were the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup in 2020-21 and went on to win the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy. They won their first six games of those playoffs, taking a 2-0 series lead against the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round. But Vegas won the next four games, and Colorado was left wondering what they had to do to bust out of the second round. Team president Joe Sakic took care of that, making all the right moves to set up 2022’s historic run.
Lifting the Stanley Cup
Going into 2021-22, it was “Stanley Cup or Bust” for Colorado, and they were on a mission from the first puck drop. The Avs were the favorite to win the Cup from the first day that Vegas laid the odds, and they had the league’s best record for much of the season. The Florida Panthers wound up winning the Presidents’ Trophy, but Colorado finished 56-19-7, which was the best record in franchise history.
The postseason provided little resistance. The Avalanche swept two of their four opponents, going 16-4 in a raucous run to the title that was emblematic of their nickname. Landeskog’s 11th season was one of his best – even though he missed 30 games for various reasons throughout the campaign. In just 51 games, he scored 30 goals and 29 assists. The 59 points are the fourth-most of any season for Landeskog, but he played at least 78 games in the three seasons he scored more.
Landeskog signed an eight-year contract extension with the team the summer before the Stanley Cup-winning season. He would have been one of the prizes of free agency had he not re-upped with Colorado right before the deadline. Only Sakic captained the Avalanche for more seasons than Landeskog has, and the Avalanche look poised to be a threat to cause havoc in the postseason for years to come.