AVALANCHE

Motivated Colorado Avalanche explain why they can “do it all over again”

Sep 22, 2022, 11:49 AM
Gabriel Landeskog, Erik Johnson...
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Erik Johnson is already planning his day with the Stanley Cup next summer, the Avs defenseman joked Wednesday.

Sitting next to Lord Stanley, in front of a champion backdrop, the longest-tenured Denver athlete was in good spirits ahead of the start of training camp for the 2022-23 NHL season. And there isn’t a reason not to be, given the team’s title run and the fact that most faces are back. But at 34 years old, some thought Johnson might not be back and opt to retire.

“I was thinking after we won and some of the dust settled, and I was like, how am I going to get ready to play this year,” Johnson asked rhetorically. “How do you do this again? And then, as the summer started ramping back up, I was just like, I’m so ready to start again. I really haven’t been more excited for a season. Maybe ever. I didn’t know how I was going to feel like we won. But I’m so excited. I want to do it all over again. I mean, it was such a blast. Every guy in the locker rooms had their dreams come true. And the only way to top it is doing it again, and I think we have a team that can do it again.”

Johnson may be the sixth in the starting half-dozen defenseman that all return from last year’s team. A real rarity in the Salary Cap era is returning an entire defensive group that just won a Cup.

“It’s a hell of a top six. Not enough ice time to go around for all those guys,” Johnson remarked. “That top four we can put up against anyone, so it’s rare to have all six back. I think we’re lucky to have such talented D, and if I can complement those guys anyway account, I’m happy to do so. But what a D-core, you gotta really appreciate it if you’re a fan or a teammate.”

And that’s an interesting way to look at this Avs team. Though four of their five highest-paid players are forwards, Colorado has a bit of a different identity. Last season the Avalanche were built on attacking; this year, they’re more built from the blue line on out. And that can be seen in letting Nazem Kadri and Darcy Kuemper walk.

“As expected, you’re gonna lose some good players,” head coach Jared Bednar said. “Some guys who were big contributors for us last year, guys played very well and got rewarded for it, and it’s part of the game. Now you’re going to miss some guys, and I’m sure you’d like to keep them. But I like the guys that were brought in. I think they all can fill a role for us, and our core will continue to grow. And I like where we’re sitting right now. I think we’ve kept our team, for the most part, together. And we have some growth left in the players that we have here. So it should be exciting.”

One of those players sits with Johnson on the blue line, and that’s Cale Makar. The top defenseman in the league last year took his game to another level in the postseason, being named playoff MVP. It prompts many to ask, what is next for the young star d-man?

“I’m not focused on anything accolade-wise at all,” he said. “I think everybody keeps asking me how you’re going to top last year, and it’s not. It’s not about that for me. I just want to be the same player, play my game, and make sure that I can contribute on both ends of the ice for my team every night.”

Makar’s partner on the backend Devon Toews says what will drive the two is no longer seeking revenge for past pain but hunting the same great feelings they felt this summer. But this past summer is fueling the Avs to run it back.

“It was hard to tell (who had the most fun,” Gabriel Landeskog said. “It’s a short summer as it is. It feels like you’re planning a small wedding when you’re planning your day with a Cup, so busy doing that. And then when the day comes, you try to enjoy it, share it with everybody, but it’s pretty busy. It goes by fast, but the boys looked like they had a lot of fun, and we’re ready to get back to work now.”

“I know what I do different now, so next year I’ll plan a bit better,” Johnson chimed in. “I just want to do it again.”

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