It is hard to picture Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog in a sweater other than the burgundy and blue. Go ahead, try. If you really want to cause yourself some pain, picture that sweater being in Red Wings or Wild colors. Not pleasant.
There are a number of reasons for this. Landeskog has never spent a minute of his NHL career in another uniform, having been drafted number two overall by Colorado in 2011. He debuted the very next season and won the Calder trophy. Then he was named the youngest (at the time) captain in NHL history as a 19 years old. These moments all form that image of “Gabriel Landeskog - Colorado Avalanche Forward” so solidly in your mind. Over his ten-year NHL career, Landeskog has been the picture of professionalism off the ice while providing a unique blend of size, power and skill contained within 6’1” 215 pound frame. NHL talent evaluators across the league LOVE Gabriel Landeskog.
With talk coming out of St. Louis and Los Angeles stating both organizations are hoping Colorado can’t get a deal done before the UFA deadline so they can woo Landeskog. Both rumors could have some truth to them; Los Angeles just made a big trade for Viktor Arvidsson and are rumored to be in the Jack Eichel chase. Is it crazy to think they miss out on Eichel and turn their attentions to throwing truckloads of money and the LA lifestyle at the Avalanche captain? St. Louis were just informed that Vladimir Tarasenko wants out. While Landeskog isn’t the pure scorer that Tarasenko is, he’s a much better all-around forward and haven’t been shy about letting it know how highly they rate Landeskog. With Sakic needing to fill out the bottom six, re-sign Cale Makar and Philipp Grubauer; is it unrealistic to see a team throwing a huge contract at Landeskog to pull him away from Ball Arena?
Let us pontificate; what do the Colorado Avalanche do if Gabriel Landeskog signs elsewhere?
The most likely scenario sees the Avalanche re-signing Brandon Saad, something both parties have stated they would like to happen. However, the reality of a flat salary cap means it’s likely that the two time Stanley Cup champion will pack his bags for a new city this off-season. Without Landeskog, both the cap space to spend and a dire need for a top six forward would put Saad back to Colorado as a no-brainer choice for Sakic.
“But we had Saad AND Landeskog last season, how does this help?”
Well frankly, it doesn’t. Saad would basically replace himself in the lineup, which still leaves a giant gap in the Colorado top six. Sakic would still be left with an under-manned group of wingers. Looking through the list of UFAs doesn’t make it any better; as Colorado, with Saad and Landeskog, have two of the top available free agent forwards. The list is full of older players like Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Getzlaf and Paul Statsny. While many fans would dream of bringing Ovechkin in for a cup run/last hurrah for the legendary winger, it’s unlikely he comes to Colorado and players like Getzlaf and Statsny can’t be counted on for top six minutes at this stage in their career.
There are two players on the UFA list might pique the interest of Sakic, in the unenviable case that Landeskog signs elsewhere. One is former Blues forward Jaden Schwartz. While Schwartz provides fewer goals and less offensive skill than Landeskog, he is a solid defensive center who’s won a title and shouldn’t come with a hefty price tag. Schwartz played his college hockey in Colorado, so may be interested in coming back to the state on his next contract. Not an ideal fit, but a proven winner that could eat up some top six minutes and/or solidify the third center role for the club.
The other free agent that may be interested in filling Landeskog’s spot on the top line is long-time target Taylor Hall. With his Jekyll/Hyde season split between Buffalo and Boston, the winger was able to regain some of his lost value after a horrid start to the season with a strong run of play after his trade to the Bruins. While he may never rise to the level of his Hart winning season in New Jersey again, Hall does have a style that should fit well with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the first line in Denver. While many signs point to Hall re-upping in Boston, if Landeskog is out of the picture, Sakic might make Hall an offer he can’t refuse.
There are also trade options that Sakic could pursue. The previously mentioned Tarasenko could be a nice “buy-low” candidate for the Avalanche (althought it’s unlikely Blues GM Doug Armstrong would trade their top goal scorer to a division rival). There are rumors coming out of Philadelphia that Jakob Voracek and the Flyers are looking to part ways as well. Voracek would fill the physical void left by Landeskog nicely, but may be on the back nine of his career at this point.
Then there’s Patrik Laine. The former 40-goal scorer was traded from Winnipeg to Columbus for Pierre-Luc Dubois early last season as neither player was working out for their former clubs. Laine followed the trade up by putting up far and away his worst season as a professional. With the Blue Jackets firing coach John Tortorella, it’s very likely the next Columbus coach will want to keep Laine around and try to help the Finnish forward capture his scoring touch, but if not, could Sakic pull off another blockbuster that snags a great player for pennies on the dollar? While I think it’s highly unlikely, it’s also unlikely that Landeskog leaves Colorado. If he does, the Avalanche GM will likely need to get creative to replace the production provided by number 92.
Yes, it’s unlikely that Landeskog goes anywhere this off-season. By all accounts he loves playing with this group of players, the community and the organization and wants to re-sign. However, strange things can happen when a top player hits the open market, and the Avalanche will need to have plans B through Z in place in case Landeskog decides to take his talents elsewhere.