MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Rookie left wing Gabriel Landeskog is a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy, which goes to the NHL Rookie of the Year. Just 19, Landeskog scored a team-best 22 goals -- five of them game winners -- and led the Avalanche with a plus-20 plus/minus rating. A 6-foot-1, 204-pounder, Landeskog relishes skating into the corners and in the front of the net to bang bodies and to either retrieve or shoot pucks. He is a star in the making.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER
Defenseman Jan Hejda was supposed to supply size and grit when the Avalanche signed him to a four-year, $13 million contract as a free agent on July 1. The 6-foot-4, 237-pounder played well at times and led all Avalanche defensemen with five goals, but he was a minus player in 31 of the 81 games he played and had a team-worst minus-17 rating.
The Avalanche could use a stud defenseman and more power-play production from the defense, which contributed a mere five goals with the man advantage -- three by Kyle Quincey, who was traded to Tampa Bay on Feb. 21, and one each from Shane O'Brien and Erik Johnson. But the team isn't likely to sign an expensive blue liner in the free-agent market. Tyson Barrie or Stefan Elliott, who were big scorers in junior hockey, showed promise during their rookie seasons and might be able to provide some much-needed goals during power plays. Barrie didn't have a point in 10 games. Elliott had four goals and nine assists in 39 games.
The Avalanche needs Duchene and Downie to bounce back from injury-plagued seasons and for forward Peter Mueller, assuming he's re-signed, to play the way he did before sustaining a concussion that cost him the entire 2010-11 season and the first half in 2011-12. Center Paul Stastny was one of the team's top producers down the stretch. But Stastny, a guy with a $6.6 million annual salary, needs to provide more than 21 goals and 32 assists.
FREE AGENT FOCUS
Six players, including captain Milan Hejduk, will be unrestricted free agents July 1 and eight others will be unrestricted. The biggest question is whether the Avalanche will want to re-sign Hejduk, 36, who is coming off a 14-goal, 37-point year after scoring a franchise record-tying 20 or more goals in 11 consecutive seasons. Even Hejduk, who made $3 million this year, isn't sure if he wants to continuing to play but will only do so if it's with Colorado.
The Avalanche will have to up the ante to keep right wing David Jones, who hit the 20-goal mark for the second year in a row on a contract that paid him $2.5 million. Colorado should keep him, along with center Jay McClement ($1.45 million in 2011-12), who scored 10 goals as a fourth liner and killed penalties, and rugged left wing Cody McLeod ($1.03 million).
Defenseman Shane O'Brien ($1.1 million) wants to return, and he provided a decent season that included three goals, 17 assists, 103 penalty minutes and a plus-3 rating. Defenseman Matt Hunwick ($1.55 million) played well when he was finally given a chance down the stretch, but he's on the smallish size (5-11, 190) and plays the same offensive-type game as rookies Tyson Barrie, 20, and Stefan Elliott, 21.
The Avalanche undoubtedly will tender lucrative offer sheets to unrestricted centers Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly, both of whom have completed entry-level contracts. Colorado also needs to keep right wings Steve Downie ($1.85 million) and Peter Mueller ($2 million), left wing Jamie McGinn ($680,000) and defensemen Erik Johnson ($2.6 million) and Ryan Wilson ($1.275 million). Forward Kevin Porter ($850,000) is expendable.
--G Semyon Varlamov showed flashes of brilliance in an inconsistent season following his acquisition last summer from Washington in exchange for first- and second-round draft picks. Just 23, Varlamov set career highs for games (53), wins (26) and shutouts (four) in his first real chance to be a No.1 goalie. He seems to have stabilized the Avalanche's situation in net.
--LW Jamie McGinn opened eyes around the NHL with his scoring prowess following his trading deadline acquisition from San Jose. He collected eight goals and five assists in 17 games with the Avalanche after totaling 12 goals and 12 assists in 61 games with the Sharks. McGinn, 23, also plays with an edge and could develop into a 30-goal man with the increased ice time he'll receive in Colorado.
--RW Milan Hejduk hasn't yet decided whether to return for a 14th NHL season or retire, but the Avalanche may not want him to come back. Hejduk, 36, completed his first season as captain and he still has the respect of teammates and management, but he struggled big-time in the second half of the season and was dropped to the fourth line for several games for the first time in his career. Hejduk is the last link to the Avalanche's glory days, the lone remaining member of the 2001 Stanley Cup championship team.
--C Matt Duchene (ankle, knee) will undergo rehabilitation in the offseason.
--RW Steve Downie (shoulder) will undergo rehabilitation in the offseason.
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