DENVER – The Colorado Avalanche could be wearing out the red carpet at the NHL awards show next week with all the players they have up for honours.
Semyon Varlamov is in the running for top goalie, Nathan MacKinnon up for best rookie and Ryan O’Reilly a candidate for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct. Coach Patrick Roy also could be recognized for his work behind the bench.
It was just that kind of season for the surprising Avalanche, who tied a franchise record with 52 wins as they returned to the post-season after a three-year absence.
The attention now—with the nominations and all—is “exciting,” Roy said.
The attention they’re sure to draw come next season?
Well, it’s enough to inspire fear—or so Roy is hoping, because, “the day you’re capable of dealing with the word fear, you’re becoming a winner.
“There are going to be expectations,” Roy said Thursday as he and front office executive Joe Sakic discussed everything from the upcoming draft to free agents to watching the Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup title. “That’s what we’re going to have to go through.”
Colorado was less than 3 minutes away from escaping out of a physical and tightly contested first-round playoff series with Minnesota.
Up a goal late in Game 7, the Avs couldn’t protect it and the Wild advanced to play Chicago.
“You never know what could happen after that,” Roy said. “But it was good for us. It was a great year for us, in the way we learned a lot from it. I think it makes us a better team.”
The Avs are hoping they can return the nucleus for another run. Sakic said Thursday he is optimistic about bringing back unrestricted free agent Paul Stastny and getting a long-term deal done with O’Reilly, who led the team with a career-high 28 goals.
That is, if they don’t need to stray too far out of their salary structure to make it happen. They’ve already set the financial bar in deals with Varlamov, Matt Duchene and captain Gabriel Landeskog.
“We believe Ryan and Paul should fit in that structure as well,” Sakic said. “We don’t believe anyone should be ahead of those guys.”
Sakic insisted there’s no animosity with O’Reilly’s camp even though the team decided to recently file for an arbitration hearing. They’re hoping to work things out.
“It’s just a business decision. I know Ryan understands that,” Sakic said. “He loves being here; I believe he wants to stay here.
“Our intention is to have Ryan be a part of this group. He’s very valuable to our team. He’s part of our core. We feel he should be part of that structure within that core as well.”
O’Reilly is up for the Lady Byng Award for gentlemanly conduct. He committed just one minor penalty all season, joining Butch Goring (Los Angeles, 1977-78) as the only NHL players to suit up in 80 games and have two or fewer penalty minutes.
He’s not the only one who may be taking centre stage in Las Vegas on Tuesday. Varlamov is a contender for the league’s top goaltender award after a season in which he won a franchise-record 41 games, breaking the mark held by Roy.
MacKinnon remains a huge favourite for the Calder Trophy, which is given to the top first-year player. MacKinnon, the top overall pick, led all rookies in points (63), assists (39) and shots (241). What’s more, MacKinnon stepped up his game in the post-season, scoring two goals and dishing out 10 assists.
“We certainly believe we have a player who can bring his game to another level,” said Roy, who’s in the running for coach of the year after becoming just the fifth coach in NHL history to win at least 50 games in his first season. “He’s a player capable of doing that. He was exciting to watch.”
As for where this team is at this moment compared to, say, the Kings, Roy didn’t quite know.
“It’s impossible today to predict where we are compared to these guys,” Roy said. “We’re in the right direction.”
NOTES: Although the Mile High City isn’t in the picture for an outdoor game in 2014-15, Sakic said he remains hopeful the team could be selected the following season. … The Avs have the No. 23 pick in the draft next week.