DENVER – The Colorado Avalanche brought back one of the last remaining links to the team’s Stanley Cup glory days, signing captain Milan Hejduk to a one-year deal.
After the Avs missed the playoffs for a second straight season, the 36-year-old forward was torn between returning for a 14th season or skating off into retirement. In the end, Hejduk elected to give it one more shot, especially since he’s only nine games away from reaching 1,000 for his career.
The soft-spoken Hejduk was an effective on-ice leader for Colorado in 2011-12. Under his guidance, the Avs improved by 20 points from the year before, when they had the second-to-worst record in the league.
Not only that, but the team saw the rise of forward Gabriel Landeskog, the Swedish standout who’s a leading candidate for rookie of the year after a season in which he led the team with 22 goals.
“I believe in this organization and our young players and look forward to helping the team in any way that I can,” Hejduk said. “My family and I are very excited to continue my career here in Denver.”
Hejduk ranks fourth in goals (371) and fifth in assists (423) in franchise history.
What’s more, his 794 career points trail only Jaromir Jagr (1,653) and Patrik Elias (894) among Czech-born players who have suited up in the NHL.
However, Hejduk’s production slipped last season as he finished with just 14 goals. That’s well below his usual standard, given that he had reached the 20-goal plateau in 11 straight seasons heading into 2011-12.
Still, the three-time Olympian has been a reliable part of the Avalanche for more than a decade and remains a fan favourite. He helped the Avs to the Stanley Cup crown in 2001.
“Over the years, Milan has been an instrumental part of our organization’s success,” general manager Greg Sherman said. “He has represented this franchise with class and will continue to complement the young nucleus of players we have been building this team around.”
This was the second big move of the off-season for Colorado. The team also signed Joe Sacco to a two-year extension last month.
With their coach and locker-room leader now on board, the Avs will turn their attention toward other matters concerning the roster. Peter Mueller is a restricted free agent, along with defenceman Erik Johnson, leading scorer Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene, who missed a chunk of the season with knee and ankle injuries.
Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie, two players Colorado acquired before the trade deadline, are also restricted free agents. McGinn had 13 points in 17 games since his arrival from San Jose, while Downie was on quite a pace before a shoulder injury slowed him down.
The unrestricted free agents include defencemen Shane O’Brien and Matt Hunwick. Forwards Jay McClement, Cody McLeod and David Jones are also unrestricted.