Through the ups and downs, Gabe Landeskog was the undisputed leader of the Avalanche

DENVER — Both sides knew exactly what they were trying to accomplish, but that didn’t mean the staring contest at the negotiating table wasn’t reaching the awkward stage.

Rewind to July, when the Colorado Avalanche and longtime captain Gabe Landeskog were involved in contact talks, trying to find common ground on a new deal.

Landeskog had just completed his 10th season with the Avalanche — and his ninth as captain — and was looking for a raise.

Of course, his ultimate goal was to stay with the only franchise he had known, the same one that selected him with the second overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft in St. Paul, Minnesota, one spot behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. of the Edmonton Oilers.

Landeskog had gone through tough times with the Avalanche but was also a central part of the culture builder, the undisputed leader and a valuable contributor on one of the most efficient and productive lines in hockey.

At 28 and a first-time unrestricted free agent, Landeskog wasn’t necessarily looking for greener pastures, but he knew his worth and expected to be rewarded accordingly.

Power forwards like Landeskog aren’t often available, so it was no surprise the St. Louis Blues made an offer worth considering.

Another Central Division opponent, the Nashville Predators, would also be in contention should Landeskog fail to reach a deal with the Avalanche.

But those tense times finally gave way, and the Avalanche secured the services of Landeskog for eight more seasons for an average annual value of $7 million (and $56 million in total), a steady increase from the 5.6 million dollars per season he has earned in his last seven seasons. one year contract.

« It went well, for sure, » Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said Tuesday morning. “It was part of the negotiations. He went there and saw what he could get, but ultimately he wanted to be here. We knew he wanted to be here and he knew we wanted him here. Sometimes it takes a while. Maybe towards the end I was a little worried, but I hoped we would get through it and both parties were really happy with the deal and he can finish his career with the Avalanche, as it should be.

There is no doubt that this was taken into account in Landeskog’s decision-making process.

Having invested a lot of money in his first 10 seasons, he wanted to go all the way.

« It was a different time, something I hadn’t been a part of before, something I hadn’t experienced, » Landeskog said. “It was clear from the start that this is where I wanted to be. This is my home and I wanted to commit to this team, this city and this organization for the long term and that’s what we were able to do.

With the Stanley Cup Final between the Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning set to open Wednesday at the Ball Arena (8 p.m. ET, Sportsnet), Landeskog is just four wins away from reaching the ultimate goal and to have his name engraved on Lord Stanley’s cup.

The legendary trophy was on hand for media day on Tuesday and Landeksog couldn’t help staring at it, especially when asked a specific question about it.

“I saw him there. I tried to focus on something someone else was asking,” Landeskog said. « I don’t want to watch it too much. You’re close, it’s so much more realistic now, but at the same time, we’re only three quarters of the way there. It’s yet another big step and it’s still going to be a grind and it’s still going to be a long streak and a challenge.

Although you can’t help but wonder what it might be like to lift that cup over your head for the first time, Landeskog quickly got back to work, patiently answering questions in English and Swedish. members of the media assembled.

But what makes Landeskog such a good leader?

« It’s just the way he behaves, » said Sakic, who knows a thing or two about being a good captain, having led the Avalanche to two Stanley Cups. “You see what he does on the ice, he’s a competitor and he would do anything for his teammates. He’s a great hockey player and in the locker room he’s not the biggest rah-rah type of guy, but he has the pulse of the team and he takes care of that room and he has a good way to bring everyone with him. It is a very good model. »

« For us, he’s able to speak in the good times when we need his voice, » added Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar. “But at the same time he is consistent for us every night playing with the same physical strength, but he is also very good on the attacking and defensive side. Just such a complete captain.

« You have to do the right things first before you can really talk about it, » Avalanche forward JT Compher said. “He does this every day. He protects his teammates and does all the little things, whether it’s blocking shots, fighting, scoring big goals, he does it all. He also says the right things – and he means it. It’s not like he’s just saying clichés, his whole heart is behind this team’s victory and you want to follow him.

During the Western Conference Finals, Landeskog was asked by your humble agent what defines a good leader and he conceded that talking about himself was one of the few things that made him uncomfortable.

Then Landeskog presented a response that embodies all of these leadership qualities.

« For me, it’s always about who you are and being yourself, » Landeskog said. « You always have to try to grow as a person and try to learn things from other people and try to educate yourself on certain things. At the end of the day, it’s a group effort. I think we have tons leaders in this locker room, letters, no letters. That also comes with experience and you become more comfortable in that role.

“But to answer your question, I think being able to relate to different people in this dressing room, there are 24 different personalities and trying to relate to people in different subjects and things like that, being a good teammate, showing The example. I mean, go through the list of all the things you’ve heard in the past, but just be yourself. If you start pretending and trying to pretend to be something that you’re not, people will see through that.

Lightning center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who spent the previous two seasons with the Avalanche, admits he wasn’t a big Landeskog fan before his arrival, but that changed quickly.

« It’s funny because before playing here I hated him and he told me he hated me too. So it was mutual, » said Bellemare, who signed a two-year contract with the Lightning in July « We are hockey players, it gets hot sometimes. I had been playing in Sweden for so long and I speak Swedish, so there was a lot of tweeting – and I respect that too. »

« On the other side of the world, when you watch them give a youngster a captaincy (at 19), you kind of wonder ‘why does he get the captaincy?’ But when I came to the team, I got my answer. He’s so mature. He understands what needs to be said in the locker room and he always says the right thing. He’s ready to defend whatever a teammate did. He first defends his teammate and then demands answers. I have tremendous respect for the way he conducts himself on and off the ice. »

Lightning defender Victor Hedman considers Landeskog one of his close friends and has great admiration for him since they played together in the Swedish national team.

Hedman joked that he would lose Landeskog’s number for the next two weeks, although he showed his appreciation for a guy he will face against this series.

« A guy I’ve known for a really long time, » Hedman said. “He leads his team every night. He sounds more American than Swedish, he doesn’t even have an accent. When you listen to him talk he is very quiet but he plays his heart out every night. It is difficult to play against him.

Landeskog is playing great hockey for the Avalanche – scoring eight goals and 17 points in 14 three-round games while playing a solid two-way game – and they’ll need him to continue leading the way to dethroning the two-time champions in title .

« We wouldn’t be here (in the Stanley Cup Final) if he left, that’s for sure, » Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon said. “It would have been a big hole in our organization, in that locker room and on the ice. All. He’s a special person and an incredible player, he could have scored 50 goals this year if he hadn’t been injured.

« He’s a selfless guy. He always thinks of others and serves others. He’s a warrior. He fights, blocks shots and he’s great with everyone. He’s a great human. He was captain at 19 for a reason, his leadership qualities are evident and we are very lucky to have him on our team.


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