ENGLEWOOD | Back in his Colorado Avalanche playing days, Joe Sakic’s approach was pretty much title or bust.
As the team’s general manager, a similar feeling is beginning to develop.
Sakic and the Avalanche took a little time for reflection following a Game 7 loss to San Jose in the second round. That page has been turned.
The Hall of Fame player turned executive has his full focus on improving a team that’s been to the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since he was on the ice.
High on Sakic’s to-do list: A deal for restricted free agent Mikko Rantanen and preparing for the draft, where the Avs possess the fourth overall pick (courtesy of Ottawa) and the 16th selection. There’s also a multitude of players to consider retaining, which includes unrestricted free agent goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
“You’ve got to keep building and getting better,” Sakic said Tuesday. “As great as the end of the year was, we still didn’t accomplish the end goal. We’ve got to find a way to get better.”
In 2018, Colorado was simply content with getting into the playoffs and lost in the first round to Nashville. This season, the Avalanche expected to make some noise, which they did by upsetting Calgary, the top seed in the West. It was the first time since 2008 they had advanced out of a series. But their run came to a halt with a 3-2 loss to the Sharks.
“Someone had to lose that series — unfortunately it was us,” Sakic said. “Our guys learned a lot in that series.”
It’s easy to see why securing Rantanen remains high for Sakic: The forward is coming off a regular season during which he set career bests in points (87), goals (31) and assists (56). Rantanen paired with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog to form one of hockey’s most lethal line combinations.
“We want to make sure we have him signed,” Sakic said.
Sakic plans to meet with the coaching staff to make evaluations involving players under contract, restricted free agents (Nikita Zadorov, J.T. Compher and Alexander Kerfoot head the list) and those with expiring deals (such as Derick Brassard, Colin Wilson, Patrik Nemeth and Gabriel Bourque).
As free agency approaches, the Avalanche already have some players in mind.
“We’ll be more aggressive this year with that, but if it doesn’t work out with the players we want to talk to, we’re not just going to go spend on anybody,” Sakic said. “We want the right players and the right fit.”
Other topics Sakic addressed:
— On a possible extension for coach Jared Bednar, whose deal is up after next season: “We’ll get to that at the appropriate time. … There’s a good respect and good relationship the way he handles the players and the way the players respond to him.”
— On Nathan MacKinnon banging into the boards with his shoulder early in Game 7 at San Jose: “He’s getting better every day. He’ll be fine in a couple weeks.”
— On the possibility of bringing back Varlamov, who’s been with the Avalanche since 2011-12: “We’ll see what happens July 1 with him. … We’ll be in communication.”
— On working out a deal with defenseman Tyson Barrie, who is a free agent after ’19-20: “All I can tell you is he’s an incredible player. He was a driving force down our stretch and with what we saw with him, Cale (Makar) and (Samuel) Girard I’d be very, very comfortable starting the year with that group.”
As for the draft, Sakic doesn’t plan on dealing the No. 4 pick. Although, he’s open to offers.
The last time Colorado drafted at No. 4 was 2017 when they took Makar, who led Massachusetts to the Frozen Four final before signing with the Avs soon after and joining the team for Game 3 of the Calgary series. The rookie provided a big boost in the postseason with a goal and five assists.
“He’s going to be an incredible player,” Sakic said. “There’s a lot of excitement about this team. We’ve got to keep building and try to get to the next level.”