Did anyone leave that Gabriel Landeskog press conference feeling better about the whole situation? I sure didn’t. I needed a few days to gather my thoughts on the whole situation, but I did not leave that press conference thinking everything is definitely going to be okay.
Contrary to what some people on social media were saying, I didn’t feel Landeskog looked (or sounded) like a man who had resigned himself to the idea his playing career could be over. Has he thought about it? I’m sure he has, but I don’t think he’s given up. To me, he looked like a man that has done everything he can to get back, and will continue to do everything he can to get back.
But he’s frustrated. Wouldn’t you be? He can’t help his teammates, he can’t play the game he loves, and he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to do either of those things.
And because of that, the Avalanche will need to approach the off-season a lot differently than they ever could have imagined.
“That I’m going to be able to play again? Yeah. I’m confident in that. When? I don’t know.”
That was Landeskog’s answer when I asked him if he has seen enough progress with his knee to feel confident he’ll be able to play hockey in the NHL again. Do I believe him? Yes, I do. I’ve seen the progress on the ice. It hasn’t been large, but it’s been there, and I’ll never bet against a player as determined as Landeskog.
But should the Avalanche plan on him being ready to start next season?
As of right now, I don’t know how you can do that.
The belief all year was that Landeskog was going to come back this season. First, it was November. Then, it got pushed back to January after another procedure. Sometime around January, timelines were completely thrown out the window. On Thursday, the news came out that his season was over. It never even really started.
The team approached the trade deadline with the hope and belief that Landeskog was coming back. Lack of assets and talent available certainly played a role in the quiet deadline, but I’m sure they thought their Captain might be returning.
That can’t be the plan this summer.
“It very well could linger into next year,” Landeskog said on Thursday.
That statement had fans worried, and rightfully so. It should have the Avalanche worried as well. Landeskog is a massive part of this team, but he also takes up a large chunk of their cap space. Whether or not the team wants to bring back J.T. Compher or Evan Rodrigues is another question altogether, but those are two forwards that have played in your top-six all season long.
Cap space is getting tighter and tighter for the team, and if you count on Landeskog being ready next October, you probably only have room to bring one of them back (or a similarly priced player). If you do that, and the captain isn’t ready, you’re in a real tough spot up front. I’m sure I’ll hear a whole lot of “Trade Sam Girard for a forward” this summer, but there are other things at play on defense that make that trickier than you’d expect.
The thing about the salary cap, and we’ve seen it a handful of times over the years, is that there’s always a way around it. If you bring in players and Landeskog is ready, you can always get yourself out of a jam. As we saw at the deadline, finding suitable replacements when you’re in a jam is a little more difficult.
Everyone wants to see Landeskog back on the ice. Fans, management, and his teammates certainly do. Heck, as a member of the media, Landeskog gave us a glimpse of what’s been missing all season. He was incredibly open and honest as he discussed the toughest season of his career. That’s how he always is. You hope that at some point he turns a corner and gets back to playing.
But as of right now, approaching this summer as if he’s definitely coming back next season seems like a mistake. Luckily for the Avalanche, they’ve got a few months to figure out a plan. And maybe by then, everything will be a little clearer. Because right now, it’s clear as mud.
Now, let’s start talking about the playoffs.