Avalanche’s Captain Options With Landeskog Sidelined

There was hope that Gabriel Landeskog would play for the Colorado Avalanche last season, but surgeries kept him out for the entire campaign. There is no such hope this season, as the Avalanche veteran will be sidelined for all of 2023-24. Landeskog has been the captain in Colorado for more than a decade. The team rolled with four alternate captains last season, but it will be interesting to see if the team opts to give another player the coveted “C” for the upcoming season.

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Captains aren’t taken lightly in Colorado. Since the team moved to Denver in 1995, only four people have worn the “C” in Joe Sakic, Adam Foote, Milan Hejduk, and Landeskog. However, there are only three seasons in the history of the Avalanche not captained by Sakic or Landeskog. Sakic was captain from 1995-2009, and then was followed in captaincy by two years from Foote and a single season from Hejduk before the 20-year-old Landeskog took the mantle in his second season. The three, besides Landeskog, all have their jerseys retired by the franchise.

Here are some of the options for Colorado’s captaincy going forward:

Nathan MacKinnon

This seems the likeliest path if the club decides for a switch, as Nathan MacKinnon has emerged into a leader and scorer and one of the faces of the franchise. His growth as a leader has come through experience, as MacKinnon has logged 10 NHL seasons. In those 10 seasons, he has been on teams that finished everywhere from dead last in the NHL to hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

His growth as a leader bloomed after the 2020-21 campaign, when the Avalanche won the Presidents’ Trophy only to get bounced by the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that season. The playoff heartbreak was a turning point for MacKinnon, who took a newfound “nothing-is-guaranteed” mentality into the next season — Colorado promptly won the championship in 2022.

Related: 3 Teams’ Journey From Presidents’ Trophy Curse to Stanley Cup

He turned in what was easily the best season of his career in 2022-23, scoring 111 points behind 42 goals and 69 assists, all career highs. He’s led the Avalanche in scoring in six of the last eight seasons, and last season was a monster step up in production and leadership. Don’t be surprised if he’s named the captain for next season, or sometime in the future if Landeskog’s injuries wind up being more serious.

Cale Makar

Just like Landeskog, it didn’t take Cale Makar long to earn the respect of his teammates. Makar was selected as an alternate captain in his second season, and has been a leader on the ice for the Avalanche pretty much since he first suited up for the team. Landeskog himself gave a glowing testament to the defenseman after the team won its most recent Stanley Cup. After the win, Landeskog was asked what the league could take away from their championship run, and he notoriously said, “Find a Cale Makar somewhere.”

Cale Makar Colorado Avalanche
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Is Makar worthy of being a captain in the NHL? Certainly, and it would be no surprise if he finds himself in that position someday. Even though he comes across as more of the strong and silent type, his play and demeanor still command respect. He certainly leads by example, and quickly emerged into one of the NHL’s top defensemen, as evidenced by his Norris Trophy in 2022.

Related: Avalanche’s Cale Makar Making Strong Case for Hall of Fame

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If the team decides to move away from Landeskog’s captaincy this season, nobody would argue with choosing Makar. However, based off of past history and MacKinnon’s growth as a leader over the past few seasons, it might be hard for Makar to leapfrog the powerful forward. That said, if Makar were to emerge as the captain, it would speak volumes to what the rest of the locker room thinks of him, especially considering he’s only entering his fifth NHL campaign.

Go the Alternate Route

The team went without a captain last season, using four alternate captains in MacKinnon, Makar, Erik Johnson, and Mikko Rantanen. Johnson left for the Buffalo Sabres in free agency, but the other three are still around and will likely be in those roles again in 2023-24. Does it make that much difference if somebody else has a different patch on the front of their jersey? That’s difficult to say without knowing the inner workings of the team’s chemistry and the vibe in the locker room.

Gabriel Landeskog Colorado Avalanche 2022 Stanley Cup
Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche lifts the Stanley Cup (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Landeskog might not be suiting up for the club on game day, but that doesn’t mean he’s on Mars. The Avalanche would obviously like to have Landeskog’s presence out there on the ice, and the longtime captain’s influence in the locker room still remains. The cartilage troubles in his knee hasn’t diminished his ability to lead from the periphery, and the team could very well just roll with the route of using alternate captains, just like they did last year.

Landeskog’s production is certainly missed, but the likes of MacKinnon and Rantanen were able to step up their individual production to help soften that blow. There are other leaders in the locker room, but the team could very easily opt to go the route of leaving the “C” with Landeskog. The 30-year-old winger has certainly earned — even commanded — the respect of his teammates over the last 11 seasons, and it might be a nod of appreciation to let him keep it. This could be the most likely scenario. Even with Landeskog not on the ice, his example has helped the likes of Makar and MacKinnon start to blossom into leaders in his absence.

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