Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog is a smart guy who needs to play smarter than he has at times in the past.
That’s one of the obligations of the “C.”
After skating on the fourth line at practice Tuesday — realistically taking into account his spectator status for the rest of the potentially pivotal Avalanche homestand — Landeskog stood at his Family Sports Center stall and discussed his four-game NHL suspension for cross-checking Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk Saturday night at the Pepsi Center.
The Avalanche captain will be out of the lineup against Winnipeg Wednesday — and beyond. He also will miss home games against New Jersey, Dallas and Buffalo and be eligible to return against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Tampa on Dec. 7. The suspension will cost him $119,815.68.
“You know what, it’s unfortunate,” Landeskog said. “I mean, it’s frustrating and disappointing to hear. But at the end of the day, I’m responsible for what I do out there and that stuff shouldn’t happen on the ice. I know it caught him in a bad spot and it’s unfortunate. I’m glad he didn’t get hurt. The suspension is what it is and I respect George’s opinion and his decision.”
Landeskog was referring to George Parros, the former NHL and Avalanche enforcer who now is the head of the league’s department of player safety.
I asked Landeskog what he specifically meant by “disappointing.”
“Disappointed in myself mostly,” he said. “Obviously, a couple of years ago, I had a couple of suspensions and after that, I made sure that I was smart about what I’m doing out there and smart about what decisions I make out there. I feel like I have thought about it. Things happen fast on the ice and it’s an expensive mistake and it’s disappointing because we’ve done a good job (as a team) of putting ourselves in a good position here.
“I feel like as a line (with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Ratanen) and as a team, we’re playing pretty good. But I know the guys are going to do a good job … on the homestand.”
Landeskog nailed Tkachuk behind the Colorado net and drew a two-minute minor at 16:07 of the first period of the Flames’ 3-2 win over the Avalanche. He said he apologized to Tkachuk on his next shift.
“I knew right after the game there was going to be a hearing,” he said. “You know, you look at the play … it’s a dirty play, it shouldn’t happen on the ice and that’s why I had the conversation with George. He explained how he saw it and obviously in the hearing I had the opportunity to say how I saw the situation. I think it’s important to know that I don’t ever go out there trying to hurt anybody. I don’t ever go out there to make a play to try and put somebody out of the lineup or anything like that. I play hard and I play a physical style of play, but I never go out there to hurt anybody. … Like I said, I’m mostly disappointed with myself and frustrated with myself. At some point, you have to learn and that’s what I’m going to do now.”
Landeskog said he saw the video during the hearing.
“It doesn’t look pretty, so there’s not much you can say sometimes,” he said. “You have to make sure you own up to your mistakes and make sure that doesn’t happen again, make sure you apologize to Tkachuk as well. I have nothing against him as a player or a person. . . There was nothing going on up to that point and I’d never had any beef with that guy. It’s just a hockey play. I’m trying to play hard and it catches him in a bad spot.”
Can this inhibit his play?
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been playing well and I just have to make sure that you learn from this, and I think better than that, we just have to keep going the way we’ve been playing. Me, personally I think I’ve been playing well as a line, Nate and Mikko have been playing well and we’re getting some traction and getting on the board. Obviously this is a little blip in the road, but other than that, we have to be sure we pick up where we left off.”
Landeskog was suspended for three games in March 2016 for a hit on Anaheim’s Simon Despres.
“At the end of the day, people base their opinions on what you do and how you conduct yourself,” Landeskog said. “Obviously, an incident like this is something I’m sure people are going to have their opinions on, as they should. . . But for me, I’m still the same Gabe, I’m still going to conduct myself the same way and make sure I keep my stick down and play it smart. I think for me, I take pride in playing hard and playing the right way and compete on the ice. So it’s just unfortunate it happened. I’m going to learn and move on.”
Losing a captain and top scorer for four games is never a good thing, but this comes during the important homestand. Sven Andrighetto at least initially will step into Landeskog’s spot on the top line. Landeskog has a team-high nine goals to go with eight assists.
This the ominous part: Last season, Landeskog missed 10 games in November and early December with a lower body injury. Among the 10 were the five-game homestand when the Avalanche went 0-4-1 and went into the death spiral that led to Colorado finishing with the lowest point total of the shootout era — and the lowest in NHL for 17 years.
Now the Avalanche captain will be out for the rest of a homestand that could shape the Colorado season.
To wave that off by saying the department of player safety has had it in for the Avalanche for years not only is silly, it ignores the fact you hear the corresponding sentiment from roughly 27 of the league’s (now) 31 fan bases.
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar was philosophical about the suspension.
“I saw it happen live, I watched the tape,” Bednar said. “I don’t think it was intentional, but he caught him high with the stick and sometimes you just have to live with the consequences. The league makes the call. They judge it and the ruling came down, and it is what it is. We have to move on without Landy for four games. . . We’re going to have to have some of the guys step up and pick up some of the slack.”
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Denver-based journalist Terry Frei writes two commentaries a week about the Avalanche for Mile High Sports. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times, four times in Colorado (including for 2016) and three times in Oregon. He’s the author of seven books, including the fact-based novel “Olympic Affair” about Colorado’s Glenn Morris, the 1936 Olympic decathlon champion; and “Third Down and a War to Go,” about the 1942 football national champion Wisconsin Badgers and the players’ subsequent World War II heroism. His web site is terryfrei.com and his additional “On the Colorado Scene” commentaries are at terryfrei/oncolorado.
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