Upon entering the Colorado Avalanche dressing room following Sunday’s 2-1 Game 7 loss at the hands of the Seattle Kraken, the mood was obviously somber.

As media scrums broke out around guys like Nathan MacKinnon and Devon Toews, everyone looking for the perfect answer for why the postseason was over before it had seemingly barely started, Cale Makar said everything there was to know.

Sitting at his stall, still wearing his gear from the game, including one of two gloves still on his hand but no helmet on his head, Makar stared out into the ethereal world of both the past and the future. Sweat continued to bead on his face, and he sat in silence, his rigid body language showcasing his emotions.

Where did it all go wrong?

People had to step around him and almost over him to access Toews and Erik Johnson, when the veteran defenseman emerged from a back room with red, devastated eyes. Each held court, saying what they thought had gone wrong in Game 7, in Games 1, 4, 5, and during the regular season.

Eventually, Makar got up and said his piece to the throng of cameras, microphones, and cellular devices. As they pivoted to the next eliminated player, I asked Makar whether this situation serves as a reminder of just how hard it is to win the Stanley Cup, let alone repeat that victory.

“I don’t think we ever looked that far ahead. I think that was a special quality of this group in terms of just always staying in the moment,” Makar responded. “I think that’s why we were able to push through so much adversity this year. It’s just, obviously, you want to win it every single year, and you know now the work that it takes to get there.”

The Avs won the Cup in what, by all appearances, was the latest Stanley Cup Final ever contested. They also suffered an epically short offseason, as the 2022-23 campaign kicked off at a regular time for the first instance since the pandemic cut things short.

“It was pretty impressive what they’ve overcome. Some years it’s a little tougher than others, and this was a tough one. I’ve been in the game at the pro level for quite some time, and there’s a lot of stuff that happened this year that you just can’t plan for,” head coach Jared Bednar said. “That’s why it’s so disappointing for me. It’s not frustrating at all. I went through that months ago. Disappointing because I wanted our guys, like this group in the locker room, to be able to advance and just keep fighting, keep giving it their all.”

They contested their last match on June 26 and hosted the Chicago Blackhawks in their season opener 108 days later on Oct. 12. Between April 30, 2022, and April 30, 2023, a mere 365 days, the team played 109 games.

The trouble is, the prolonged battle, a true war of attrition, they waged to win everything came with costs, and the short summer merely provided enough time to trick everyone into thinking those costs weren’t as expensive as they turned out to be.

While not a record, or even tops in the NHL in 2022-23, Colorado had 463 man-games lost to injury. Gabriel Landeskog didn’t play a second of hockey last season, due to a cartilage issue under his patella. He’s still working on how to get back into a game at all.

Josh Manson missed two-thirds of the season, leaving a giant hole on the second pairing. Bowen Byram skated in just over half of the club’s games last season, and Makar and Johnson both missed time with various injuries ranging from concussions to broken ankles and the stuff in between.

“We had to say goodbye to a bunch of great players that helped us win. They get rewarded by big contracts in other places and you can’t keep them all,” Bednar said of players lost to the offseason. “There’s a cost to winning, and you lose a bunch of guys—which was our second line last year—and then kind of lose our second line again. Hey listen, that’s nothing against the guys we got. I think the world of the guys that we have here that are playing.”

Evan Rodrigues, Artturi Lehkonen, Valeri Nichushkin, and Nathan MacKinnon also saw time off the ice last season.

“I’m definitely proud of the group. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a season again, knock on wood, that we go through that many injured guys again, and that many injured games,” Makar said. “It’s so tough and everybody was grinding out playing big minutes in certain months that you shouldn’t be playing big minutes in. Everybody was grinding. Proud of the group for sure. Unfortunate end, but it only motivates you more.”

Overall, it was A LOT. And yet the team persevered well enough to win the Central Division title in the final game—a makeup game, no less—of last season.

But while the emergence of Big Stud™ Mikko Rantanen, the second-half razzle dazzle of MacKinnon, and the icy wall of prevented goals that Alexandar Georgiev put up was enough to conquer the foes of the regular campaign, the postseason required more.

And the Avalanche just didn’t have it or couldn’t give it.

“Unfortunately, I feel like we were inconsistent at times and not playing on our game a lot the other time,” Makar said. “Myself, as an individual, I just feel like I let the guys down. I feel like I didn’t have a great series, so that’s just a tough one.”

Makar, last year’s playoffs MVP, finished the postseason with one goal and four assists. Only one other player outside of the Top-6 forwards and Top-4 defenseman had a goal, and that was Johnson.

“If you look at our record through the regular season, even what they did in the playoffs, I mean we can get on them about not enough depth scoring, but those guys are playing their butts off every night and doing whatever they can to help our team succeed,” Bednar said, cooling the feeling that it was Nate and Mikko and Georgie against the world. “But you’re missing some key guys that would really help. A lot of size, strength, experience—Gabe, Val, [Darren] Helm, [Andrew] Cogliano, Manson now—but those guys had been through a lot of tough battles, and that experience and some of that size and physicality would have helped against this team too.”

Ben Meyers, Alex Newhook, Logan O’Connor, Samuel Girard, Denis Malgin, Matt Nieto, Lars Eller, Jack Johnson, Byram, Manson, and Cogliano all finished with zero goals. Eight of them finished with no points.

One player, Nichushkin, finished with no known whereabouts after a bizarre scenario where he reportedly missed morning skate, was found with an intoxicated woman in his room, and was whisked away to some unknown locale while his teammates were left fending off the entirety of Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market. You can’t make this stuff up.

“It was another test for our group. That’s what it was, and we had lots of them. Sometimes life throws things at you and same with sport, and you got to just keep grinding and try to overcome them. It is what it is. You got to be resilient. You got to be mentally tough,” said Bednar. “Obviously, every guy that’s out would have helped, but they’re out and that’s sometimes the way it goes.”

So it goes.

Billy Pilgrim would be proud.

Anyway, the sisu, the willpower, the luck, the rabbits’ feet, the lucky charms, the prayers, the juju, the resiliency, and the mojo apparently all dried up at the hands of a deeper squad firing on all cylinders. Credit to the Avalanche for getting to a Game 7 at all through this imperfect storm.

“I hate moral victories. It doesn’t really do anything. I mean, it’s nothing, right, but if you’re looking for positives, I just feel like this team never quit, and as a group of guys just got to be proud of that, right?” Johnson said. “Because we had the shortest offseason in NHL history and still managed to win the division and put us in a game today, which was kind of a coin flip, right? It could have gone either way. At the end of the day you lost, and there’s no participation trophies. It’s you win or you go home.”

Now there will be assessments, both from the fanbase and Avalanche management.

Did not finding a true second-line center cost this team at the outset? Did the known quantity of surgical repairs that didn’t heal correctly or significantly enough mean hemorrhaging assets to go all-in was off the table? Were the trade deadline acquisitions the wrong decisions? Did Landeskog’s situation cost the team in the postseason? Has J.T. Compher played himself into a big enough raise that the club loses him?

Who is staying and who is going?

“I loved it here. Family loved it here. It’s an unbelievable team. It’s a team that’s set up to win Stanley Cups. Just elite talent,” Rodrigues said, knowing his own future in Denver is uncertain. “It’s an awesome group. Very talented, and I’d love to be here.”

Said Johnson of his own fate: “I don’t know. Our season ended five minutes ago. I haven’t really thought about it at all. [I’m] just sad because you put in so much work, and ultimately we did accomplish our goal here [last year], but you don’t want to go out like this. But whether if it’s the end of the road or not, I was just proud to play here for as long as I did, and just grateful for everything.”

There’s certainly a moral victory here for the Avalanche, which is getting another division title despite every odd stacked against them. It’s also safe to say the result was a disaster.

Now we’ll see if it makes them stronger, hungrier, and more determined.

There’s always next year, right?