Fighting spirit: Cup-favorite Avs to raise physical presence

DENVER (AP) — The Colorado Avalanche added some more punch to their roster by basically bringing in a 6-foot-5 bodyguard.

Among the duties of defenseman Kurtis MacDermid — have the backs of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar and any of their other high-flying players.

Known for their speed and skill, the Avalanche felt they needed to raise their physicality another notch after being eliminated in the second round of the postseason for a third straight season. Despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the league in 2020-21, they bowed out to Vegas, which proved to be a rougher, tougher team.

Maybe not anymore — not with their new enforcer.

MacDermid was acquired from the Seattle Kraken for a future fourth-round pick. He’s a heavyweight on the ice who has 151 penalty minutes in 118 career games.

“A big deterrent, when it comes to teams running around and taking liberties on our guys,” coach Jared Bednar said. “It can help you.”

Especially come playoff time. The Avalanche led the Golden Knights 2-0 in the series before losing four straight. They didn’t have Nazem Kadri, either, who served an eight-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head during the St. Louis Blues series.

“We lost to their physicality, I think that that’s my take from the series,” Rantanen said. “Playoff hockey, it’s way different than the regular season.”

The season hasn’t even started and MacKinnon already looks the part — a stitched-up cut near his lip. That was courtesy of a puck in camp.

The 26-year-old MacKinnon certainly likes the look of this team, which is the preseason favorite to hoist the Stanley Cup, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

“I just feel like we’re growing and growing and we’re learning how to play playoff hockey,” MacKinnon said. “Some guys are lucky to win in their first couple years, but it’s going to be a process and we’re learning a lot, which is great.”

The first line figures to again feature MacKinnon, Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog, who signed an eight-year, $56 million extension. The trio combined for 70 goals and 113 assists last season.

“We know each other very well now,” Landeskog said. “We complement each other.”

KUEMPER’S PRESENCE

The Avalanche lost Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer to the Kraken in free agency. But they acquired 6-foot-5 goaltender Darcy Kuemper from Arizona. He had a 2.56 goals-against average last season

Colorado also has a healthy Pavel Francouz, who missed last season after undergoing hip surgery, and Jonas Johansson.

THE MOVES

General manager Joe Sakic was busy in the offseason tinkering with this roster. In addition to picking up Kuemper and MacDermid, he acquired forward Mikhail Maltsev from the New Jersey Devils as part of a deal for Ryan Graves. Sakic also signed veterans Darren Helm and Ryan Murray, along with bringing in forward Artem Anisimov (771 NHL games with 180 goals) and defenseman Jack Johnson (950 games, 71 goals) for a look in camp.

Sakic also got deals done with Makar ($54 million, six-year contract) and Logan O’Connor (three years).

Colorado lost forwards such as Brandon Saad, Joonas Donskoi, Matt Calvert, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Carl Soderberg.

TOEWS & JOHNSON

Defenseman Devon Toews won’t be ready for the season opener after offseason shoulder surgery. But the team will have Erik Johnson back. He was limited to four games last season due to injury.

“He’ll keep things light but when things aren’t going well he’ll speak up and speak his mind and hold guys accountable,” MacKinnon said. “I’m excited for him to be back.”

HONORING PIERRE

Colorado will honor the late Pierre Lacroix, who was the architect behind the team’s 1996 and 2001 Stanley Cup titles. The Avalanche’s former general manager and team president died Dec. 13.

Lacroix will be remembered before the game against St. Louis on Oct. 16 at Ball Arena. The team will hoist a banner to the rafters to highlight his achievements. Under Lacroix, the team made six appearances in the Western Conference final.

TRAVEL ITINERARY

Landeskog is looking forward to an early three-game road swing that sees Colorado play at Washington, Florida and at reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay.

“It will be good,” Landeskog said. “Good for team chemistry to get on the road.”

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