Gabriel Landeskog rolled up to the Avalanche practice rink, a 19-year-old figuring he was heading into a meeting about the upcoming 2012-13 season. A potential lockout loomed, and he wondered if he and his teammates were about to get information on what would happen next.
But only one teammate was there when Landeskog got inside Family Sports Center in Centennial, Colo.: captain Milan Hejduk. Then-Colorado coach Joe Sacco was there, too. They wanted to speak to Landeskog privately.
At the time, Hejduk was entering his 14th season with Colorado. The veteran was the only player left from the Avalanche’s 2001 Stanley Cup team, and he knew his career was winding down. He was no longer a top forward on the team and didn’t feel it would be right to remain captain. Someone else needed to take the role, Landeskog remembers Hejduk telling him that day.
“And I think that person is you,” Hejduk said.
The young winger was caught off guard. He let out a stunned laugh. At the time, no permanent captain in league history had ever been named at so young an age. A tornado of emotions followed: shock, excitement and — naturally — nerves. He called his dad immediately after the conversation.
“You’ve got to this point being who you are,” Tony Landeskog told his son. “Don’t try to be somebody you’re not.”
That advice stuck with Landeskog, and from that day forward, his “C”-embroidered jersey has been a constant for the Avalanche. It was there through the promising years with Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene, and it was there when that core fell apart. It was there through the pain of rebuilding, and it was there as the Avalanche emerged as a league power.
Now, its era in Denver could be coming to a close.
For the first time in his NHL career, Landeskog is a pending unrestricted free agent. And after a decade in Denver, he doesn’t know what’s coming next.
“The uncertainty is something I’ve never dealt with,” Landeskog says. “I’ve always known that come September, October, I’m going to pull on that Avs jersey.”
Landeskog has repeatedly said he wants to stay with Colorado, and the Avalanche want to bring him back. But with star defenseman Cale Makar set to receive a massive raise in restricted free agency and the Avalanche up against the salary cap, general manager Joe Sakic is facing tough decisions this offseason.
Landeskog wants long-term security. Currently, he’s in limbo.