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NHL

Gabe Landeskog Is The Best Of The Avs

Gabriel Landeskog warms up
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

It would have been pretty weird if the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup without Gabriel Landeskog as their captain. And though they’re tied to him now for eight years, that was at least a conceivable outcome back in the summer, when he was about to become a free agent and the Avs were facing tough, salary cap-related questions about how to maximize their championship window. A little bit of negativity leaked through the press, and the Avs were understandably a bit hesitant to commit so heavily to a player whose 30s could be rough on him, but there ultimately wasn’t anywhere near as much drama as there could have been. For $56 million, the man who Colorado named captain in 2012 when he was just a 19-year-old boy became just as much a part of the Avs’ long-term future as younger, flashier pieces like Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar.

“Denver’s our home, that’s where we put down our roots, that’s where I always wanted to be,” Landy said at the time. “My heart was nowhere else, there’s no place I’d rather be than Denver and to play for the Avs. I’m very happy that we got it done.”

The team has to be quite happy, too, with the season Landeskog has been enjoying so far. In a year where Nathan MacKinnon has been slowed by injury, the captain has been a crucial component in keeping the Avs high up on the NHL’s team scoring leaderboard (they’ve been top three every season since 17–18, and are second with a whopping 3.96 per game right now). His 23 goals in 40 games is already his highest since 2018–19, and his 26 assists are pretty solid as well. His shooting percentage is significantly up, implying that he’s getting luckier, and of course it’s also a tremendous boost to play alongside the incredible talent that he does. But the reliable consistency of Landeskog’s tough, unselfish play has been a hallmark of his career for a decade now. This is just who he is.

He’s found the back of the net in nine of his last 10 games, and many of them have played a key role in earning the Avs two points. Last month, he finished off a Valeri Nichushkin pass to beat the Habs in overtime as part of what turned into an 18-game home win streak. A week later, a one-timer from the circle on the power play opened the scoring against Chicago, and being in the right place at the right time for a deflection later on helped cushion the lead in a 6-4 victory. Sure, those teams are butt. But how about his tipped goal in the early stages of a 3-2 win over the Lightning? Or check out this explosive one-timer he ripped in a scoreless third period to put the Avs over the Golden Knights on Wednesday night.

Is Landeskog the biggest story, or the most crucial component, of this stellar Avalanche season? Not quite. As far as surprises go, Nazem Kadri’s return to form has been pretty tremendous, and Devon Toews’s continued development into a star defenseman has been wild to see. When he’s on, MacKinnon is the one who creates the highlight goals. Rantanen’s production has regularly been a cut above Landy’s. And Makar already looks like a future Hall of Famer in just his third season.

But even though the Avs are a special team with or without Landeskog wearing the C, he doesn’t get lost in all this glittery talent. His steadfast presence shines all the brighter from the reflection of all the stars around him. He’s not just a nice guy who paid his dues with losing seasons, or a sentimental favorite of longtime fans. The stability and sharp-edged play he brings to the franchise make him more important to their identity than anyone since Joe Sakic.

You can see his face up top. It’s a very cute face! Like if Cheers-era Woody Harrelson came from Stockholm. A definite contender for best face in hockey. (MacKinnon agrees.) But that hasn’t stopped Landeskog from putting his beauty at risk whenever the situation calls for it, i.e. when someone has wronged one of his buddies. In November, he used his fists to draw blood from Mattias Ekholm after the Predator messed with Mikko. The next month, he didn’t hesitate to attempt an ass-beating of Jacob Trouba after a hit on Nate. And after Taylor Hall brutalized MacKinnon with a heavy hit in open ice a few weeks ago, Landeskog did everything he could to try and extract revenge from an unwilling target. He’d find it in a different way later, scoring a game-tying goal in the final minute off a beautiful Kadri pass and then assisting on the OT winner.

“It’s just about sending a message,” he said after the game. “If they’re going to step up on our best player, then they’re going to have to answer to somebody.”

To have your highly paid captain pull double duty as the team’s unflappable guardian angel is a powerful thing. And on an individual level, it makes Landeskog a heck of an endearing hockey guy to follow: a “glue guy” scoring better than a point per game. As much of a thrill as it would be to share the ice with MacKinnon as he jets through a coterie of defenders, or Makar as he’s making sensational spins and dekes across the ice, Landeskog’s the type of player I’d most want to skate alongside. His teammates would tell you the same.