DENVER - The Colorado Avalanche rewarded coach Joe Sacco with a two-year extension even in the wake of the team missing the post-season for a second straight season.
The Avs were in the thick of the playoff chase until late in the season, but dropped six of their final seven games to fade out of the picture. Still, Colorado improved by 20 points from a season ago, when the team had the second-to-worst record in the NHL.
"Joe has earned the opportunity to lead this young team," general manager Greg Sherman said Wednesday. "Our club made significant strides this season and we look forward to continuing that next season."
Now that Sacco is on board, the Avalanche might turn their attention toward on-ice leader Milan Hejduk. The captain remains torn between returning for a 14th season or skating off into retirement. He's the last remaining link to the Avalanche's Stanley Cup glory days.
The Avalanche also face some weighty decisions regarding their roster. Peter Mueller is a restricted free agent, along with defenceman Erik Johnson, leading scorer Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene, who missed a chunk of the season with knee and ankle injuries.
Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie, two players the Avs acquired before the trade deadline, are also restricted free agents. McGinn had 13 points in 17 games since his arrival from San Jose, while Downie was on a torrid pace before a shoulder injury slowed him down.
The unrestricted free agents include players such as defencemen Shane O'Brien and Matt Hunwick, not to mention forwards Jay McClement, Cody McLeod, David Jones and Hejduk.
Jones believes this squad could be a force down the road should the team remain largely intact.
"We've shown we can beat anyone," Jones said. "We went into New York and beat the Rangers. We beat Boston. Those are all teams that are going to be there at the end. I think there's definitely work to be done, but we've got a good young group and a lot of great teammates."
Does Jones want to return to the Mile High City?
"Of course," he said. "I've been here my whole career. I love Denver and enjoy being here."
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