In more games than not, and far more than he would like, Gabe Landeskog said being the youngest captain in NHL history has felt like being "snowed in." The rookie Avalanche captain and second-year left wing, 20, repeatedly used those words in discussing how he has suffered in a season that has gone all wrong for himself and his teammates.
"I have been taking every loss more personally," Landeskog said. "In that way, it's easy to get too snowed in on a loss ... and it prevents you from moving on."
Landeskog, who suffered a concussion four games into the season, has just seven goals and 12 points in 26 games, and the Avs have a league-low 29 points. Landeskog is pointless in his last six games, with a minus-4 rating, and Colorado has lost 12 of its last 14.
"I'm not one to use the captaincy as an excuse for how I've been playing," said Landeskog, who won the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year after producing a team-high 22 goals last season. "There have been more things to divide my focus upon, off the ice, more responsibility, a little more pressure of being a go-to guy, but for me, it hasn't been an excuse — at all.
"But it's easier to take (losing) personally than if I didn't have the C," he said, referring to the captain's insignia. "Again, I don't want to blame anything on the C. I've enjoyed having it, and I have learned a lot. If anything, I have realized you can get too snowed in on the captaincy, instead of being yourself. It's hard when the team isn't doing well. It's been hard to know what to do, and when to do it. I knew from Day One I wasn't going to be a perfect captain, but I believe I can still be a good one."
Avs coach Joe Sacco and legendary Colorado center and current executive advisor Joe Sakic — who withstood a 16-50-14 season in his first season as co-captain of the Quebec Nordiques in 1990-01 — both said Landeskog has done nothing wrong and will continue to serve as captain next season and beyond. In fact, they both say they admire how Landeskog has handled so much adversity.
"We don't want him to change at all, because he's captain because he's captain material," Sakic said Sunday. "He's just a tremendous leader. We know he's got the utmost respect from everybody in that dressing room, the coaching staff and everybody in the organization. He's just a kid who possesses all the qualities of leadership."
Sakic said Landeskog's on-ice production can't be fairly judged because of the concussion that forced him to miss 11 games and not participate in any physical activity for two weeks. Overall, this season reminds Sakic of his third NHL season in 1990-91, when he served as co-captain with defenseman Steven Finn.
Sakic became the lone captain in 1992-93, leading the Nordiques to a 42-17-10 record at age 23 with like-aged teammates Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, Adam Foote, Mike Ricci and Scott Young. Three years later, the franchise won the Stanley Cup in the first season after moving to Colorado.
"The way that the year's gone, and with me being in that position in a long time ago, going through it and end up winning a Cup, it's obviously a new learning experience," Sakic said of Landeskog. "It's easy to be a front-runner and everything, but it's how you come through the tough times that really builds character. ... He'll come through it and he'll be fine.
Landeskog's teammates also have his back.
"It's tough coming in as a captain at 20 years old, and for a losing team it's that much tougher. You tend to want to do too much, or take too much (responsibility) on your shoulders," said backup goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in separate seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. "It's a difficult situation for him, but I think, just like the rest of his team, it's a learning experience. He's learning the ropes, and we all know he's going to be a great captain in the future."
Defenseman Shane O'Brien said: "I think Landy has done a great job. The guys respect him. It's not easy being 20 years old and the captain of an NHL team, especially one that's losing. I tease him, but he's mature beyond his years. Landy is still learning what it takes to be a captain, but he's going to be a captain for a long time."