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|There were moments in such a sour season a year ago when Gabriel Landeskog doubted himself as a player. It just wore on him that much. Never once did he ever question this: His ability to lead the Colorado Avalanche.
The longtime captain who’s still just 25 galvanized a youthful squad this season through dinners Authentic Customized Saints Jerseys , pingpong games, stepping into the role of mentor, assisting on one of the best lines in hockey, getting feedback from fellow veterans and even being a tour guide. His teammates have followed Landeskog’s lead straight into the postseason.
”Sometimes, you can doubt the things you’re doing as a captain or if you’re doing it right, but never if I wanted to be a captain,” explained Landeskog, whose team opens the first round Thursday night in Nashville against the top-seeded Predators. ”That’s an honor. That’s a privilege.”
Naturally, there have been growing pains along the way for Landeskog, who was appointed captain on Sept. 4, 2012, at the tender age of 19 years, 286 days.
But last season took a toll on him and everyone else. The team had a league-worst 48 points in 2016-17 – the lowest in a full season since 1999-2000, when the expansion Atlanta Thrashers had 39.
”When it’s going that bad, when you’re that bad of a team, no doubt you start doubting yourself, as a player and as a person,” said Landeskog, a Swedish winger who was drafted by Colorado with the second overall pick in 2011. ”At the end of the day, you have to believe in yourself and find that inner confidence and believe that you can do it and you are good and that you are doing the right things and stick with it.”
It set the stage for a major turnaround. Their 47-point improvement this season is the tied for the fourth-highest year-to-year improvement in NHL history for a full season.
”I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a group with such team chemistry Cheap J'Mon Moore Jersey ,” said Landeskog, who helped seal the playoff appearance with a goal and two assists in a 5-2 win over St. Louis last weekend during a winner-take-all, regular-season finale.
That chemistry began in training camp. It escalated even more nearly 5,000 miles away in Stockholm, Landeskog’s hometown. Colorado took a trip there in November to play two games against Ottawa. Right before that, the Avs made a three-team trade that sent Matt Duchene to the Senators and got them such players as defenseman Samuel Girard from Nashville in return.
While in Sweden, Landeskog became a tour guide. He set up museum excursions and organized dinners at his favorite spots. Although the Avalanche dropped both games, they found something greater – cohesion.
”We really came together as a team,” Landeskog said. ”There’s something about spending five or six days with the team and nobody has family or friends or other obligations. It’s just team, team, team and that’s it.”
Team dinners on the road have been frequent. Pingpong games began happening (Landeskog keeps a paddle with a picture of himself taped on it in his locker). And lines of communication that have always been open are even more open.
”He’s very selfless. He doesn’t care about his own personal numbers,” standout Nathan MacKinnon said. ”He’s definitely the perfect captain for this team.”
He’s just trying to be his even-keeled self.
”I have a support staff – my fiance, my dad and my family and things like that to support me and try to bring me up when I’m down,” Landeskog said. ”It’s just something that’s always been engrained, to keep working and keep doing the right things, keep being a good teammate, to be a good example for other guys, and guys will follow.”
He’s had a solid season with 25 goals and 37 assists. Then again, it doesn’t hurt to play on a line that includes MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
”He leads the way on the ice and rarely does any mistakes,” Rantanen said. ”The way he speaks to the team is so calm. He’s a role model for young guys.”
Landeskog already is in full playoff mode with his beard game. He started growing it months ago Authentic Cliff Pennington Jersey , with the Avalanche trying to claw their way into the postseason. It’s a contrast to, say, defenseman Nikita Zadorov, who hardly even has a whisker.
”Zadorov brought me over close to him before practice and was like, `Look I got some (whiskers). I got some,”’ Landeskog recounted. ”I walked up there close to him, and there wasn’t a whole lot to brag about.”
A light-hearted mood – that’s where the team is at heading into a playoff series as a decided underdog.
”Standing here after a season like this, I think you can look around the room and say everybody had a bounce-back season,” Landeskog said. ”Ultimately, everybody in this room helped this team get to the playoffs.”
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Kevin Durant, Paul George and Chris Paul all made quick decisions to stay put and remain in the Western Conference.
And now LeBron James is joining them.
Just like that, the West got even wilder.
Day 1 of NBA free agency was not lacking for fireworks or firepower, led by James’ decision to leave Cleveland for a second time and join the Los Angeles Lakers. James agreed to a four-year deal worth $154 million, meaning his streak of eight consecutive Eastern Conference championships – four with Miami, four with the Cavs – will end next year.
He could still go to the NBA Finals, of course. He’s just going to have a much tougher time getting there out of the West.
Compared to his past free-agent decisions, James moved super swiftly – it took him eight days to reveal in 2010 that he was going to Miami, 11 days in 2014 to say he was going back to Cleveland. This time, it took about 20 hours.
Durant, George and Paul were way faster than that.
The bonanza started Saturday night when Durant decided to sign a two-year Tarvarius Moore Jersey 49ers , $61.5 million deal with the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, one where he’ll make $30.5 million this season. The terms were confirmed by a person familiar with the situation who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal cannot become official until the league’s offseason moratorium ends this week.
The deal comes with a player option for 2019-20, so Durant can – and likely will – become a free agent again next summer.
George and Paul made their announcements known not long afterward. George told a party in Oklahoma City that he’s staying with the Thunder, after agreeing to terms on what is a $137 million, four-year deal that comes with an option for the final season. Paul made his intentions known on Twitter at exactly midnight EDT Sunday, saying he’s staying with the Houston Rockets after agreeing to a four-year contract worth $160 million.
All three of those players will have designs on a title next season.
As if getting through one another won’t be tough enough, James is now coming to join the party. By the time he announced, just over $900 million worth of new deals had been agreed upon, based on figures confirmed to the AP by people involved in the various decisions – almost all of that money getting committed by teams in the West.
And all those clubs – Golden State, Oklahoma City, Houston, the Lakers, even Denver by locking up Nikola Jokic for $150 million and Will Barton for $54 million – could definitively say they were thrilled. More big moves in the West are possible, especially with DeMarcus Cousins still available in free agency and a candidate to return to New Orleans.
Durant’s move means the Warriors not only got to keep the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals MVP, but they also get some financial flexibility in the deal since he could have gotten more money had the deal been structured differently.
For the Thunder, the win was that their risk paid off. Trading for George a year ago was panned by some critics, presumably because of the belief that he was already focused on joining his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in free agency.
That move isn’t happening.
Not now, anyway, and barring a trade not for at least three years in what will be considered a massive victory for the Thunder and general manager Sam Presti.
”I’m here to stay,” George told the crowd at the party.
In Houston Troy Apke Color Rush Jersey , Paul has told Rockets fans the same thing.
”UNFINISHED BUSINESS,” Paul wrote on Twitter at the exact moment that the calendar flipped to July 1 in the East, meaning the NBA’s free agency frenzy was officially open for the summer.
Houston took Golden State to seven games in the Western Conference finals back in May. Paul missed the last two games of that series with an injury, and the Rockets wasted big leads in both of those games – then had to watch the Warriors sweep Cleveland for the NBA title.
Paul averaged 18.6 points and 7.9 assists last season with the Rockets, who went 65-17 led by Paul and newly minted NBA MVP James Harden. ESPN reported he is signing a four-year deal that will be worth $160 million.
They were the initial wave. Sunday evening, James made his move.
He flew to Los Angeles on Saturday, creating a frenzy without saying a word.
Turns out, James was flying to his new home James spent the week vacationing in Anguilla. He’s the next superstar to follow in the legacy that Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson built for the Lakers.
Philadelphia star Joel Embiid weighed in on Twitter saying, ”The Lakers are FOREVER gonna be Kobe’s and Magic’s team…. Process that.”
The 76ers met with James’ representatives Sunday, obviously to no avail. Embiid’s opinion notwithstanding, the Lakers are James’ team now.
And the East, for the first time in nearly a decade, will have a new king next spring.
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