DENVER (AP) — Milan Hejduk won the final faceoff of the season and then took the puck as a souvenir.
Not so much to remember this season by — it's one the Colorado Avalanche would rather forget — but possibly as a farewell memento of his career in the Mile High City.
Hejduk, the last on-ice link to the 2001 Stanley Cup championship team, isn't sure if he will be back for a 15th season. He took a moment to soak in the scene at Pepsi Center in the season finale on Saturday, before skating into the dressing room to an ovation.
This wasn't how he envisioned going out, should this indeed be his last season. The Avalanche finished last in the Western Conference and missed the playoffs for a third straight season.
A shakeup just may be in the works. It remains to be seen if coach Joe Sacco will be retained.
For now, Sacco isn't thinking about such a possibility. He will back on the bench later this week — with the NHL playoffs in full swing — as he leads the U.S. squad at the world championships. Sacco will even take several Avalanche players along with him, including Paul Stastny and Erik Johnson.
"I'm going to go about my business as usual, just as I always do," said Sacco, who has one year left on his contract. "Those are the decisions that are out of my hands. I'm not really worried about that right now."
This much is certain: Colorado is guaranteed a high pick in the June draft. The team has an 18.8 percent chance of landing the top pick in a lottery that will be held on Monday, with the Florida Panthers — the worst squad in the league — having the best odds at 25 percent. Defenseman Seth Jones is widely considered the top prospect in the draft and a player who may instantly boost an organization.
A possible glimmer through the gloom of a long season, even if it was shortened to 48 games due to the lockout.
"This feels awful," said Matt Duchene, who tied P.A. Parenteau for the team's scoring lead with 43 points. "It's hard to put a finger on exactly what caused it."
Things got so bad that veteran goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere questioned the team's heart earlier this month, ranting that some of the players were more focused on postseason vacation plans in Las Vegas than their performance on the ice. That got their attention, too, as the team went 3-2-2 down the stretch against teams that had already clinched playoff berths or contending for remaining spots.
"I know we have character in this room. We've shown that, with how well we can play," said Giguere, whose team finished 16-25-7. "It's never too late to start building on something positive and trying to change something — a losing attitude into a winning attitude."
It's certainly been an educational year for Gabriel Landeskog, who became the youngest player in NHL history to assume the captaincy role. The rookie of the year in 2011-12 missed 11 games with a concussion this season and scored nine goals.
"There are going to be some bumps in the road, but I'd rather take those now and get better," Landeskog said.
Landeskog certainly had a good mentor, frequently calling Hall of Famer and former Avs captain Joe Sakic for advice on how to lead a team.
"It's good to know he's a phone call away," Landeskog said.
Glad he was named a captain at such a young age?
"There are times, when you think maybe it was a little too early," said Landeskog, who turned 20 on Nov. 23. "But it's been great just learning and having that responsibility on my shoulders. That presses me to be better, both on and off the ice. That's a good thing."
Colorado never really found its footing in this fast-paced season. Not once did the team string together more than two wins and finished with a league-worst 4-16-4 record on the road.
The Avs also had the Ryan O'Reilly situation hovering over their heads for more than a month as he stayed away to negotiate a new deal. A few hours after O'Reilly signed an offer sheet with Calgary on Feb. 28, Colorado matched the offer of $10 million over two years, which included a $2 million signing bonus.
But even the return of the player nicknamed "Factor" to the lineup really couldn't play a factor in a season that quickly went sideways.
"We had some tough sledding. We lost the handle on it," Duchene said. "It's disappointing. But come next season all of us have to have great summers and be ready to go. It was tough for us with the lockout. Teams that were ready when play resumed are in the playoffs. Teams that weren't are not."
As for Hejduk, well, he's weighing his options after a trying season in which he missed time with shoulder and torso injuries. He also finished with a career-low 11 points.
"We'll see what's going to happen in the offseason," said the 37-year-old Hejduk, who is second in franchise history in games (1,020) and fourth in goals (375). "It was a short season, but it was a tough one."
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