The Colorado Avalanche entered this season with optimism after reaching the playoffs in their first campaign under Joe Sacco. They might have had a little more after surging to first place in the Northwest Division in December.
Then came a miserable slump that they still haven't shaken out of heading into Sunday's season finale against the visiting Edmonton Oilers, which will be the final NHL game for retiring Avs stalwart Adam Foote.
The Avalanche looked to Sacco after finishing last in the West for the first time in 2008-09, and the team responded with a 43-30-9 season that earned them the conference's final playoff berth.
Colorado seemed poised to return to the postseason in 2010-11 after moving atop its division during a six-game win streak from Dec. 10-19. Instead, the Avalanche (29-44-8) plummeted down the standings during their current 10-34-4 slump.
Their eighth loss in nine games - 3-2 to Dallas on Friday - assured them of finishing with their lowest point total since moving from Quebec in 1995.
That doesn't mean their last game will be without intrigue.
Foote, the Avalanche's last remaining player to have played for the Nordiques, announced Friday that he'll retire at the end of this season. The Avalanche captain, a member of the franchise's Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1996 and 2001 and a veteran of 19 NHL seasons, hasn't played since March 16 because of a leg injury but plans to suit up for Sunday's finale.
"Just to get a chance to say goodbye to the fans and have one last good feeling in the Pepsi Center," Foote said. "I'm going to miss it. It's going to be emotional at times. But I'm trying to hold it together."
Foote can probably expect some extra effort from his teammates as they try to send him out with a win.
"It's going to be exciting, especially with (Foote's) last
game," said forward
No matter what happens, the Avalanche will finish ahead of the Oilers (25-45-11), who are at the bottom of the West for the second straight season.
Unlike Colorado, Edmonton didn't get off to a strong start and was never a factor in the playoff race. In their first season under coach Tom Renney, the Oilers were plagued by injuries, most notably to No. 1 draft pick Taylor Hall and leading scorer Jordan Eberle.
Both recent wins came against Presidents' Trophy winner Vancouver to start this month, but Edmonton has scored a combined two goals in back-to-back defeats. Teemu Hartikainen had the lone score in Friday's 3-1 loss to visiting Minnesota, which included a brawl-filled first period.
Despite its recent struggles, Edmonton has been successful against Colorado, going 4-0-2 over the last six meetings. The Oilers have also won both games in Denver this season by 5-1 margins and can tie the franchise's longest win streak there with a victory Sunday.