The Free Agency Fit

Ian Cole Brings Winning Ways With Him To Mile High City

Hockey players run the risk of displacement without much notice. It’s a fact of life that comes with being a professional athlete.


Ian Cole fell victim to that last season when the Pittsburgh Penguins sent him to the Ottawa Senators, only to be shipped off to Columbus without ever playing a minute in Canada’s capital city.


This season the 29-year-old Ann Arbor, Mich., native is looking to make a new start in the Mile High City of Denver as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, a team that is on the rise after last season’s breakout performance. 


While free agency contains a few more spoils, such as the ability to pick through suitors, searching for the best balance of joining a winning organization in a city that provides a great quality of life, it doesn’t always make the moving part and unknown of a new organization any easier.


Cole felt that Denver and the home team Avalanche ticked many of those boxes.

 Training camp poses as Cole's first chance to earn head coach Jared Bednar's trust.Training camp poses as Cole's first chance to earn head coach Jared Bednar's trust.

Signing his new deal on July 1, the first day of free agency, did afford a crucial head start two months before training camp opens, rather than finding out your new trade destination after a few hours and uprooting your life in midseason.


“I was here for a couple weeks before we got started, which was nice,” Cole said after the first day of Avs’ training camp. “I got to meet all the guys and get to know them a little bit, which is good. You’re not coming into camp and these practices completely blind.”


Now comes the hard part and all the pressures that come with inking a big-money deal. Armed with a three-year deal worth $4.2 million average annual value, the pact doubles his previous cap hit with the Penguins. Cole is determined to be a consistent fixture on a Colorado blueline that was previously seen as a weakness but now tilts more towards being a strength.


With so much riding on every NHL game, the sooner he can make himself at home, the better. Fitting in is even more urgent as Cole joins a battered Avalanche blue line that includes Erik Johnson, Nikita Zadorov and Patrik Nemeth, who are all coming off injury-plagued offseasons.


The two-time Stanley Cup champion steps into a room that is the 4th youngest in the NHL and is coming off a stellar bounce-back campaign. After plummeting to an NHL-worst 48 points in 2016-17, the Avs improved by 47 points, totaling 95 in 2017-18, to make the playoffs on the season’s final day. It was the fourth biggest year-to-year improvement in league history.


Cole doesn’t feel the need to exert any extra veteran know-how to a talented young group that is trending in the right direction. Boasting one of the most electrifying players in the game, Nathan MacKinnon, fresh off a 97-point campaign, this is a team on the rise.


“They have a great leadership committee here,” Cole said. “Gabe [Landeskog] has been the captain for a long time, he’s done an amazing job with it. Obviously, EJ [Erik Johnson] and Nate [MacKinnon]. They have some great leaders on this team.


“If guys ask me what I think about certain things I’ll certainly let them know what I think. The best way to lead is by example. Playing well and playing hard and playing strong. That’s going to be my focus instead of trying to talk too much.”


Leadership helps set the tone in the interesting environment of training camp where players are battling it out for roles and ice time, at the expense of their teammates and fostering unity.


“Everyone here is trying to earn a job, or earn ice-time, or earn more trust from the coach,” Cole said. “It’s kind of a strange aspect of training camp, but I think it really brings out the competitive nature and gets guys going here for the season, which is good.”


As a fresh face, Cole’s eager to take the fresh sheet of ice at the Pepsi Center for the Avalanche’s season opener on Oct. 4 against the Minnesota Wild. The U.S. National Team Development Program alum is excited to be a part of what is taking place in Colorado.


“Love it [here],” Cole said. “I absolutely love it.”

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