Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Colorado has a bright future. But Cale Makar is loving the present, too.

Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov chases down Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar on Sunday in Tampa, Florida.  (Tribune News Service)
By Samantha Pell Washington Post

TAMPA – Taylor Makar sat next to his brother, Cale, late Sunday night in Amalie Arena, giddy smiles on their faces. The Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the MVP of the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs, was on a podium beside them.

This was a moment Taylor and Cale had dreamed about – the moment when Cale was a Stanley Cup champion and a breakout star, with his family was right by his side.

“It’s insane for me to watch,” said Taylor, a college player from Calgary, Alberta, whom the Avalanche selected in the seventh round of the 2021 NHL draft. “… It’s so funny seeing us grow up together, having those sibling fights, battles, playing for fake Stanley Cups in mini-sticks. To see him finally be able to lift that, I know he’s always wanted that and something I’ve always wanted to watch too. Just so proud of him and our family.”

Makar was an integral part of the Avalanche team that won the Stanley Cup on Sunday night, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. It was the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title since 2001.

Makar, 23, became the youngest defenseman in 52 years to win the Conn Smythe, and was also the third defenseman to ever win the Norris Trophy and the Conn Smythe in the same season. Bobby Orr managed the feat in 1970, while Nicklas Lidstrom did it in 2002.

“It’s surreal,” Makar said of the pair of awards. “But I’m not too worried about the individual stuff, just celebrating the main thing with the boys.”

His teammates have been complimentary of the young defenseman – and for good reason. They’ve described him as forever humble, staying the course while the heaps of praise for Makar only intensified as he reached hockey’s biggest stage.

After the Cup-clinching Game 6 victory in Tampa, Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog was asked what other NHL teams should borrow from the Avalanche’s journey to the top. His answer was direct: “Find a Cale Makar somewhere.”

Makar scored eight goals and recorded 21 assists in the postseason. His 29 points were the most points by a defenseman in one postseason in 28 years.

Known for his electric speed on the ice and smooth puck-handling skills, Makar showed off his plethora of talents in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, the fourth postseason of his career. He’s shown tremendous growth since his first, developing into a two-way player who demands attention when he steps on the ice.

“We’ve seen him play this way from Day 1 of the season,” Colorado Coach Jared Bednar said. “This guy is elite, and with him, the job he does for us offensively and defensively, watching him play, how dynamic he is, he’s just the best defenseman in the game right now.”

Makar is a generational NHL talent, and one Colorado hopes will lead it to multiple Stanley Cup titles. He signed a six-year, $54 million contract extension in July 2021, sealing the blue-liner’s immediate future in Colorado. His relentless attack and sound defense mindset works seamlessly with Colorado’s core leaders in Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.

Next season, the 26-year-old MacKinnon will enter the final year of his seven-year, $44.1 million deal and set to earn a well-deserved pay bump. Landeskog, 29, is signed with Colorado through the 2028-29 season with an average annual value of $7 million. The 25-year-old Rantanen still has three years remaining on a six-year, $55.5 million deal he signed in 2019.

“It’s so exciting to be on a team with so many good guys and just to be able to experience that … There were so many great things throughout the year,” Makar said. “Obviously we picked up some key guys at the trade deadline and guys that I hope will be sticking around. A lot of work to do on that front but it’s awesome to see the core group be able to experience this.”

For now, Makar will relish in the present, unwilling to get too ahead of himself when looking at Colorado’s bright future. He started the celebration Sunday night with his family, tears in their eyes as they embraced and took photos with the Stanley Cup on the ice. It was hug after hug, the excitement uncontainable.

“I’m just honored to be a part of this success and to help guys who have been through all of the ups and downs succeed, it’s surreal,” Makar said.