Andrew Cogliano, Avalanche’s beloved locker room statesman, discusses future after passing 1,200 games on expiring contract

TORONTO — Sometimes the Zamboni is Andrew Cogliano’s only company.

He’s routinely the first or second Avalanche player to step foot on the ice for Colorado’s morning skates. On game days across North America this season, Cogliano has occasionally started skating laps while the rink was still getting resurfaced from the home team’s morning skate, which always comes first.

“I like getting out there — and 35 years old, sometimes it takes a little bit longer to warm up. So I use that extra time,” the self-deprecating Avalanche wing said. “I think when you play 1,200 games, you get little things that come along the way that work, or some others that don’t work. For me, I think I use pregame skate, I use warm-up, I use those to really get prepared. So that’s probably a nuisance at this point.”

A nuisance to whom?

“I don’t know. Yeah, no one, I guess,” Cogliano laughed. “Me. Me, because I’ve got to beat everybody (onto the ice).”

To the rest of the Avs, Cogliano is the opposite of a nuisance. The 2022 trade acquisition has been in Denver for a year now, but it feels like longer due to his immediate impact as a locker-room statesman and reliable checking presence in the midst of an injury-plagued season.

Even after turning 35 and hoisting his first Stanley Cup, his attention had quickly turned toward motivating his teammates. Cale Makar received a text from Cogliano two weeks after the championship: a photo of Cogliano’s exercise bike workout.

Colorado Avalanche center Andrew Cogliano (11) hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Tampa Bay Lighting at Amalie Arena June 26, 2022. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

“He’s like, ‘Checking in. Making sure you’re putting in the work for next year,’” Makar said. “I love it. I love that stuff. So only motivated me more.”

Cogliano surpassed another milestone on March 8, appearing in his 1,200th game of a 16-year NHL career that once featured an 830-game Iron Man streak. These landmarks haven’t grown tiring for him yet — “I’m proud of myself; I’m proud of my career, what I’ve been able to accomplish,” he said — and he’s showing no signs of a decline. Cogliano has missed just one game this season.

He is, however, nearing the end of a one-year, $1.25 million contract. That means the unknown looms again for Cogliano this offseason. It’s something he’s accustomed to by now. After his contract with Dallas expired in 2021, he signed a one-year deal with San Jose at $1 million, making him a pending unrestricted free agent again when the Sharks traded him to Colorado. After the Cup, he and the Avalanche reached the current one-year deal.

“I think I’m an hour-by-hour guy in terms of preparing and playing and trying to give the best I can,” Cogliano told The Post when asked about his future after this season. “I have two girls and another daughter on the way, so three girls at some point here. So obviously a decision in terms of everything will have to come at some point. But I think right now I’ve got my hands full with being the best player I can be right now. And whatever happens, happens. Sometimes decisions on playing aren’t yours. And sometimes it is yours. So we’ll see how that goes for me.”

It’s a matter of whether teams continue to want Cogliano. One team in particular. Colorado is currently stretched into using LTIR cap space, and the $82.5 million league salary cap is expected to increase by only $1 million next year. Difficult choices regarding UFAs are on the horizon. Cogliano told The Post on March 14 that he doesn’t know yet if the Avs want to re-sign him, but he hopes to continue playing in Colorado.

“This is a special team to play for. It’s an honor to play for this team,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in it. And I was very fortunate to come here last year and win a Cup. And this is the type of team you want to play on.

Nathan MacKinnon (29) of the Colorado Avalanche celebrates his 1-0 goal against the Chicago Blackhawks with teammates Devon Toews (7), Andrew Cogliano (11) and Logan O’Connor (25) during the first period at Ball Arena in Denver on Wednesday, October 12, 2022. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

“I think for me, it’s play as good as you can this year, and you hope for that. And you hope teams — especially this team — are looking for that. And you go from there.”

Cogliano’s wife is due to give birth to their third daughter in April, he said — around the start of the playoffs. Last season, Cogliano’s value as a defensive-oriented forward paid dividends at that time of year. The intangibles such as playoff experience were crucial, too.

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“I think he’s such a great person,” Nathan MacKinnon said. “Great veteran. Great friend of mine. So I definitely lean on him for advice. Where the team’s at, what to do, what the vibe is.”

“We were texting a lot in the summer,” Mikko Rantanen said. “He’s a funny guy, you know. He’s intense when he plays, and he’s intense about everything, basically.”

On the topic of an eventual retirement, Cogliano said at this point, “I feel good, and I feel like my game is pretty good.” He does think about the big picture, but the moments between every 100-game milestone can feel like a blur sometimes. As he stressed multiple times, he’s “hour-by-hour,” thinking more about his next early start at morning skate than walking away.

“I think in hockey, you always want to be wanted,” he said. “You always want to play the best that you can. And I’ve always been a guy that’s been able to sign extensions and play on teams for a good amount of time, other than the last couple of years. … Sometimes you’re wanted. Sometimes you’re not. And I think obviously you start thinking about other things after.”

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