New Avs coach, but same deep roster
1. Whose fault was it?
2. Did the likely return of Peter Forsberg to Sweden and the possibility of a salary cap in the next NHL season -- whenever that is -- mean the franchise is headed for a significant regression after a decade among the league's elite?
Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix was adamant the day after the Colorado playoff elimination that head coach Tony Granato remained a bright coaching prospect in the league, and that he would be back for the next season. He preferred to emphasize Colorado's 100-point regular-season, which wasn't quite enough to bring the franchise a 10th straight division championship, but came in the wake of Patrick Roy's retirement.
In a league that makes an art of scapegoating coaches, Lacroix's quick endorsement of Granato was a decisive vote of confidence.
But in July, Lacroix hired Joel Quenneville, the one-time Avalanche assistant, as the new head coach, and said that Granato had acquiesced in his own demotion.
Granato had 31 games of coaching experience, all as a Colorado assistant, when he succeeded Bob Hartley in December 2002.
"We hired Tony Granato because we thought he had the qualities to be a great head coach and a great asset for our company," Lacroix said recently. "Three months later, we have to have a head-coaching move. Going outside was an alternative. If we stayed inside, and we believed that Granato had the potential to be a great head coach, all we were asking was for him to take over earlier. He took the challenge and he handled it very, very well, better than expected. Then he loses his assistant coach (Rick Tochhet, who resigned). You could put an ad in the paper and say you need an assistant coach, but we're particular in our details."
Eventually, after talking with Granato for several days about the vacancy on the coaching staff, Lacroix brought up Quenneville.
"I said, 'Tony, there's another way, if you want to think about it,' " Lacroix said.
The other way was going after Quenneville.
So when the Avalanche begins to play again, it will be with the former Colorado Rockies defenseman running the bench, and with Granato as his assistant. And Lacroix is adamant that he wasn't considering bringing in Quenneville late in the season, when he was rumored to be doing so.
If the lockout ends in time for a 2004-05 season, Quenneville still will have a deep roster. The Avalanche added Antti Laaksonen, Ian Laperriere and Vincent Damphousse in the offseason. Paul Kariya remains in limbo, probably until the CBA is settled, but it's likely that both he and Teemu Selanne have played the final games for Colorado.
And Forsberg's status will remain up in the air, though it seems he has maneuvered his contract status to allow him to play at least one season in Sweden.
As the Avalanche -- like everyone else -- waited to see what happens with the CBA, Lacroix responded to ESPN.com's questions. Keep in mind the context: In his decade as a general manager, Lacroix consistently has publicly advanced the view that the organization is like a family, and his assessments often are guarded and emphasize the positive.
ESPN.com: Your assessment of last season?
Lacroix: "We had another successful season with 100 points, despite facing adversity with over 415 man-games lost to injury. It was the fifth 100-point season we have had in nine seasons in Colorado, and we have to be pleased with it."
ESPN.com: Which players had the most impact last season?
Lacroix: "Many of the young players who were developed through our system enjoyed strong seasons -- David Aebischer, John-Michael Liles and Marek Svatos. Unfortunately, Svatos missed the majority of the regular season with a shoulder injury. Also, as they have done every season, our core players responded with another strong season."
ESPN.com: Which player needs to take the next step?
Lacroix: "Several of our young players are developing well and we're looking for them to continue to improve."
ESPN.com: Who in your system might be ready for the NHL?
Lacroix: "Every training camp, we've had pleasant surprises, and I am convinced it will not be any different this year."
ESPN.com: What was the top priority to improve the organization this
Lacroix: "Our main priority has always been to provide our fans with a competitive and exciting product on the ice and show them that we want to play in the last game of the season every year."
ESPN.com: What was your favorite moment of the season?
Lacroix: "Reaching 100 points despite adversity. Also, Patrick Roy Night on Oct. 28 was a special moment for the organization."
ESPN.com: And your least favorite?
Lacroix: "We tried our best and fought hard, but it would be not reaching our ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup."
ESPN.com: What took you the furthest away from hockey this summer?
Lacroix: "I enjoyed a lot of great times with my grandson, Max."
Terry Frei, of The Denver Post, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."