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Granato will return to assistant job

DENVER -- From blockbuster trades to hiring coaches with
little previous experience, Colorado Avalanche general manager
Pierre Lacroix has had a knack for pulling off the unexpected.

Lacroix did it again Wednesday, when he opted to keep Tony
Granato on as an assistant after hiring Joel Quenneville to take
over as head coach.

"When you have quality people like Tony Granato and the other
people on our staff, you do what's right for the organization,"
Lacroix said. "In this case, when I raised all these questions
with Tony, this was unanimously what we thought was right for the
team."

Lacroix was adamant that Granato would remain on as coach when a
report surfaced in March that he would be fired and Quenneville
would be brought in. Lacroix reiterated his stance a day after the
Avalanche were eliminated from the playoffs.

One change in the coaching staff was all it took to change his
mind.

Shortly after the NHL draft last month, Colorado learned
assistant coach Rick Tocchet was leaving the team to spend more
time with his family. Instead of simply looking for a replacement
for Tocchet, the Avalanche looked at all of their options.

"We were very comfortable and confident in our coaching staff,
that's why we addressed it at the end of the year," Lacroix said.
"We felt strongly the coaching staff was not to be blamed, and
that's why I took the stand at that time. If the coaching staff
stays intact, we probably don't even discuss the possibility of
doing a change."

The availability of Quenneville, a former Avalanche assistant,
made the decision much easier.

St. Louis' winningest coach at 307-191-77-18, he led the Blues
to 40 wins in five of his six full seasons there. Quenneville was
named the NHL's coach of the year in 2000, when the Blues earned a
franchise-record 114 points, and led St. Louis to the 2001 Western
Conference finals against Colorado.

But St. Louis couldn't get it done in the playoffs under
Quenneville. The Blues were just 34-34 in the postseason and fired
their coach on Feb. 24 after winning just four of 16 games and
dropping to ninth in the West.

Quenneville was slated to coach Canada in the world hockey
championships in the Czech Republic in April, but fell ill just
before the tournament began and was replaced by Anaheim's Mike
Babcock.

Quenneville said Wednesday that he was completely healthy.

Despite the possible health concerns, Quenneville was in high demand in the NHL coaching market. He said he had been in contact about
openings with several teams this summer -- just not the team that
hired him.

"This came about so quickly yesterday -- I'm cutting the grass
in the backyard and here I am sitting in front of everybody when
Colorado wasn't even an idea," said Quenneville, who added he's
completely healthy. "It came about so quickly, and I'm totally
thrilled about the opportunity. I love the challenge."

Granato replaced the fired Bob Hartley in December 2002 despite
being two years removed from his playing days and having only 31
games of experience as an assistant. The Avalanche responded to the
change by closing out the season with a record ninth division
title, but lost to Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs
after leading the series 3-1.

Colorado got off to a good start last season despite injuries to
key players before struggling down the stretch to finish fourth in
the Western Conference. The Avalanche beat Dallas relatively easily
in the first round, but lost to San Jose in the second after
managing just seven goals in six games.

Of course Granato would have liked to continue as the head
coach, but he had no problem handing over the reins to someone such as
Quenneville. In fact, it was his idea.

"I felt strongly with the people who were available and the
opportunity to get Joel on the coaching staff, I recommended to
Pierre and he felt the same way," said Granato, who was
73-33-17-11.

"I was very proud of the way things went, but when there's a
hole in your staff and you have a chance to get better behind the
bench, I think any organization would look to do what's best for the
organization."