Granato will return to assistant job

Updated: July 8, 2004, 2:02 AM ET
Associated Press

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."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press