Coach's job is safe, GM tells paper

Updated: May 6, 2004, 2:45 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

DENVER -- Losing to the San Jose Sharks in six games might have been more than just the finish to a disappointing season for the Colorado Avalanche.

It could be the end of an era.

Although general manager Pierre Lacroix told the Denver Post Wednesday that coach Tony Granato will return, other big changes could be in store for the Avalanche, who are at something of a low point after nearly a decade of dominance, including two Stanley Cup titles.

"I'm telling you Tony Granato will be there and should be there a long time, with the way he has worked this year and last year," Lacroix said.

On the other hand, star forward Peter Forsberg could be headed back home to Sweden to finish his career and Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya could be gone after one less-than-productive season.

"We don't know yet what's going to happen next year," goalie David Aebischer said. "There's probably going to be some change, but there's every year some change."

Lacroix told the Denver newspaper that Forsberg hadn't informed the team of his plans for next season.

"I have no clue," the GM said. "And as you know, he isn't the kind of guy who is going to turn around today and say, 'I'm going to do this.' I am sure he is going to take the time to reflect."

If the NHL reaches a new labor agreement that includes a salary cap, Colorado will have no choice but to make changes to its high-priced roster.

"If it's going to be that, you're not going to have these players like you had and it's going to be much more even than it is now," Forsberg said. "I don't think that we can keep the line that we have right now."

Forsberg represents the biggest question.

He's tired of the pounding he has taken for a decade and has said he would like to finish his career in Sweden, where skill is preferred to the clutching and grabbing of the NHL. He doesn't plan to make a decision until this summer, however.

"If you ask anyone in the league who the most dominant player is, they will say Peter Forsberg," San Jose coach Ron Wilson said. "That is no slight to Joe Sakic. Sakic is a clutch player, but Forsberg drives the boat here."

He just couldn't steer it away from trouble.

Colorado overcame injuries to Kariya and Forsberg early in the season to get off to a great start, but couldn't maintain its momentum. With Forsberg and Alex Tanguay out with injuries, the Avalanche struggled the last month of the season and failed to win their division for the first time in a decade.

Colorado pulled it together in time to knock off Dallas easily in the first round of the playoffs, but the Avs scored just seven goals in six games against the Sharks. It wasn't what the Avalanche had in mind when they put together the best collection of scorers in recent memory.

"Our expectations when this team was put together was to win a Stanley Cup," Granato said. "Everyone is going to feel disappointment, everyone is going to feel like we didn't live up to our expectations, which is true."

Signing Selanne and Kariya on the same day only added to the expectations, but neither had the impact the Avalanche had hoped.

Kariya missed 31 of the first 33 games with a wrist injury and played just once in the playoffs because of a sprained ankle. His contract is up, but he has said he wouldn't mind coming back.

Selanne almost certainly is gone. He never got into a rhythm and became frustrated late in the season when he was a healthy scratch a couple of times and spent time on the third and fourth lines.

"Personally, this year was a nightmare for me. I'm not going to hide it," said Selanne, who had just 16 goals and 16 assists this season. "I think it's too early to say anything [about returning]. Right now, it didn't work out."

Lacroix agreed, telling the Post that the signings of Kariya and Selanne hadn't worked out -- for different reasons -- but saying that he would make the same decision again if he had the same opportunity.

"It was a frustrating year for him, no doubt ... " he said of Kariya. "It didn't work out, but it was nobody's fault."

As for Selanne, Lacroix told the paper that the Avs were disappointed not to get more from the player but that he was proud of Selanne's reaction.

"He didn't look around for a culprit ... he just blamed it on himself and said it didn't work out. ... " the GM said. "It wasn't anything malicious with us or him. It didn't work out."

Colorado overhauled its roster through free agency and trades, adding 13 players who weren't on the team a year ago. Players such as Steve Konowalchuk, Matthew Barnaby, Chris Gratton and Ossi Vaananen were supposed to give the Avalanche a boost headed into the playoffs, but that didn't work out, either.

However, the coach won't be bearing the brunt of the blame.

Granato was given some leeway after Colorado blew a 3-2 series lead against Minnesota in the first round last year, and another playoff disappointment in his first full season doesn't have him in hot water, either, according to Lacroix.

Still, both the coach and the GM are disappointed.

"We didn't find a way to win enough games to live up to our expectations," Granato said. "I'm not worried about my future right now. I didn't think I would be standing up here talking about a loss right now. It was not the year we expected it to be."

Lacroix told the Denver paper he thought the players and coaches did a terrific job overall, what with accumulating 100 points despite losing more than 400 man-games to injury.

And he had high praise for Granato, pointing out that his regular-season record was one of the best in the business for a young coach and saying it never crossed the Colorado management's minds that any of the coaches didn't do a great job this past season.

"Tony did a great job, and we're very pleased about what he delivered to this organization," Lacroix told the Post. "If someone wants to put the blame on the coach, that is not the route we're going to take."

He was quoted in the Rocky Mountain News as pinning the blame for the Avs' disappointing finish squarely on Evgeni Nabokov and the Sharks, although in that case it was a compliment.

"If people want to commend somebody responsible for what happened to the Avalanche, it's the San Jose Sharks," the News quoted Lacroix as saying. "Their goaltender played great. ... The San Jose Sharks are the reason we're not playing anymore."

Still ... "You have to be disappointed, because we have had only one goal for the 10 years that I've been doing this, and that's to win the ultimate," the GM told the Post. "When you don't get it, there's a form of disappointment."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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