Goodbye, Peter, equals goodbye, Colorado
Freud is definitely enjoying his shadenfraude this week.Goodbye, Adam Foote. Goodbye, Peter Forsberg. Goodbye to elite status in the NHL, Colorado Avalanche.The new $39-million salary cap creamed the players and it’s blasted the Avs, an added bonus. Yes, oh faithful Avs fan – is there such a thing; we’ll find out this year – you say you still have Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay.It doesn’t matter. Foote was the most underrated cog in the Avs’ machine and Forsberg, well, there’s a reason he’s Peter the Great. The bottom line is that the Avs are going to be lucky to finish third in the Northwest Division and could well be watching the playoffs on TV come April.Ding-dong, the Avs are dead. Colorado’s sports world is being turned upside down. The Nuggets are in ascendance and the Avs are spiraling downward. One thing remains the same – the Broncos will lose to Indy in the playoffs.Bonds without the ‘roidsAvs fans know they’ve lost something special in Forsberg, but they won’t really appreciate it until he’s no longer wearing No. 21 at the Pepsi Center. This is something akin to the San Francisco Giants losing Barry Bonds for the season – without the ‘roids.With Barry, the Giants are in the hunt every year. Without his Barry-ness, they’re in the toilet. Forsberg is that much of a difference maker.
That’s 741 points in 580 games that just left for Philly. Healthy or injured, Forsberg is the NHL’s best since Mario Lemieux. Sure, he only played in 39 regular season games in 2003-04, but he had 18 goals and 37 helpers. To put that in perspective, Forsberg’s replacement, Pierre Turgeon, had 15-25 in 70 games.Then there are the playoffs when Peter the Great is at his best. We’re talking 154 points in 133 games. The years the Avs have gone deep into spring are the ones when Forsberg’s been The Man. In 1996 – Cup No. 1 – he had 10 goals and 11 assists. Even though he ruptured his spleen in 2001 after Round 2, he was averaging more than a point a game, and the Avs won the Cup.Remember the 2002 playoffs? He didn’t play at all during the regular season, and promptly went off for nine goals and 18 assists in 20 games during that postseason.Of course, the playoffs may not be an issue for the Avs this spring.Get a walkerThe first reason is that the Avs were an old team in 2003-04 and they’ve just gotten older. Don’t get me wrong, Sakic and Blake are fantastic players and definite Hall-of-Famers. But how are their bodies going to a respond to a year off? This is a question a lot of teams like Detroit will have to answer as well.And the Avs got older with the additions of Turgeon, 35, and Patrice Brisebois, 34. The Avs are not trending in the right direction in age.What’s more, there’s very little general manager Pierre LaCroix can do about it. Sakic and Blake will make a combined $13 million this year. That’s a third of the cap right there. Compare that to say a team like the San Jose Sharks, who have 11 players, including stud goalie Evgeni Nabokov, signed for $11 million.The Avs are still on the hook to pay Steve Konowalchuk $1.9 million. (I didn’t know he was still in the league.) Colorado has $4.3 million in Hejduk and another $3.3 million in Tanguay – and rightly so.
The problem is Colorado’s guaranteed cap money is sitting at $21 million for eight players and the team’s qualifying offers total $16 million for the rest of the squad. The Avs have all of $1.1 million of wiggle room under the cap.LaCroix will not be able to improve this aging team, unless he trades Sakic or Blake, in which case the ship is already sunk.The NorthwestAnother reason the Avs are on thin ice is that the Northwestern Division just got super-sized.Lest we forget, the Avs didn’t win the division the last time we had hockey. Vancouver did – and the Canucks kept their core and their star, Markus Naslund. The Battle of Alberta is back as both Calgary and Edmonton have upgraded. The Flames, already the defending Western Conference champs, kept their big boy Jarome Iginla and added Tony Amonte to boot. The Oilers just picked up Chris Pronger from the Blues and Michael Peca from the Islanders.And the Minnesota Wild is no slouch. Avs fans might recall that the Wild sent Colorado to the golf course a few springs ago.The Canucks, Flames and Oilers will make the playoffs. San Jose, Dallas and Anaheim are likely in from the Pacific. Who knows who’s coming out of the Central, but one team has to go. Let’s just say Nashvile.That’s seven teams right there, leaving Avs to battle it out with the Red Wings, the Blues and the Kings for the eighth spot.
Ouch.Jumping off the wagonThe sound you just heard was all of the Avs’ so-called fans jumping off the wagon. Colorado inherited a Stanley Cup-caliber team in the fall of 1995. Remember the Quebec Nordiques were the East’s No. 1 seed the year before.Avs fans have known nothing but success. Colorado’s worst season has been a division title and out in seven games in the first round. Let’s see how Avs fans enjoy mediocrity.I suspect not well. And that is one of many reasons I am going to enjoy the upcoming season.When not cackling in delight about the demise of the Avs, Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 614 or via email@example.com.Vail, Colorado