Housecleaning might not be done for Avs
DENVER, Colorado “-Now that the housecleaning has begun for the Avalanche, you have to wonder: Just how big is Pierre Lacroix’s broom?
General manager Francois Giguere was the first to take the fall for the worst season in Avalanche history, but his firing Monday does not necessarily mean good news for coach Tony Granato.
As is his custom, Lacroix is revealing little about his blueprint for restoring the Avalanche’s reputation as one of the NHL’s elite franchises, but one source within the organization did not expect Granato to be part of the plan.
“No question that (Granato’s firing is) a done deal,” the source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Unfortunately, when you’re part of a bad thing, it doesn’t bode well. My sense is that this is going to be a big, bold sweep.”
Lacroix, in his role as team president, felt compelled to act quickly with Giguere, firing him less than 24 hours after the Avalanche completed its most dismal season since arriving in Denver in 1995. Colorado finished 32-45-5, last in the Western Conference and 28th in the NHL.
“The results of this season are unacceptable,” Lacroix said in a statement released by the team. “We feel a new direction is needed, which re-emphasizes those standards of excellence our fans have grown accustomed to since 1995.
“We are too proud of what we have accomplished in this market to ignore where we are and what happened in just a very short period of time.”
Having dismissed Giguere, Lacroix will oversee day-to-day operations until “a new management structure” is put in place. There remains the possibility that Lacroix will add the general manager tag to his title as team president.
“I would not be surprised if Pierre’s the GM,” said former NHL coach and current ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose. “You look at the success Pierre had and he’s still very popular in Denver.”
In 11 seasons as Avalanche general manager, Lacroix was the architect behind two Stanley Cup championship teams and nine consecutive division titles. Seeking to get away from the day-to-day responsibilities, he hired Giguere in 2006, but Giguere was unable to find much success as Lacroix’s successor.
The Avalanche made the playoffs just once in Giguere’s three seasons, and several personnel moves have not panned out as hoped. Big-money free agents Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan, who both signed in 2007, have paid only modest dividends, while former Avalanche goalie Jose Theodore and forward Andrew Brunette played well after being allowed to leave as free agents last summer.
Giguere put his faith in 26-year-old goalie Peter Budaj and signed Toronto outcast Darcy Tucker to a two-year, $4.5 million deal to replace Brunette. Budaj struggled to establish himself as a No. 1 goalie, going 20-29-5 with a 2.86 goals-against average, while Tucker produced eight goals and eight assists in 62 games.
Injuries to captain Joe Sakic and young star Paul Stastny – among others – did not aid management’s cause in 2008-09, but Theodore, Brunette and former coach Joel Quenneville helped the Avs overcome numerous injuries as they advanced to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs last spring.
If Lacroix does not want Giguere’s job, Melrose expects the next Colorado general manager to be someone with proven experience in the salary cap era. He cited Pittsburgh Penguins’ executive vice president and GM Ray Shero as an example.
Shero spent 14 seasons as an assistant general manager before taking the lead role with the Penguins in 2006. Aided by the good fortune of landing Sidney Crosby in the 2005 draft, Pittsburgh built a good young nucleus, added key free agents and reached the Stanley Cup finals last season.
“I’m looking for (the Avs to hire) an assistant (GM) from a team that’s done well and runs the cap well,” Melrose said. “You’ve got to bring in someone with cap experience. That’s huge.”
That would tend to eliminate two candidates whose names have been tossed out as possibilities: former Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy and Lacroix’s son, Eric.
Since retiring in 2003, Roy has worked as a coach and front-office executive as co-owner of the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Calling for him to save the Avs is a bit like asking John Elway to rebuild the Broncos just because he’s a household name and has dabbled in sports management.
As for the younger Lacroix, his hiring would raise the appearance of nepotism. Lacroix gained some management experience as co-owner and assistant coach of the minor-league Arizona Sundogs, and he currently is working as a scout for the Phoenix Coyotes. Does that qualify him to be an NHL general manager?
It seems like a tough sell for a franchise that must regain the trust of a fan base that has grown disgruntled while watching its team bottom out in the past six months.