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Avalanche of expectations

Colorado looks loaded again for another run at the Cup

Posted: Tuesday October 08, 2002 5:44 PM
Updated: Wednesday October 09, 2002 9:55 PM
  Patrick Roy, Nicklas Lidstrom Nicklas Lidstrom and Patrick Roy shake hands after the Wings' 7-0 win in Game 7 of the Western finals. Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI

DENVER (AP) -- The Colorado Avalanche have won eight straight division titles, tying an NHL record. They have advanced to the conference finals six times in the past seven seasons, winning two Stanley Cups.

With their record of success, it's no surprise how the Avalanche are approaching the 2002-03 season.

"Our expectations are the same: We're going to battle for the Stanley Cup," veteran wing Mike Keane said. "It's either win the Cup or it's a poor year, and that's a good way to be."

Colorado opens its season against the Dallas Stars at home Wednesday night.

A sense of urgency accompanied Colorado's last Stanley Cup championship two years ago because of the anticipated retirement of Hall of Fame-bound defenseman Ray Bourque.

Now, with the advancing age of several key Avalanche players, the mood is similar.

"It's a very important year for us, I think," Keane said. "We have an older team and we may have only a couple more years left to compete for the Cup with this group. So, I think we're going to take this year very seriously and give a good run at it."

Goaltender Patrick Roy turned 37 on Saturday. Keane is 35. Center Joe Sakic is 33, and defenseman Rob Blake turns 33 in December.

The bulk of this team is in its 20s. Through shrewd drafting and trading, general manager Pierre Lacroix has replenished the roster with young talent.

Despite the absence of six-time All-Star forward Peter Forsberg, Colorado finished 45-28-8-1 last season, earning 99 points. Forsberg, who missed the entire regular season because of foot injuries, returned for the playoffs and led all postseason scorers with 27 points in 20 games.

But even Forsberg's presence couldn't get the Avs past eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit in the Western Conference finals.

The Avs lost defenseman Darius Kasparaitis to free agency in the off-season in one of few changes in the team.

Last week, Lacroix made his biggest move, shipping forwards Chris Drury and Stephane Yelle to Calgary for defenseman Derek Morris and forwards Dean McAmmond and Jeff Shantz.

Drury was a clutch goal-scorer in the playoffs, and Yelle was a top penalty killer.

The 24-year-old Morris was the key to the deal for the Avalanche. He is one of the top young defensemen in the league and also can supply the Avs with offensive punch.

"Morris solidifies our defense," Blake said, "and defense wins championships. He can move the puck, he can be physical and he has anchored power plays. It gives us another weapon. He's one of the best defensemen for his age, and he's just going to get better."

In the highly competitive West, Colorado might not have reached the playoffs last year except for Roy, who led the NHL with nine shutouts and a 1.94 goals-against average.

Roy has won two Stanley Cup rings with Montreal and two with Colorado, and isn't done, yet.

"I want to win more before I go," Roy said. "I'm still having fun. When I stop thinking I can make a difference, that's when I will retire."

The NHL promises to crack down on obstruction this season, reducing the clutching and grabbing that have neutralized the game's best skaters and scorers.

"The new rules should favor a team like us," forward Alex Tanguay said. "Last year, we played great defensively but struggled offensively. I think we're a little bit faster offensively than we were last season, and we've got three lines that can score instead of two. Having Peter for the whole year is going to help us, too."

Related information
SI's 2002-03 NHL Preview: Colorado Avalanche
NHL Your Choice Poll's 2002-03 NHL Expert Picks
National Hockey League Preseason Glance
2002-03 NHL Season at a Glance's Darren Eliot: Taking a stab at the 2002-03 NHL Awards's Darren Eliot: Central Division Preview
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