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1 Colorado
Team Page | 2002-2003 Schedule | Roster | 2001-2002 Player Stats | Arrivals and departures

Having Peter Forsberg for a full season makes a formidable team Cup-worthy

By Daniel G. Habib

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Patrick Roy.  David E. Klutho
SI Fast Fact
TIn Milan Hejduk's four NHL seasons, he has scored 112 regular-season goals, 28 of which were game-winners (second among active players).
SI Insider Rankings
Offense: 1
A healthy Forsberg makes everybody else better
Defense: 5
Adding Morris to Blake, Foote, de Vries solidifies unit
Goaltending: 1
Roy has something to prove -- and he will
Special Teams: 1
Talent galore keeps these units among NHL's best
Management: 2
Expect G.M. Lacroix to address lack of blue line depth

Sports Illustrated

The Avalanche typically spins slogans with the bravado of a Madison Avenue copywriter. In the 2001 playoffs Colorado broke out T-shirts and hats that read MISSION 16W, as it chased the 16 wins it needed to grab the Stanley Cup. Yet this season's motto, Pursuing History -- which refers to the ninth straight division title the club is shooting for, an NHL record -- seems oddly middling for a club that has appeared in six of the last seven Western Conference finals. "It would be prestigious to win the division and be in the record book," says coach Bob Hartley, "but winning the division would also put us in the top three playoff seeds. With the parity in our conference, it doesn't take a genius to realize the importance of home ice."

That Colorado opens the season mulling postseason scenarios confirms its status as a Stanley Cup favorite; it's also a measure of the Avalanche's razor-thin margin for error. During Hartley's four seasons in Colorado, the Avalanche is 4-0 in Game 7s at home and 0-3 in such matches on the road, including a 7-0 shellacking at Detroit in last season's conference finals, a thrashing that still rankles the Avalanche. Says left wing Alex Tanguay, "It's unfinished business. If we would have won that game, we could have won the Stanley Cup."

Colorado will get that chance this season, thanks primarily to the healthy return of center Peter Forsberg. In 2001-02 he missed the regular season while recovering from a splenectomy and ankle surgeries, but he led all playoff scorers with 27 points in 20 games. The absence of Forsberg, 29, a superb playmaker who supplies two fistfuls of grit, rippled through the Avalanche roster. A weakened second line meant the top trio was susceptible to the defensive vigilance of checking lines, and the point totals for each member of that No. 1 line declined as a result. (Tanguay dropped from 77 points in 2000-01 to 48 in '01-02, center Joe Sakic from 118 to 79, right wing Milan Hejduk from 79 to 44.)

"If you put Peter in our lineup for the whole season, I don't think we're fighting as hard to win games," says defenseman Rob Blake. "[His being out] made for a battle the whole season."

Hartley is expected to use Forsberg at left wing on the second line, as he did during last season's playoffs, probably alongside center Steve Reinprecht and right wing Radim Vrbata. The move accomplishes two things: Playing wing spares Forsberg the physical burden that comes with playing center, and it allows Reinprecht, who is a superior face-off man (52% success last season), to take draws. Even with a potent second unit, Colorado needs more production from its other lines. Of the 168 goals scored by Avalanche forwards last season, 116 came from the top two units. Center Dean McAmmond, acquired in the deal that brought defenseman Derek Morris from Calgary for centers Chris Drury and St«ephane Yelle, had 21 goals and 30 assists last season (albeit skating with Ross Trophy winner Jarome Iginla) and could add juice to the third line.

General manager Pierre Lacroix has a history of acquiring top defensemen (Sandis Ozolinsh, Ray Bourque, Blake, Darius Kasparaitis), and the Oct. 1 swap for Morris fits that pattern. Although Colorado allowed a league-low 2.06 goals per game, depth was a concern. Down the stretch and during the postseason, the Avalanche relied on its top four defensemen -- Blake, Kasparaitis, Adam Foote and Greg de Vries -- to log major minutes, shielding error-prone 22-year-old Martin Skoula. With Kasparaitis gone (he signed as a free agent with the Rangers), Lacroix was loath to increase Skoula's ice time (he averaged 22:18 last season) and instead obtained the 24-year-old Morris, a more consistent, banging two-way blueliner who skated a team-high 24:40 per game with the Flames. A 34-point scorer with a blistering shot, Morris will also get a chance to quarterback the second power-play unit.

Perhaps no player will draw more motivation from the Detroit debacle than goaltender Patrick Roy, who saw the finest season of his career (a league-best 1.94 goals-against average and nine shutouts) collapse in a hail of octopuses -- he allowed six goals on 16 shots in that Game 7. Roy, who is fiercely proud and renowned for rebounding from losses, has something to prove. Backed by two dangerous lines and a solid corps of defensemen, Roy and the Avalanche will hoist the Cup this spring, relegating May's flameout to ANCIENT HISTORY.

Issue date: October 14, 2002