NEW PLAYERS 8
NEW RULES HURT
BETTER THAN '03-04? NO
Every team has fence-mending with fans on the agenda for the NHL's first season A.D. (After Debacle), but no franchise has more making up to do than the Avalanche, who followed the lockout with a public relations maelstrom worthy of Lizzie Grubman. First, the new salary-cap constraints forced general manager Pierre Lacroix to bid adieu to two wildly popular players, all-world center Peter Forsberg and defenseman Adam Foote. As replacements the bargain-hunting G.M. brought in veteran center Pierre Turgeon, 36 (whose points total has declined in each of the last three seasons), and inconsistent blueliner Patrice Brisebois, 34 (who was unaffectionately known as Breeze By in Montreal).
It was Lacroix's next move, signing rugged leftwinger Brad May, that really stirred supporters' ire. While with the Canucks in February 2004, May said a bounty was on the head of Avalanche winger Steve Moore, who had made a tooth-rattling hit on Vancouver star Markus Naslund. If Todd Bertuzzi became the most hated man in Denver three weeks later for smashing Moore's face into the ice and breaking his neck, May was a close second. (The two are defendants in a civil suit filed by Moore.) After May signed, Colorado was deluged with outraged calls and e-mails. "The slap in the face would have been if we signed the other guy," Lacroix said. "[May's] name is not Todd Bertuzzi."
Fans will get used to May, but a precipitous drop in the standings will be harder to take. Former Maurice Richard Trophy winner Milan Hejduk will sit out the beginning of the season recovering from knee surgery, but when he returns, there will be firepower on the top line. When Hejduk last played a full season with Joe Sakic and Alex Tanguay, in 2000--01, they were the league's highest-scoring unit (274 points). But there's little offensive depth, and the power play will suffer from Foote's absence. For the first time in 10 seasons, the Avalanche will be out of the Stanley Cup chase when the postseason begins. -- S.C.
New coach Joel Quenneville will stabilize things, but they'll have to win a lot of tight games to contend.