Page 2 of 2   <      

Avalanche's Lacroix Steps Down As GM

Under his watch, the Avalanche collected a record nine consecutive division titles and won the Cup in 1996 and 2001 with stars such as Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Ray Bourque, Adam Foote and Rob Blake.

But the past several years have been leaner for the Avalanche. The team was hit hard by the NHL's new rules that opened up the game and the new salary cap that closed Kroenke's checkbook.

Always one of the freer-spending teams in the sport, the Avs had to slash one-third of their payroll and bid farewell to Forsberg and Foote before the season started. Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya left, too.

Instead of their usual star-studded lineup, the Avalanche made do with a reduced roster mixed with youth and experience.

They reached the playoffs for the 11th straight time despite losing leading scorer Marek Svatos to an injury. Their gamble at goalie paid off when Jose Theodore, acquired from Montreal for David Aebischer at the trade deadline, helped them upset Dallas in the first round.

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks, however, easily beat Colorado in four games _ the first sweep of the franchise in 26 playoff series since moving from Quebec to the Rockies in 1995.

Even at altitude, the Ducks were glaringly faster than the Avalanche, which failed to convert any of their 24 power plays in the series.

"Look at the teams that are leading and still alive in the playoffs, from top to bottom they have quickness," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. "They have size, they have speed, they have skill, and they have youth."

It's the blueprint the Avalanche want to follow in the offseason. The roster has 13 players who are eligible for free agency, most notably Sakic and Blake, who are unrestricted, who have both said they'd like to stay.

Among the Avs players whom the Ducks really made look their age were forward Pierre Turgeon, 36, and defenseman Patrice Brisebois, 35, two of Lacroix's final acquisitions as GM.

Both have a year remaining on their contracts, but if the Avs are serious about adding speed, they'll have to take a hard look at buying them out to get more room under the salary cap, which is expected to be about $43 million next season.

<       2

© 2006 The Associated Press