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Avalanche GM Francois Giguere pays the price for poor season

Monday, 04.13.2009 / 6:38 PM / News

The Canadian Press

DENVER - The Colorado Avalanche's dismal season cost general manager Francois Giguere his job.

Could coach Tony Granato be next? The Avalanche fired Giguere on Monday, saying fans and management "deserve better" than a last-place finish in the Western Conference. Team president Pierre Lacroix called the season unacceptable and said he will oversee the Avalanche until a replacement is hired.

This is the first time the team has come in last in the conference since the franchise relocated to Denver in 1995 from Quebec. The Avalanche had a 32-45-5 record and were 28th in the league, ahead of only the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay.

"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," Lacroix said in a statement. "Ownership and the dedicated Avalanche fans throughout the region deserve better results."

Colorado didn't announced a timetable for hiring a replacement for Giguere, who was appointed executive vice-president and GM in 2006. The team wouldn't comment beyond Lacroix's statement.

Granato took over for Joel Quenneville last May when Quenneville and the Avalanche split. Quenneville now coaches the Chicago Blackhawks, who face Calgary in the first round of the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Avalanche will be sitting out of the post-season for the second time in three years.

After Colorado's disappointing season concluded with a 1-0 loss to St. Louis on Sunday, Granato said it was going to be a long summer.

"When you finish a year like this, you want to start the next year right away," said Granato, who's in his second stint as Avalanche coach. "I think this team has to come back with an edge next year, right at the start of training camp. . . . You want to get back out there and find a way to turn it around as fast as you can."

Lacroix served as president and general manager of the franchise for 11 seasons, assembling the pieces for two Stanley Cup championships. Under his watch, the team captured nine straight division titles, appeared in six conference finals and won two Presidents' Trophies for most points in the regular season.

"The immediate future of this franchise is my primary concern, so it was important to act now and start the process of restoring this franchise to where it belongs," Lacroix said.

The fan base has been showing its dissatisfaction in recent years. The team strung together an NHL-best sellout streak of 487 games from 1995 to 2006, but finished near the bottom this season with an average attendance of 15,429.

"This is a year this organization is not used to," said Milan Hejduk, who led the team in goals for a second straight season. "This is one year and hopefully it won't stay that way and we will be able to turn it around."

The Avalanche have a built-in excuse - injuries. They went long stretches without captain Joe Sakic, offensive threat Paul Stastny and top defenceman Adam Foote.

"For all the excuses you can bring out there, by in large we didn't get it done. It's demoralizing," said Ryan Smyth, who fractured his hand on April 1 and missed the rest of the season. "When you lose key people like Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny for a significant time, it hurts your hockey club. But at the same time it has provided opportunity to young kids to come in and play."

The Avalanche had 11 different players make their NHL debut this season.

Asked to sum up this season, Ian Laperriere just shook his head.

"Frustrating," he said. "That's the only word that comes to mind. We played some good games but not enough of them."

The players knew changes were coming.

"Obviously, we all played below our capability," Laperriere said. "We should have played better and done our jobs better. Anyone that goes home thinking they did their job is fooling themselves."

One problem facing the new general manager will be a salary cap that doesn't offer much financial flexibility. The team also has to wait and see if Sakic returns for a 21st season.

The face of the franchise, Sakic had another trying season, missing all but 15 games after mangling his hand in a snowblower accident and then undergoing surgery on a herniated disk. He still doesn't have his leg strength back.

"That's obviously a priority - find out what Joe's intentions are," Granato said. "As soon as he gives us that, we'll be able to find out what else we can do to try and improve over the summer."

If Sakic returns, it might have to be at a bargain rate.

Goaltending is a top priority in the off-season. The tandem of Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft were erratic all season.

"The entire team, starting with me, didn't play well," Budaj said. "The entire team wasn't consistent."

A silver lining in finishing last is that Colorado has a high draft pick in June, something the Avalanche aren't used to. The team has a 14.2 per cent chance of earning the top pick in the draft lottery Tuesday night.

"This is a draft that has some significant players that can be impact players, and impact players in a hurry," Granato said. "I think that is a very positive thing. Young legs and young energy - that's what kind of game it is right now."

Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic