Wasn't the pain supposed to end April 12?
That's what Colorado Avalanche fans must be asking in the midst of a surreal summer -- which followed the worst NHL season Denver has seen since the Avs relocated there from Quebec City in 1995.
A mea culpa comes from no less than team president Pierre Lacroix, who had waded back into the fray after working behind the scenes in semi-retirement since 2005.
"It was my mess. I caused it," Lacroix said. "I have no excuses. We lost our way of doing business. But our people, our organization, our owner, our players and I will clean it up."
Since the Avs limped across the finish line with a Western Conference-worst 69 points, it seems as though there's been no end to the club's off-season troubles.
Lacroix fired general manager Francois Giguere, his one-time protégé, the day after the season ended.
Recovering from knee replacement surgery at the time, Lacroix then invited former Avs star Patrick Roy to Denver to discuss Roy's interest in joining the club in a coaching or managing capacity. The negotiations quickly became the talk of the League, especially since Tony Granato still was the club's head coach. The public wooing abruptly ended May 27 when Roy chose to stay with the junior team he owns and coaches.
"Don't get me wrong here. I have the Avalanche at heart," Roy said. "I would have seen it as a great challenge. But the door is not closed, that's for sure."
On June 3, Lacroix cleaned house, firing Granato, assistant coaches Dave Barr, Jacques Cloutier and Jeff Hackett, video coach P.J. DeLuca and high-ranking executive Michel Goulet. He made Greg Sherman the new GM, although the decision-making duties will also be shared by Assistant GM Craig Billington, Director of Player Personnel Brad Smith, Lacroix's son Eric, who returns as director of hockey operations, and Lacroix himself, now a self-described "24-7 advisor."
"It was my mess. I caused it. I have no excuses. We lost our way of doing business. But our people, our organization, our owner, our players and I will clean it up." -- Avalanche President Pierre Lacroix
Complicating matters was Lacroix's health. He returned for another surgery, and learned his leg and hip were swollen with potentially deadly blood clots. Doctors deliberately broke Lacroix's leg and confined him to bed with a prescription for painkillers. His considerable personal ordeal had its effect on the Avs' critical off-season operations.
"All my fault," said Lacroix. "I should have prepared for what could happen to me post-surgery, but I didn't. And I let the organization down. I have spoken with each (team official fired in early June) and apologized for what happened and how it happened."
The Avs will return to the ice in 2009 without the face of the franchise, Joe Sakic, who retired in early July after a magnificent 20-year career, all of it with one franchise.
Burdened by some big contracts -- eight players are earning $3 million or more -- Colorado is trying to repeat its starting-from-scratch formula for success of 15 years ago by going lean, mean and young.
The Avs traded Ryan Smyth and the remaining three years and $18.75 million left on his contract to Los Angeles on July 3, getting young defensemen Kyle Quincey and Tom Preissing in return, and they also said good-bye to free agents Ian Laperriere, Ben Guite, Tyler Arnason and Andrew Raycroft.
The club's only major signing of the off-season was in net, where Craig Anderson inked a two-year, $3.6 million deal and is expected to supplant Peter Budaj as the club's No. 1 goalie.
Avalanche President Pierre Lacroix has his blueprints, and Matt Duchene's name is all over them.
Lacroix, the almost-retired executive who has returned to a hands-on role with the team after its disastrous 2008-09 campaign, is fast-tracking the club's youth movement this fall in the absence of names like Sakic, Smyth, Laperriere and Arnason.
And in all likelihood, that means that Duchene, the third pick of the 2009 Entry Draft, will have every chance at Denver duty as an 18-year-old.
Skeptical? Here's Lacroix, in a recent interview, talking about how the 2009-10 Avalanche resembles the 1994-95 Nordiques.
"We surrounded ourselves in '94 with two of the top centermen, in Peter (Forsberg) and Joe (Sakic), for years to come," said Lacroix. "If you're looking at what we're doing right now with the Paul Stastnys and the Matt Duchenes and the young goaltenders we've drafted, this is the same thing."
Here's a glance at the five top prospects in the Avs' organization.
Matt Duchene -- Even at the tender age of 18, this 5-foot-11, 200-pound center from the OHL's Brampton Battalion is said to have all the skills required to play in the NHL. He's drawn comparisons to Sakic and Steve Yzerman, and his defensive responsibility and reliability are said to rival his accurate shot, quick feet and crisp passing. He was signed to a three-year, entry-level deal July 16.
Kevin Shattenkirk -- The No. 14 pick of the 2007 Entry Draft, Shattenkirk is considered to be a future star on the Colorado blue line, although he'll be returning to Boston University for at least his junior season as the captain of the Terriers. A 5-11, 193-pound offensive talent, Shattenkirk was an NCAA East Second Team All-American in 2008-09.
Ryan Stoa -- A 6-3, 200-pound center from Bloomington, Minn., Stoa has a chance to stick with the Avs this fall. A 2005 second-round pick (No. 34), Stoa finished his senior year as the captain at the University of Minnesota, with 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games. He has deceptive speed for a big man, with a scoring touch and a forechecker's inclination.
T.J. Galiardi -- This 6-2, 172-pound left wing from Calgary already has had a taste of life in the NHL, scoring 3 goals in 11 games with Colorado last season, his first as a pro. He has a well-developed hockey intellect to go with some offensive flair. A 2007 second-round pick (No. 55), Galiardi was the WHL's 2008 playoff scoring leader, with 24 points in 16 games for his hometown Calgary Hitmen.
Cameron Gaunce -- The 2008 second-round pick (No. 50) signed an entry-level deal with the Avs in June, but is at least a year or two away from challenging for a roster spot. Gaunce, a 6-1, 203-pound defenseman from Sudbury, Ont., enjoyed a terrific season with the OHL's Mississauga St. Michael's Majors, with 64 points in 67 games.
With one chapter in Colorado Avalanche lore about to come to a classy, celebrated end, another started.
Two weeks after joining the team as the third pick in the 2009 Entry Draft, Matt Duchene watched his boyhood idol Joe Sakic -- whose framed autographed jersey hangs in his Haliburton, Ont., basement -- announce his retirement.
On June 26 in Montreal, Duchene wasn't necessarily thinking about his new role as the future of the Avs. The third choice in the 2009 Entry Draft was merely tickled to be a part of the club he idolized as a boy.
"This is unbelievable. This is a dream," said Duchene, a center with the OHL's Brampton Battalion. "I keep looking down at the logo going, 'Are you kidding me?' I used to draw their logo every day in school … it's crazy. They have not had a top pick in many years, and the one year I'm available and rated up there, they have it. It's kind of fate, I guess."
Duchene expects to battle for a position on the Avs' roster in training camp.
Here's a look at the seven players chosen by Colorado at the 2009 Entry Draft:
Matt Duchene -- A 5-foot-11, 200-pound center, Duchene was viewed by many as the draft’s most complete forward. A celebrated playmaker and stickhandler, he finished sixth in the OHL playoffs with 26 points in 21 games after a 79-point regular season.
Ryan O'Reilly -- The Avs selected the 6-foot, 200-pound center in the second round (No. 33). A character player, he tallied 66 points in 68 games with Erie (OHL) last season, and has represented Canada twice in international competition.
Stefan Elliott -- A two-way defenseman with the WHL's Saskatoon Blades, Elliott was the Avs' second pick of the second round (No. 49). The 6-1, 180-pounder lists Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski among his role models.
Tyson Barrie -- The son of Tampa Bay co-owner Len Barrie was taken in the third round (No. 64). The 5-10, 190-pound defenseman helped the Kelowna Rockets to the WHL championship and a Memorial Cup berth with 18 points and a plus-10 rating in 22 playoff games.
Kieran Millan -- Chosen in the fifth round (No. 124) the goaltender 29-2-3 with a 1.94 goals-against average as a freshman for Boston University, where he helped backstop the Terriers to an NCAA championship.
Brandon Maxwell -- A goaltender from Winter Park, Fla., Maxwell was selected in the sixth round (No. 154) after playing in 22 games with the U.S. National Team Development Program's Under-18 team in 2008-09.
Gus Young -- A 6-2, 190-pound high school defenseman from Dedham, Mass., the left-shooting Young was chosen in the seventh round (No. 184).