DENVER – Tony Granato remains a popular figure in Colorado nearly two years after he was fired as Avalanche coach in his second stint on the job.
Now in his second season as a Pittsburgh Penguins assistant, Granato was surrounded by media members Wednesday morning as he discussed his first visit to the Pepsi Center since the Avalanche cleaned house following the team's last-place finish in the Western Conference in 2008-09.
"I was here for seven years and I loved every second of it," said Granato, 46, who served as the Avs' bench boss for parts of three seasons and was an assistant under Bob Hartley and Joel Quenneville. "I met great friends and people back here, and my family loved it here. It was a wonderful seven years of my life and being a part of the Avalanche organization was a tremendous honor and I enjoyed every second of it."
Granato compiled a 104-89-22 regular-season record and a 9-9 mark in the playoffs as coach.
The Avalanche went 32-15-4 after Granato replaced Hartley 31 games into 2002-03 season before losing a seven-game series to Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs after taking 3-1 series lead in what turned out to be goalie Patrick Roy's final season.
Colorado went 40-29-13 in 2003-04, defeated Dallas in the first round and lost to San Jose in the second. The wheels feel off in 2008-09, when the Avalanche won only 10 of their final 41 games and finished last in the Western Conference with a 32-45-15 record.
"There's things that didn't work out the way we hoped they would," Granato said. "We were in a transition stage, so to speak, trying to change personnel maybe, shift to a younger team. I think a lot of the young players in this organization are starting to develop and turn themselves into great NHL players. I think the process and the ideas that were put in place back then will pay dividends and they will get back to where they want to be.
"There's things you wish went differently in different situations, but you also understand that's part of the game you're in. I was lucky enough to hook up with Pittsburgh after leaving here and I'm enjoying this as well."
Like the Avalanche, the Penguins have been hit hard by injuries. The Penguins have lost 177 man games to injuries and illnesses, and star forwards Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (knee) remain sidelined.
"We're a little similar now because our 87 (Crosby) and our 71 (Malkin) aren't in our lineup tonight," Granato said. "I'd love to be in this building with those two guys, but it's part of hockey. You go places and you do the best you can for as long as you can."
The Penguins have lost four of their past five games but have 35 wins and 74 points and are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Avalanche have lost eight games in a row and is 14th in the West with 25 wins and 56 points.
"I watched the last three (Avalanche) games to get ready for this one," Granato said. "They've got some key injuries and they're slowing down a little bit, but they still got a great young core. They've got some great players that this organization is going to be hearing from in the future. I don't know if this is a year where they can make a real charge at (a playoff position). It wouldn't surprise me because they've put some great streaks in the last couple years. When you least expect it, they step up and find ways to put things together. So they're capable of it."
Granato said he's learned a lot from Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who on Tuesday marked his two-year anniversary replacing Michel Therrien behind the bench. The Penguins came from nowhere to earn a playoff berth in 2009 and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
In two-plus seasons, Bylsma has posted a 100-50-15 record and is the third-winningest coach in franchise history.
"He's an outstanding young coach," Granato said. "You know the success he had his first year coming in, taking a team that looked like it wasn't going to make the playoffs and winning a Stanley Cup. He's very organized, he has a game plan put in place that's very structured and he's very disciplined in how he does it. He's great to work with. I've learned a lot from him and he's going to be a great coach for a long time."
Granato is happy with his current position -- but eventually would like to get another crack at a top job.
"If that opportunity came sometime down the road and was right, of course I would," he said.