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On Friday ColoradoAvalanche.com sat down with Avalanche Executive Vice President & General Manager Francois Giguere for an exclusive interview. Giguere shared his thoughts on the recently completed season and also gave a glimpse into the future of the organization.
ColoradoAvalanche.com: Throughout the season, the Avalanche received solid contributions from many of its young players. How much of a benefit was it for the organization to have its own AHL affiliate in Lake Erie this year? Francois Giguere: I think the one thing that came out of all the injuries we had this year was the fact that having an affiliate gave us a chance to help our younger players develop. They came up and probably were put into a position where their development as hockey players was accelerated. We realized at the same time that we have more depth – especially at the forward position – than we probably could have imagined if we didn’t have our own minor league affiliate.
ColoradoAvalanche.com: The Avalanche had to deal with numerous injuries this season to many of its key players. How much of an effect did it have on the team, and how do you feel the players responded when facing this adversity? Giguere: I think during the season, in a lot of ways, it built our character. I think it gave a chance for guys to be put in bigger roles and helped those guys feel like a part of the team. In a lot of ways it helped. I think once we got to the playoffs it got to the point where we had so many injuries, with arguably five of our top seven forwards and one of our top defensemen out, we couldn’t sustain the depth that we needed to be able to compete with the elite teams we were playing against.
ColoradoAvalanche.com: The Avs put together a solid stretch run and returned to the playoffs for the 11th time in 12 seasons since moving to Denver. From there, the team topped the division champion Minnesota Wild in six games. From an organizational standpoint, what did it mean to not only return to the postseason, but also to win that first-round series? Giguere: Our goal is always to compete for the Stanley Cup. To win the Stanley Cup you have to win four rounds. I think we created a lot of momentum at the trade deadline heading into the end of the year. Against Minnesota we played great hockey; it was a really physical battle. I thought our goaltending was excellent in that series.
When we started our series against Detroit we probably were as healthy as we could be. We had some real unfortunate incidents with Jose getting sick the night before the first game and Peter getting hurt during the morning skate. In the first game, (Wojtek) Wolski was hurt when one of our guys hit one of their guys and he falls into Wolski, who breaks some ribs. I’d say there were some weird injuries. It was the same thing with (Paul) Stastny’s injury. You feel like you walked under a ladder or did something to bring bad luck to yourself.
ColoradoAvalanche.com: Can you comment on how the team’s stretch run and playoff run really brought back the excitement into Pepsi Center? Giguere: Part of the excitement was that the fans were really familiar with our players. Those players have had great success here. I also believe that we played great hockey. To finish sixth in the Western Conference, which is much stronger in my opinion than the Eastern Conference, I think proved that we were one of the elite teams. I would have loved to have the opportunity to see us compete with everyone healthy against the Detroit Red Wings.
ColoradoAvalanche.com: How are you approaching this summer as far as resigning some of the team’s upcoming restricted and unrestricted free agents? What are some of the organization’s goals for this offseason? Giguere: Our goals in the offseason are always the same; they are all meant to put the most competitive product on the ice. The first priority is always to take care of your own players. In the upcoming weeks, as a staff we’re going to sit down and do a review of the year and plan for the next year, which will start the process of us bringing back the guys that we want on our team. When that’s done, you look at trades, the draft and free agency to find ways to complete your team. Our goal is always to put the most competitive team on the ice, and that won’t change this offseason.
ColoradoAvalanche.com: In your mind, what is the direction of the organization? Where do you see it heading? Giguere: It’s still too early to say in which direction we’re heading. With not knowing at this stage what Joe (Sakic) is going to do and what Peter (Forsberg) is going to do, I think there are a couple of different things that could happen. If they’re back, then the team will probably look a lot like this year’s team. If they’re not back, there could be a few more changes. If they’re not back, we’ll probably be a team that’s a little younger and then some of our young players that came up late in the year would play a role on our team moving forward. I think it’s still too early to try and paint a picture of what the team will look like next year.