1 Colorado Avalanche Having Peter Forsberg for a full season makes a formidable team Cup-worthy

October 13, 2002

The Avalanche typically spins slogans with the bravado of a
Madison Avenue copywriter. In the 2001 playoffs Colorado broke
out T-shirts and hats that read mission 16w, as it chased the 16
wins it needed to grab the Stanley Cup. Yet this season's motto,
Pursuing History--which refers to the ninth straight division
title the club is shooting for, an NHL record--seems oddly
middling for a club that has appeared in six of the last seven
Western Conference finals. "It would be prestigious to win the
division and be in the record book," says coach Bob Hartley, "but
winning the division would also put us in the top three playoff
seeds. With the parity in our conference, it doesn't take a
genius to realize the importance of home ice."

That Colorado opens the season mulling postseason scenarios
confirms its status as a Stanley Cup favorite; it's also a
measure of the Avalanche's razor-thin margin for error. During
Hartley's four seasons in Colorado, the Avalanche is 4-0 in Game
7s at home and 0-3 in such matches on the road, including a 7-0
shellacking at Detroit in last season's conference finals, a
thrashing that still rankles the Avalanche. Says left wing Alex
Tanguay, "It's unfinished business. If we would have won that
game, we could have won the Stanley Cup."

Colorado will get that chance this season, thanks primarily to
the healthy return of center Peter Forsberg. In 2001-02 he
missed the regular season while recovering from a splenectomy
and ankle surgeries, but he led all playoff scorers with 27
points in 20 games. The absence of Forsberg, 29, a superb
playmaker who supplies two fistfuls of grit, rippled through the
Avalanche roster. A weakened second line meant the top trio was
susceptible to the defensive vigilance of checking lines, and
the point totals for each member of that No. 1 line declined as
a result. (Tanguay dropped from 77 points in 2000-01 to 48 in
'01-02, center Joe Sakic from 118 to 79, right wing Milan Hejduk
from 79 to 44.)

"If you put Peter in our lineup for the whole season, I don't
think we're fighting as hard to win games," says defenseman Rob
Blake. "[His being out] made for a battle the whole season."

Hartley is expected to use Forsberg at left wing on the second
line, as he did during last season's playoffs, probably alongside
center Steve Reinprecht and right wing Radim Vrbata. The move
accomplishes two things: Playing wing spares Forsberg the
physical burden that comes with playing center, and it allows
Reinprecht, who is a superior face-off man (52% success last
season), to take draws. Even with a potent second unit, Colorado
needs more production from its other lines. Of the 168 goals
scored by Avalanche forwards last season, 116 came from the top
two units. Center Dean McAmmond, acquired in the deal that
brought defenseman Derek Morris from Calgary for centers Chris
Drury and Stephane Yelle, had 21 goals and 30 assists last
season (albeit skating with Ross Trophy winner Jarome Iginla) and
could add juice to the third line.

General manager Pierre Lacroix has a history of acquiring top
defensemen (Sandis Ozolinsh, Ray Bourque, Blake, Darius
Kasparaitis), and the Oct. 1 swap for Morris fits that pattern.
Although Colorado allowed a league-low 2.06 goals per game, depth
was a concern. Down the stretch and during the postseason, the
Avalanche relied on its top four defensemen--Blake, Kasparaitis,
Adam Foote and Greg de Vries--to log major minutes, shielding
error-prone 22-year-old Martin Skoula. With Kasparaitis gone (he
signed as a free agent with the Rangers), Lacroix was loath to
increase Skoula's ice time (he averaged 22:18 last season) and
instead obtained the 24-year-old Morris, a more consistent,
banging two-way blueliner who skated a team-high 24:40 per game
with the Flames. A 34-point scorer with a blistering shot, Morris
will also get a chance to quarterback the second power-play unit.

Perhaps no player will draw more motivation from the Detroit
debacle than goaltender Patrick Roy, who saw the finest season of
his career (a league-best 1.94 goals-against average and nine
shutouts) collapse in a hail of octopuses--he allowed six goals on
16 shots in that Game 7. Roy, who is fiercely proud and renowned
for rebounding from losses, has something to prove. Backed by two
dangerous lines and a solid corps of defensemen, Roy and the
Avalanche will hoist the Cup this spring, relegating May's
flameout to ancient history. --Daniel G. Habib

COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL (AVALANCHE) [Regional Cover Inset] WHY THE AVS WILL WIN IT ALL JOE SAKIC COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO (LEFT) Patrick Roy COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES/NHLI ONE-MAN GANG After missing the regular season for health reasons, Forsberg returned for the playoffs and dominated, scoring 27 points in 20 games.

FAST FACT

In Milan Hejduk's four NHL seasons, he has scored 112
regular-season goals, 28 of which were game-winners (second
among active players).

INSIDER

CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY

Offense 1 A healthy Forsberg makes everybody else better
Defense 5 Adding Morris to Blake, Foote, de Vries solidifies
unit
Goaltending 1 Roy has something to prove--and he will
Special Teams 1 Talent galore keeps these units among NHL's best
Management 2 Expect G.M. Lacroix to address lack of blue line
depth

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)