Sakic, Blake to stay; Forsberg, Foote up in air

DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche spent a decade building a team that could contend for a Stanley Cup every year. The new collective bargaining agreement will chip away at that team, although the men in the front office aren't ready to give up on being great.

General manager Pierre Lacroix said Monday the Avalanche will honor the contracts of two core players, Joe Sakic and Rob Blake, and insists he hasn't given up on the notion of keeping Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote on the roster, as well.

"Who do I want back? I want everybody back because we are very proud of what we accomplished for 10 years," Lacroix said. "That is the goal. Is it possible? Sure it's possible. There is going to be some adjustment."

In reality, it will be nearly impossible for the team to keep both Forsberg and Foote, two free agents who will go on the open market if not signed by Colorado by Aug. 1.

When he's healthy, Forsberg is widely considered the best player in the game and can likely get the NHL-maximum $7.8 million on the open market. Foote, a top defenseman, can likely make around $4 million. The salary cap is set at $39 million. After their 24 percent salary rollbacks, Sakic and Blake will combine to count about $13 million against that cap. The Avalanche have only eight players under contract -- with the possibility of buying out a few of those contracts -- and need to sign 15 more.

Despite the new agreement, in which the players agreed to big pay cuts and a salary cap, Blake said he wouldn't be surprised to see a player like Forsberg take less money to stay with a contender.

"There's an option to go to teams that can win," Blake said. "I don't see that changing by any means."

Over the next few days, Lacroix must decide where the value lies -- in a scorer like Forsberg playing in a league with new rules designed to promote offense or in a defenseman like Foote, whose value would seem to decline under those same rules.

"As far as how I will be coaching the team, I don't foresee change in our style as much as letting our players have freedom to play," said coach Joel Quenneville, who was hired in July 2004 and has yet to coach a game for the Avalanche.

While many markets around the league worry about how the lockout will affect fan support, Denver is not one of them.

The Avalanche have the NHL's longest sellout streak. Almost all season tickets have been renewed for 2005-06 and there remains a waiting list of about 1,000. On Monday, the team announced a 20 percent discount for the vast majority of season ticket-holders who kept their money on deposit with the team while the lockout was ongoing.

Of course, nothing draws like a winner and Lacroix has kept the Avalanche in that category since the team moved to Denver from Quebec in 1995. Colorado has won two Stanley Cups, advanced to the conference finals six times and won the division a record nine straight times, from 1995 to 2003. (The first of those nine titles
came in Quebec.)

"One thing we have done over these 10 years in Denver, we have been able to have the trust of our fans in the way we've managed the team," Lacroix said. "We aren't going to disappoint them. We are going to put together the best product possible."

Under the old system, where money flowed freely, Lacroix was thought of as one of the most creative executives in the business. Now his model has changed and he'll have to be creative in a different context -- with a hard salary cap and a fraction as much money to spend.

"Pierre said he'd love to keep the group together," Quenneville said. "I would be fortunate to have that type of group. We have been preparing for a number of training camps."

The Avalanche also have to make decisions on Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay and goalie David Aebischer, among others. Lacroix said management has made a list of priorities and answers will be coming shortly.

In the meantime, the general manager said the Stanley Cup will remain the goal for the Avalanche.

"We get up in the morning for one reason: To be there for the last day," Lacroix said.