Hejduk decided to give team a break

DENVER -- Giving up money to stay in Colorado ended up being
an easy decision for Avalanche winger Milan Hejduk.

Hejduk had accepted a $4.3 million qualifying offer from the Avalanche but instead agreed to play for $3.7 million this season and $3.8 million next year as part of a five-year deal signed over the weekend. Under the new collective-bargaining agreement, Hejduk could have demanded $7.4 million next season.

"I had a $4.3 [million] qualifying offer," he said in a
conference call Monday from the Czech Republic. "So basically I
had two options -- take the offer and next year become an
unrestricted free agent, but I decided to stay in Denver and give
[Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix] a little bit of a break
these first two years so they can basically sign some other guys.

"I just want to be in Denver, playing for the Avalanche. It's just a great place to be. Me and my wife and kids, we are so happy to be there. So why not sign a five-year deal there?"

Hejduk, 29, will get $4 million a season for the final three years of his $19.5 million contract.

Hejduk led the NHL with 50 goals in the 2002-03 season and the Avalanche will need him with star Peter Forsberg gone to Philadelphia. With new rules designed to open up the game, Hejduk could become more of an offensive threat.

"We still have Joe [Sakic] and [Rob Blake], but I feel I should
help these guys," Hejduk said. "It should be better for offensive
players this year and should help the scoring. For me, as an
offensive player, it should be better."

Even without Forsberg, Hejduk said he likes the look of the

"I believe we still have a chance to compete for the Cup and
win the Cup," he said. "This team should be really good."

Hejduk, who won an Olympics gold medal with the Czech Republic
in 1998, played in 48 games for Pardubice of the Czech League
during the lockout and scored 25 goals before suffering a knee

"It's fine," he said. "I'm skating, and I'm feeling very