If this isn't the year of the Colorado Avalanche, it may never have one.
Over the last 60 days, Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix has done something few others manage over decades -- creating a Stanley Cup favorite.
Even more incredible, Lacroix says he didn't plan the three deals he has pulled off to acquire Stanley Cup MVP right wing Claude Lemieux, offensive-minded defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh and now goalie Patrick Roy, the three-time Vezina Trophy winner who was hurriedly traded by Montreal on Wednesday after he was embarrassed Saturday by being left in a game to give up nine goals in an 11-1 loss to Detroit.
"If Wendel Clark isn't a holdout, we don't do the Lemieux deal," Lacroix said. "If San Jose doesn't have a struggling start, they don't want to trade Ozolinsh. If not for the incident Saturday night with Patrick, we would not be talking about him. These were situations we didn't create. . . . We've been fortunate."
Some might say Santa came early for Colorado. If coach Marc Crawford had made a wish list after his then-Quebec Nordiques lost in the first round of the playoffs last season after producing the second-best record in the NHL, he couldn't have done better.
"We're much more suited now to be the type of team that performs well in the playoffs," Crawford said. "Look in net and look up front, where we have Troy Murray, Warren Rychel, Claude Lemieux and now Mike Keane [a bonus addition in the Roy deal]. We have the type of team that not only has skill, but has grit."
?3 The kind of team that drinks from Stanley Cups.
How bad is it?
The lack of scoring by the Washington Capitals has become so acute that when coach Jim Schoenfeld was asked why he didn't put his strongest offensive players on the same line with center Joe Juneau in an attempt to jump-start some offense, the coach asked a question of his own.
"Who are they?" he said. Met with silence, he said, "I don't know, either."
Right wing Peter Bondra (13 goals) is the only steady goal scorer and Schoenfeld said he knows just two things as the team heads into tonight's game in Buffalo: The lines of Bondra, Michal Pivonka and Keith Jones, and Dale Hunter, Kelly Miller and Steve Konowalchuk are staying intact.
"We're trying to get offensive production from Joe," said Schoenfeld, noting Pat Peake, who has six power-play goals but none at even strength, is the designated player of the moment on one of Juneau's wings. "But you can't pick two strong offensive players for his wings -- nor can I."
Gandler can't say
Ottawa's errant right wing, Alexei Yashin, has yet to be sighted on Senators ice. And his agent, Mark Gandler, is revealing little after Tuesday's ruling denying Yashin's request to be declared a defective free agent.
Yashin has three more years left on his contract but has said he never wants to play for Ottawa again. However, the recent ruling means he either has to return to Ottawa, persuade the Senators to trade him or get a new life.
Gandler wouldn't say if he's talking to Ottawa or if he sees Yashin returning to the team. He did say the ruling "makes no difference" to his plans for Yashin.
What are those plans? He wouldn't say. He did say he hopes Yashin will be playing somewhere before the season is over.
Juneau's group is a hit
Offwings, the musical group put together by the Capitals' Juneau, debuted at the Hard Rock Cafe in Washington Wednesday and was met with positive reactions from teammates and fans.
More than 30 CDs were sold on the spot. The CDs are available for $15 at Capitals home games or can be purchased by sending a check to: Offwings, P.O. Box 57, Wakefield, Mass. 01880. Proceeds will benefit Children's Hospital in Washington and the Cam Neely Foundation in Boston.
To hear excerpts from the album by Offwings, featuring Washington Capital Joe Juneau, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6113. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.