14:48 24 Apr 2003

The Colorado Avalanche were eliminated Tuesday night by the Minnesota Wild in the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. They weren’t shocked and awed, like the Detroit Red Wings, but instead surprised by irregular fighters after the main battle had apparently already died down. “The enemy we’re fighting is a bit different than the one we wargamed against,” Avs owner Stan Kroenke might have said. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The great Western Conference triumverate of Detroit, Colorado, and Dallas were supposed to slug it out against each other. Now two of those three are on the golf course. The Cup should be Dallas’ to lose, but if the veteran, talent-loaded Avs and Wings can get knocked off in the first round, there’s no telling what the weeks ahead may hold.

I don’t know what Detroit’s situation is, but next year might be the last good chance for the Avs. Goalie Patrick Roy has hinted at different times that he’s near the end of his career. Next year is the last on his contract. Peter Forsberg’s contract is up now, and there’s talk that he may be done with the NHL. I doubt that’s the case, and I’m sure the Avs will re-sign him, but how much longer will Peter the Great keep it up? Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, and Adam Foote aren’t exactly young, either. With the possibility of a lock-out after next season, and the probability that some sort of salary cap will be put in place, will it even be mathematically possible to keep teams like the current Avs, Wings, and Stars on the ice? I’m not optimistic.

The Avs have won nine straight divisional titles, which is an NHL record. They should be the favorites again next year. They’ve been to six conference finals in the past eight years, which is incredible. But they only won two of them, although both times they went on to win the Cup. I’ve had the feeling that one day Colorado fans will look back at these years of plenty and wonder why another title or two wasn’t won. There’s always next year, but it may be that last next year where this group of stars has a chance to shine.