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Old 05-29-2006, 12:25 AM   #4213
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Mark Kiszla weighs in on the Avs and Rob Blake.

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Blake initial question for GM
By Mark Kiszla
Denver Post Staff Columnist



Hockey guys must be grinding their dentures with frustration and squeezing sticks in anger. When the Avalanche went looking for a new general manager, the local NHL team hired an accountant.

A bean counter?

When the Avs could have offered the job to Hall of Fame player Michel Goulet or legendary goalie Patrick Roy, they instead tabbed Francois Giguere, who never scored a goal or stopped a shot in the NHL, but once starred for the Canadian accounting firm of Caron Belanger Ernst and Young.

And know what? The Avs could have done far worse.

The hiring of Giguere demonstrated that in the sport's brave new world of salary cap economics, proficiency with a calculator is more valuable than skating ability for the leader of a successful franchise.

"I feel comfortable accepting this job because I see myself as a hockey guy that is strong on the business side," Giguere said at his introductory news conference, addressing the NHL's notoriously insular attitude, fostered by guys who have lost teeth but cling to the mistaken belief that understanding the intricacies of the power play must be far tougher than deciphering actuarial formulas.

In fact, the first tough decision awaiting Giguere with the Avs has as much to do with accounting as hockey.

What to do with veteran defenseman Rob Blake and his expiring salary of $6.36 million?

Giguere, proving he was a quick study in the art of dodging questions, politely refused to talk specifics about an Avalanche roster in need of something more than tweaking and something less than an overhaul.

While captain Joe Sakic, who is also due to be an unrestricted free agent, has earned the right to end his career in an Avalanche jersey, can the team really afford to extend the same expensive courtesy to Blake?

I think not.

Don't get me wrong. There is much to love about Blake.

At age 36, Blake is not too old to rock with his famous hip checks, which remain better drumming than Keith Moon of The Who ever did.

Blake takes pride in being a hockey ambassador. His candor is a breath of fresh air from within a Kroenke Sports Enterprises regime less accepting of free thought than the Chinese government.

But, in the new NHL, what's love got to do with it?

Blake provided big, effective minutes during the playoffs, but his season-long performance did not meet his own all-star standards.

Truth be known, $6 million is too much to pay for a defenseman who celebrates his 37th birthday months before the next playoff run begins in earnest.

After allowing Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote to walk away a year ago, expect intense pressure for the Avs to retain Blake as a familiar face all those customers paying top dollar for season tickets can cheer.

The wild, welcome craziness of the league's final four, with Edmonton, Calgary, Buffalo and Carolina wrestling for the Cup, suggests that marquee names might no longer guarantee championship success.

Believe the early projections, and the market will be flooded with quality NHL defensemen this offseason.

If the Avs really want to spend more than $6 million on a defensive star, would it not be smarter to give the money to a player younger than Blake, especially when you consider that either 28-year-old Wade Redden or 29-year-old Zdeno Chara, both members of the Ottawa Senators, might be available in free agency?

Unless Blake offers the Avs a hefty discount to remain in Colorado, Giguere should tell him thanks for the memories and wave goodbye.

The decision to retain or cut loose Blake can only be determined by what an accountant knows best:

The bottom line.

The old-time hockey bromide of forecheck, backcheck, paycheck never has been more true.

Unless Blake is willing to take a significant pay cut, it makes sense for the Avs to spend their money on younger legs.

In the new NHL, sentimental reasons make for dangerous thinking no winning team can afford.

Staff writer Mark Kiszla can be reached at 303-820-5438 or mkiszla@denverpost.com.

http://www.denverpost.com/avalanche/ci_3874106
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