Colorado Avalanche governor Josh Kroenke wants fans to know he cares about the local hockey team.
In an interesting interview with Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post, Kroenke addressed complaints that he and ownership are cheap and don’t care about the Avalanche — but also owned up to making mistakes in rebuilding the team.
“I don’t want to say it so bluntly that it offends the fans. But they got spoiled the first few years the Avalanche were in town,” Kroenke said. “We won two Stanley Cups during the first five or six years we were here in Denver. Then we had stars retire and we came into a new system of doing business in the league.
“Could management have done a better job transitioning into the new system? I think that’s fair to say.”
Most of the criticism fired at Kroenke and Co. stems from the low numbers in the wins column — the Avalanche are tied for 13th in the Western Conference — and low numbers on the payroll. Only three teams are spending less on player salaries this season; the Avs are operating at $13 million under the cap ceiling.
Another big issue is the rudderless front office. Longtime executive Pierre Lacroix has experienced serious health issues (his body rejected the adhesive used in his artificial knee; doctors feared his leg might have to be amputated) and while he’s now on the road to recovery, things have been rough without him.
General manager Greg Sherman orchestrated three bizarre transactions — trading Craig Anderson for Brian Elliot and letting Elliott walk; giving up two young talents (Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk) for one (Erik Johnson), sending a first-round pick to Washington in exchange for unproven goalie Semyon Varlamov — and franchise icon Joe Sakic is still learning the executive side of the game.
Kroenke, meanwhile, admits he’s not a hockey guy by nature.
“I never played hockey. I wasn’t around the game growing up,” said Kroenke, who played basketball at the University of Missouri. “So I have to put a certain element of trust in the guys who make the hockey decisions. I think they feel pretty good about the young corps we have. Are we going to take a few on the chin in the meantime, while these players grow up? We might.”
That quote highlights another major criticism — that Josh and his father, owner Stan Kroenke, are much more interested in their other major property, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets. (The Nuggets just signed center Nene to a five-year, $67-million deal, so you can see why Avs fans would be irate.)
That said, Josh remains adamant he and the Avs are on the right track.
“It’s going to take time. That’s the tough part,” he said. “Everybody wants to win now. I understand that. I’m one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet.”