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Thursday, March 9, 2006
This deal will cost the Avalanche plenty

By Terry Frei
Special to ESPN.com

For the record, though apothecary standards are stricter in Colorado than in Canada, Propecia is readily and legally obtainable at the corner drive-through drugstore.

With that out of the way, one of the strangest things about Wednesday's bombshell of a deal is that when Jose Theodore had that little accident outside his home, suffered a fractured heel and rendered himself hors de combat for at least the foreseeable future, it actually helped facilitate his trade to the Avalanche.

While he is out, his salary won't count against the cap under the long-term injury exemption, and if not for that, the Avalanche might have had to call in former Enron accountants to try to make this Theodore-for-David Aebischer deal work.

It enabled Canadiens GM Bob Gainey to take advantage of Pierre Lacroix's fantasy that history would repeat itself.

The Colorado GM is hoping that not only a just-fallen but also a fallen-out-of-favor marquee Canadiens goaltender again will be rejuvenated out of the white-hot spotlight after arriving in Colorado.

As intriguing as some of the parallels are, and while it is impossible to ignore Hart and Vezina trophies in a resumé, Jose Theodore is no Patrick Roy.

Perhaps just as important, Bob Gainey is no Rejean Houle.

Gainey fleeced Lacroix, and especially because of the long-term ramifications for the Avalanche -- unless Colorado turns around and deals Theodore before the start of the 2006-07 season.

In the New NHL, Lacroix is taking the huge risk that Theodore's $11.5 million salary over the next two seasons won't ultimately seem an excessive commitment. The standards there are no longer "budgetary," or whether the numbers make the comptroller and owner wince and/or earn the franchise praise for being willing to spend money. Now the issue is whether a player is worth that big a slice of the pie.

Theodore probably won't be.

Roy was a prideful perfectionist who was able to channel his selfishness and egoism into a package that made him a great team player. His standard was if he allowed fewer goals than the guy at the other end of the ice, he -- and not his team -- had won. He would get angry at anyone who didn't help him. He would be frustrated and angry about circumstances that, at least in his eyes, undercut him. And with the right team, that worked. (With the wrong team, as Mario Tremblay and Houle can attest, he was an intolerable pain in the backside.)

Theodore is damaged goods, and that's not a comment on his heel. He's on the long-term injury list, which opens up cap room, and Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville on Thursday morning said Colorado doesn't even expect Theodore to be ready until the playoffs. It's more than that.

It's about his psyche, his work ethic, his lifestyle, his professionalism and the current state of his game -- when he's able to play. In the parlance of pop sports psychology espoused by con men justifying themselves as "consultants," he has lost his focus. At this point, the conclusion has to be that he lost "it," period, and won't get it back.

Early in the season, Quenneville -- who otherwise has gotten the most out of the retooled Colorado roster -- was playing Captain Hook, trying to screw up every goaltender in the organization, including Aebischer, Peter Budaj and Vitaly Kolesnik. It made you think that he might be asking Lacroix if there wasn't someone else he could call up. And you even wondered if he might be calling his former Colorado Rockies coach, Don Cherry, and saying "Abby" reminded him of Hardy Astrom.

That fueled the speculation Colorado would go after Theodore. I joined in the chorus. I even asked Theodore about it when the Canadiens -- with Cristobal Huet in the net -- played in Denver. (He shrugged and said, in effect, he can't worry about that stuff.) But anyone with a brain knew that in the salary-cap era, the chances of the Avalanche landing a big-name goalie -- whether it be Theodore, Roberto Luongo or anyone else -- would be improved if Aebischer was perceived to be a bona fide No. 1 going the other way in a deal.

Aebischer is making $1.9 million this season under his one-year qualifying offer. That seemed an albatross when Quenneville, who considered Aebischer a whining wimp who made every save a major production, had turned him into a basket case. Now, that seems a bargain benchmark.

Aebischer did such a good job of recovering, including while sharing time with Martin Gerber for Switzerland in Torino, it seemed to have gone beyond him doing Lacroix a favor and making himself a tradable commodity. It seemed to have made himself the entrenched No. 1.

Wrong.

It turns out Lacroix and Quenneville were smiling over Aebischer's rejuvenation because it would help them trade him for one of the goalies who reminded them of Patrick Roy.

Guess whose career numbers are better? Aebischer's or Theodore's? Right, Aebischer's are better. Perhaps after he walked off a Swissair flight in New York on the way to Hershey a few years ago, and then heard the same plane had crashed on the way back to Switzerland, he has been able to count his blessings in the handful of languages he speaks. (Interestingly, one of them is French. So the Canadiens have two French-speaking goalies -- neither of them from Quebec.)

Who's been better this season? Even after his horrible start, Aebischer has been. And it would be folly to attribute that to the Avalanche's better record, because Colorado now is nothing better than a mediocre, somewhat overachieving team that -- especially in losing four times to the Red Wings -- has appeared overmatched this season.

It would be a theatrical contrivance to wave hands, point and scream and say there's no chance of Theodore making Lacroix look like a genius. In Denver, Lacroix's 11-year track record is on balance praiseworthy, and his work is the major reason there (allegedly) hasn't been an unsold Avalanche ticket since November 1995.

But at least when evaluated as if it is a straightforward exchange of goaltenders -- and not the first step in a chain reaction for either team -- the Canadiens came out ahead under the new rules of the game. They have rid themselves of a contract and a headache, and the European-born combination of Huet and Aebischer at least in the short term is an acceptable option.

For Colorado, the issues stretch beyond this season. Lacroix's low-ball offers to Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote in the offseason were perplexing, mainly because the first-year salaries of $1.5 million in escalating deals were lower than what their cap numbers would have been. Then Lacroix renounced the options for next season on Joe Sakic and Rob Blake. Sakic will be asked back. Blake probably will be. Both will be asked to grant what amounts to hometown discounts. But now what do you say to Sakic when a troubled goaltender is ticketed to make $5.5 million next season?

As a hockey town, of course, Denver is not Montreal. In part, that's what Lacroix is counting on. Relax, Jose, relax. When the Canadiens stopped selling out, it was a blip. The interest didn't diminish. If the Avalanche miss the playoffs this season -- a very real possibility, whether Theodore returns down the stretch or otherwise -- the season-ticket base will diminish further, the sellout streak will be impossible to prop up, and it will be a daunting task to arrest the slide.

Lacroix has staked his reputation and his legacy on Theodore.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."