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Lacroix steps down as Avalanche president; Kroenke steps in to turn around downtrodden team

Joe Sakic, right, answers a question as Josh Kroenke smiles during a news conference at which Sakic was announced as the Colorado Avalanche's executive vice president of hockey operations, and Kroenke as the president, in Denver on Friday, May 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

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Joe Sakic, right, answers a question as Josh Kroenke smiles during a news conference at which Sakic was announced as the Colorado Avalanche's executive vice president of hockey operations, and Kroenke as the president, in Denver on Friday, May 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

DENVER - Josh Kroenke will now be keeping just as close a watch on power plays as power forwards.

Already in charge of the Denver Nuggets, Kroenke was announced Friday as the new president of the Colorado Avalanche. He will take over for Pierre Lacroix, who's stepping down after 18 seasons and two Stanley Cup titles. Lacroix will stay with the team as an adviser.

Former team captain Joe Sakic also received a promotion as the Avs overhauled their front office. He's now the executive vice-president of hockey operations and will have a big say on just about everything, including the next coach after Joe Sacco was fired last month.

Greg Sherman will remain the team's general manager as the Avalanche try to get back on track after finishing last in the Western Conference and missing the playoffs for a third straight season.

"I like challenges. I've never been one to back down from a challenge in my entire life," Kroenke said. "I don't sleep a lot, because I'm constantly thinking about teams. I'm always paying attention and watching. I'm looking forward to taking these things to new heights."

By many, Kroenke is viewed as primarily a basketball guy, especially since he played at Missouri. The Nuggets won a franchise-record 57 games this season before bowing out to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.

In the meantime, the Avalanche languished in Kroenke's three seasons as the team's governor.

He's constantly heard the criticism that neglect is the reason for the Avalanche's recent slide. He just shakes his head.

"I don't like losing. I'm a very competitive person," said Kroenke, whose father, Stan, owns the Nuggets, Avalanche, St. Louis Rams and a majority of the English football club Arsenal. "The hard part about team building is staying patient. If we can continue to add and draft well, we will be in a good position in a few years."

If Sakic didn't believe that, he wouldn't have signed on. Kroenke had to sell Sakic on taking a larger role with the team after spending the last two seasons serving as the team's executive adviser/alternate governor, with somewhat undefined responsibilities.

"We're not that far away," Sakic insisted. "But we still have to add pieces for sure."

Priority No. 1 is finding a coach. Sakic said he wants a leader with a nurturing nature. After all, the Avs have a young nucleus in place with Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and captain Gabriel Landeskog all under 23.

"We need that winning attitude down in the dressing room," Sakic said.

Over his career with the organization, Lacroix supervised the relocation of the team from Quebec to Denver and was the architect behind the championship teams in 1996 and 2001. He assembled a talent-rich lineup led by Sakic that captured nine straight division titles a decade ago.

Lately, Colorado has fallen on some lean seasons.

"There are cycles to every team," Kroenke said. "There are teams playing very well in the playoffs right now that were not in a position far off from where we are several years ago."

By promoting Sakic, the Avs are borrowing a page from the Denver Broncos, who brought in Hall of Famer John Elway to take over as executive vice-president and help revive the team. Elway has flourished in his front office role, just like he once did on the field.

It's a model that Kroenke has carefully monitored.

"Having somebody that has the experience both as a player and as an executive, such as John or Joe, is very valuable to an organization," Kroenke said. "John has only proved that the last few years with the Broncos."

Sakic was the face of the franchise since the day the team arrived in the Mile High City before the 1995-96 season. He wore the captain's "C'' for 17 seasons and guided the Avalanche to championship titles in 1996 and 2001. He also won league MVP honours in 2001 and was a 13-time All-Star.

For all of that, the team retired No. 19 in his honour and a commemorative banner hangs from the Pepsi Center rafters.

"There's pressure coming with this title," Sakic said. "I'm ready for it."

Things got so bad for the Avalanche toward the end of this season that veteran goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere questioned the team's heart, enraged that some of the players were more concerned with post-season vacation plans in Las Vegas than their play on the ice. That ignited them, too, as the Avs went 3-2-2 down the stretch against teams that had already clinched or were looking to sew up playoff berths.

Soon after the season, Sacco was fired and Lacroix's son, Eric, left his position of vice-president of hockey relations.

Colorado owns the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft, with defenceman Seth Jones largely considered the top prospect. Jones was drawn to the game in part because of Sakic's influence when Jones' father, Popeye, once suited up for the Nuggets.

"(Popeye) was a little upset his son wanted to play hockey and didn't want to play basketball," Sakic said, smiling. "I think it paid off."

Asked if hockey will now be on the same footing as hoops given his new role, Kroenke said: "We're committed to all of our teams equally.

"Assuming the presidency title of the Avalanche answers that question very clearly," he continued. "As far as any kind of perceptions out there—Greg and Joe can both tell you behind the scenes how passionate I am, how much sleep I lose."

Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri can vouch for that as well. Ujiri, who was named the NBA's executive of the year on Thursday, frequently receives texts from Kroenke at all hours of the night.

"He's an absolute gem," said Ujiri, who showed up at the news conference to support Kroenke. "You can see what he's done with the Nuggets and I bet you it's going to be the same way for the Avalanche."

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