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Billington agrees to return to Avs

By Jim Benton

Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

 

Craig Billington ended the suspense quickly.

The backup goalie signed again with the Colorado Avalanche on Friday, only two days after he had become an unrestricted free agent.

Billington, who made $360,000 last season, agreed to a two-year contract believed to be worth more than $1.2 million.

Buffalo, New Jersey, Anaheim and Washington also were seeking Billington's services after he became a free agent Wednesday, but he opted to return to the team that acquired him before the 1996-97 season.

"It was flattering there was as much interest in me as there was," Billington said. "The underlying reason I re-signed with Colorado was the belief the team has the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. Playing with (veteran goalie) Patrick (Roy) and the way the organization treated me was another reason.

"Then, it came down to market value, which took until July 1 to determine ... We had to find something in the middle ground. We worked out a great situation. It's a unique and a good deal."

The Avalanche was upset by Edmonton in the first round of the 1998 playoffs, but Billington believes Colorado will be one of the league's elite teams and a Stanley Cup challenger next season under new coach Bob Hartley.

"Sometimes you have to take a step backward, and hopefully that acts as a trampoline," Billington said. "You have to bounce back. That's life, not just hockey. It's characteristic of the organization, the way they deal with adversity."

Billington, 32, has compiled a 19-15-6 record with a 2.49 goals-against average and two shutouts in 46 games for the Avalanche. Originally drafted 23rd overall by New Jersey in 1984, he also has played for Ottawa and Boston. Colorado picked him up from Florida in the 1996 waiver draft.

Last season, Billington went 8-7-4 with a 2.32 goals-against average, a .923 saves percentage and one shutout in 23 games. In a stretch of 11 starts from Nov. 11 to Feb. 25, he didn't allow more than two goals, going 6-2-3 with a 1.59 goals-against average.

"Our organization is thrilled to have a player of Craig's caliber returning to the Avalanche," general manager Pierre Lacroix said in a statement. "Craig is not only an excellent goaltender and leader in the dressing room but a tremendous ambassador to the Denver community as well."

 

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