The Colorado Avalanche is the top team in the NHL right now, just five years after posting one of the worst seasons in NHL history. Avs still has a young team, with all core players still under 30. They have a player in the defense who is already compared to Bobby Orr, and a front line that includes some fantastically talented players, led by Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog.
But, as Joe Sakic showed this week in a team that was all of these things before the NHL’s deadline for trade, he’s made the team even better with two new acquisitions. The addition of Josh Manson to the defense and Nico Sturm has made the already formidable Avs a bigger, more physically scary team.
Avs thinks they are a better team than they were a few days ago. That does not mean that they are still not looking for maybe one or two more pieces to solve that Stanley Cup-winning puzzle that has eluded Sakic since 2001, when he last won it as a player.
Which is why, at the end of Friday night, Avs and Sakic were still on the hunt for Philadelphia Flyers veteran captain Claude Giroux. It’s complicated, but basically Avs has an offer on the table for Giroux. The thing is, Giroux reportedly wants to go to Florida if the Flyers are going to trade with him, which he really does not want to happen. He prefers to remain a Flyer, for some reason (OK, loyalty, which is an admirable trait).
According to reports, Av’s offer for Giroux is better, in Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher’s thoughts, than Florida’s. But Giroux has the last word on all of this, with a complete no-trade, no-move clause in his contract. In addition, the Flyers thought they had a deal with the Panthers the other day, my sources tell me, but then Florida paid a king’s ransom to acquire D-man Ben Chiarot from Montreal, with some of the assets of the Canadiens that the Flyers thought would come to them. for Giroux.
The chiarot trade prompted the Flyers to reconsider the offer on the table from Florida and suddenly wanted more. If the Panther were to give up that much for Ben Chiarot, said Flyers brass, what should the new benchmark be for Claude Giroux?
Laying in the weeds, all the time, has been Sakic. If the Flyers want to consider his offer, fine. But he will not give anything more than his last, best offer. What exactly that offer is for Giroux, no one from Sakic can actually say.
Sakic has taken a page from the game book for media relations from the management mentor, the deceased Pierre Lacroix, by rarely giving the press something to write about with his quotes. As much as when he was a player in the NHL for 20 years, Sakic Quoteless Joe remains a man who will talk to you, of course, but he will not fly off the handle on anything. He seldom raises his voice about anything, preferring a mixture of understatement mixed with the occasional Will Rogers observation about life and hockey. For him, it has almost always been intertwined, as he was a small child who only spoke the language of his ancestors as an immigrant to Canada with his family, from Croatia.
Sakic has always been more comfortable having a beer and relaxing with real friends after a game, rather than mingling with members of the mighty old boys club that still largely runs the NHL. He has never been so comfortable with the fame and money that comes with everything he has done in hockey. Still, he’s used to a very nice lifestyle by now, having earned millions of dollars every year since 1993 or so. He lives in a very well-equipped mini-mansion in the Cherry Hills and has a summer home by the water in his native British Columbia.
But you would still be hard pressed to discover all the privileged money with Sakic. Sure, it’s easy to say when you have no financial problems. It’s easier to seem carefree and especially the commotion and screaming when you know you already have lots of money and a Hall of Fame career on your side.
But Sakic still seems to be enjoying a hard day’s work. He suffered from a whispering rumor that he might not want to make an effort for some 24-7 workaholics when he started. But still ask people around the team, and they will still say that Sakic is one of the first guys to arrive and last to leave. In addition, Sakic has always been something of a late bloomer. He needs some time to come up with things, but once he does, he is very confident in himself.
He is very loyal to those he knows have shown loyalty to him. He well remembers the days as a rookie in Quebec when he stuttered through interviews and some doubted him as a 5-11, 185 pound first-round pick by Nordiques. Two Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal victory and the tournament’s MVP, a Hart Trophy and a Conn Smyte Trophy later, and Sakic will probably remain one of the 25 greatest players to have ever laced up his skates.
The people who helped get him there, he has never been forgotten. It starts with his parents, who are still with us, and his wife of more than 30 years, Debbie. The two continue to donate unspoken amounts of time and money to local charities, starting with the Food Bank of the Rockies, with which Sakic has been associated since the 1990s.
$ 20 dollar bonus coupon!
Probably no athlete in the history of Denver sports has given more time and money to local Denver things than Joe Sakic, along with Debbie. But Sakic never makes a show of it. It’s just something he really likes to do. It’s not a promotional item.
Still, Sakic is not easy to get to know. You have to spend your time with him for him to trust you with something. Sure, he will be kind to anyone. But getting to know the more private Joe Sakic takes some time.
Sakic is comfortable, finally, mixed with those from the C-Suites in the NHL. He fought against certain notions from others in NHL GM circles that he might just be another ex-jockey who did not really understand the inner functions of the entire hockey industry. And Sakic would probably tell you that he was a little underprepared when he first took over the GM job in 2013. Throw in a partnership with Patrick Roy that finally dissolved over staff disagreements in 2016, and Sakic’s first year as GM was not easy.
But Sakic is now seen as the architect of perhaps the most envied organization in the league, when it comes to talent on the ground and future prospects, for the near and long term.
He made a promise to himself to fully trust his own instincts again, starting by hiring Jared Bednar as his new coach in 2016, and that he believed in him despite a disastrous 2016-17 season. Then there was the conviction that, in order to do things right, he needed to redo the team with a more long-term view. No more shortcuts or quick fixes. He drew on his experience as a player with Quebec, when the previously laughable Nordiques were transformed into a fantastic team based on youth and speed, with occasional additions from elsewhere. Avs has been a playoff team every year since. But of course he and the team are still fighting against a reputation as a team that can not get over the hump.
Three straight seasons where the team has lost in the second round of the playoffs have cast a dome of concern and doubt over the fan base, despite a fantastic season for the team this year that included another win Friday night, 5-3 in San Jose.
And even with a flashy record and a stacked lineup, Sakic still has the irons in the fire for potentially strong staff. That’s why Avs is still in the hunt for Claude Giroux. What if Sakic does not get him?
It may very well still be okay. Avs believes that they addressed two needs already by the deadline, with the additions of Josh Manson and Nico Sturm. If Giroux wants to jump on this bandwagon, fine.
If not, this team could still be good enough to win its third Stanley Cup since joining Denver in 1995. For Sakic, it would be the culmination of a charming professional career. There are some who wonder if Sakic might be planning to step into another role with the team, especially if it wins in 2022. Assistant GM Chris MacFarland did not interview a couple of NHL teams that recently had openings for GM jobs, which led some to wonder if Sakic may not hand over GM reigns to him and may take a new title as Team President or, in principle, whatever he now wants to be called.
Because, as much as Sakic has grown into the role of GM, it’s a pressure cooker that even he may get tired of. He’s been under a microscope in hockey since 1988, and he does not like all the attention it gives. If he wins a cup as a GM, he has virtually nothing left to accomplish in his hockey career.
He may want the good, calmer life with early retirement, to travel with Debbie and relax more with a good piece of salmon and a good glass of wine, that every night should not be a win or a loss in the position.
Until then, however, Sakic seems as focused as he has ever been, on getting his name carved into the Stanley Cup for the third time.