Joe Sakic retired as the all-time leader in games played (1378), goals (625), assists (1016), and points (1641) for the Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques franchise. His leadership on and off the ice helped the Avalanche to their first two Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001. He was honored with numerous accolades including the Hart Trophy, the Lady Byng Trophy, the Lester B. Pearson Award (now known as the Ted Lindsay Award), and the Conn Smythe Trophy.
After an outstanding playing career, Sakic’s influence on the franchise wasn’t finished. He became the architect of the offensive juggernaut that brought the Stanley Cup back to Mile High City in 2021-22. He supplemented talented superstars like Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar with important secondary pieces like Valeri Nichushkin and Darcy Kuemper. With Colorado’s victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, Sakic joined Serge Savard and Milt Schmidt as the only men ever to win a Stanley Cup as a player and as a general manager (GM) with the same franchise.
From Captain to General (Manager)
Two years after retiring as a player, the Hall of Fame center returned to the Avalanche as an executive advisor and alternate governor prior to the 2011-12 season. He was then promoted to executive vice president of hockey operations in May 2013. Then-GM Greg Sherman also hired former Colorado goaltender Patrick Roy as head coach and vice president of hockey operations shortly after Sakic’s promotion. The two stalwarts of the franchise’s greatest era quickly increased their influence within the organization.
With Roy behind the bench in 2013-14, the Avalanche earned 112 points and the top seed in the Western Conference. However, an underdog Minnesota Wild team upset them in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sakic officially became the GM in September 2014, but the Avalanche regressed with just 90 points in 2014-15 and failed to qualify for the postseason. The downward spiral continued with an 82-point season and a sixth-place finish in the Central Division in 2015-16.
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Roy announced his resignation in 2016, citing a lack of input with the team’s decisions. Sakic’s next move proved he had the guts to make gutsy decisions as a GM. He hired the lesser-known Jared Bednar to fill the vacancy despite his new bench boss’s lack of experience as an NHL head coach. While Bednar’s recent accomplishments look outstanding, his first steps in Colorado were far from perfect.
The 2016-17 season was the franchise’s lowest point total since their move from Quebec in 1995. They earned a meager 48 points and finished dead last in the NHL. Critics blamed a lack of organization and chemistry for the demise. Star forward Matt Duchene became unhappy after rumors swirled about the team shopping him during the offseason. Sakic ultimately sent the former star center packing in November 2017 and acquired some solid prospects and draft picks for a struggling team looking to rebuild.
With some negativity lifted from the locker room, Sakic managed to weather the storm and solidify the roster. The Avalanche struggled at times in 2017-18 but managed to dramatically clinch the final Western Conference playoff spot in the last game of the regular season. They lost in six games against the heavily-favored Nashville Predators in the opening round.
Building the Stanley Cup Champions
Sakic helped the NHL’s worst team in 2016-17 turn things around at a remarkable pace. Led by the emergence of MacKinnon, they quickly blossomed into a top-tier regular-season team with the talent to contend for a Stanley Cup. However, they suffered devastating setbacks with second-round playoff exits in three consecutive seasons. They lost in seven games to the San Jose Sharks in 2019, seven games to the Dallas Stars in 2020, and six games to the Vegas Golden Knights in 2021.
The Avalanche finally got over the hump in 2021-22. They posted a franchise record of 119 points and earned the top seed in the Western Conference. Their overwhelming speed and offensive firepower made them the favorites entering the playoffs, and they wasted no time erasing the pain of past playoff defeats. They furiously ran through the Western Conference Playoffs with a 12-2 record and disposed of the back-to-back champion Lightning in six games to bring the franchise its third Stanley Cup.
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Sakic helped establish the core of Colorado’s stacked roster early in his front office tenure through the selections of Gabriel Landeskog with the second-overall pick in 2011 and Nathan MacKinnon with the first-overall pick in 2013. He struck gold by selecting Makar with the fourth-overall pick in 2017 and hit on additional choices like Alex Newhook and Bowen Byram in 2019. He filled out the roster with excellent veteran additions like Nazem Kadri and Devon Toews.
Sakic proved to be an invaluable leader as a player for Colorado’s first two Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001. His recent work in the front office restored the franchise from a broken, rebuilding team and turned them back into a Stanley Cup winner. His continued success has made him the most influential figure in the history of the Avalanche.
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Colin Newby is a freelance writer from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Flyers goaltending stats from 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the “Legion of Doom” and Claude Giroux to forgotten journeymen like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. He joined the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) in 2022.
Colin also covers the Philadelphia Eagles and works for 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia.