With all due respect to the other 17 players on the list of the greatest Colorado Avalanche of all-time, there is no other player more synonymous with the franchise, no greater player, no more impactful presence than Joe Sakic.
“Super Joe”, the greatest player in Colorado Avalanche history, is also amongst the cream of the crop in NHL history.
The pride of Burnaby, BC, got his start back when he was made the 15th overall pick in the 1987 draft by the Quebec Nordiques. After spending an extra season with the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL, Sakic made the jump to the NHL and did not disappoint.
Sakic quickly became one of the premier scoring centers in the game, well over a point-per-game player and twice hitting 48 goals with the Nords. By the time the 1994/95 season rolled around, Sakic had already amassed three 100+ point seasons (and two 90+ point seasons) in his first six seasons.
In 1995, the Nordiques were sold and moved to Denver, becoming the Avalanche. Sakic, by now the captain, turned in his best season. With 51 goals, as well as career-bests in assists (69) and points (120), Sakic would finish third in the league in scoring and bring the newly-minted Avalanche to the playoffs. From there, Sakic was a machine. Scoring 18 goals (tying an NHL record), as well as six game-winners (an NHL record), Sakic would lead the playoffs with 34 points and his team to the promised land: the Stanley Cup. Sakic capped off his amazing year with the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
By now, “Super Joe” had made his name with quick skating, solid two-way play, and the game’s best wrist shot. He continued to average over a point per game as the Avalanche continued to be one of the best teams in the Western Conference, making the conference finals three of the next four years. Sakic would be befallen by injuries, minor in nature, over that time but still remained highly effective, especially in the playoffs where he was well on his way to being known as one of the finest playoff performers of all-time.
It was also during this time that Sakic nearly left the Avalanche.
In the summer of 1997, the two sides were talking contract but didn’t know what was fair value. The team agreed to let Sakic test the market with the intent of offering right away. The New York Rangers immediately stepped up with a sizable offer – three years/$21M, with a $15M signing bonus – that surprised the Avalanche a bit, but the team still matched.
Despite battling injuries, Sakic hit a few important milestones during the 1999/00 season. He became the 56th player in NHL history to hit 1,000 points for his career and the 59th to score 400 goals. Not only that, but he picked up his 1,049th point, passing Peter Stastny for the franchise lead in points.
A healthy, rejuvenated Sakic returned for the 2000/01 season on a mission. “Mission 16W”, to be exact. With the legendary Ray Bourque back for one last run at the Cup, the Avalanche were a team possessed from game one. Sakic led the way, potting a career-best 54 goals and racking up 118 points. He would win the Hart Trophy (MVP), Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (sportsmanship), and Lester B. Pearson Award (as voted by the players) for his regular season efforts. In the playoffs, he helped lead the Avalanche to the holy grail, winning the second Stanley Cup of his career. It also led to a moment that will never stop giving me chills:
With Bourque riding into the sunset, the Avalanche were still poised for big things. Sakic continued on strong with a couple of top ten finishes in scoring but the Avalanche couldn’t find their way back to the Finals.
His fellow stars were leaving one by one at this point: Patrick Roy had retired, Chris Drury traded, Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote departing via free agency. Still, Sakic continued at a strong pace, even hitting the 100 point mark during the 2006/07 season.
Injury and age would intervene, limiting him to just 59 games over his final two seasons before he finally called it a career in 2009, having his #19 retired by the team the following season. Since then, he’s taken the role of Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations with the team and has been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Joe Sakic spent 20 years with the franchise, 13 of which were spent amazing the people of Denver. The epitome of class and leadership, Sakic always said and did the right things, quietly went about his business and represented the team and city with the highest of standards.
On the ice, Sakic is one of the finest the game has seen. Dancing between skaters, always making the heads up play, sniping corner after corner with the baddest wrister the game has seen.
Joe Sakic, without a doubt, is the greatest player in Colorado Avalanche history.
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