Joe Sakic has been an inconsistent executive for the Colorado Avalanche. Now entering his fifth season, I believe he has the Avs in position to improve.
Joe Sakic took over as the Executive VP of Hockey Operations for the Colorado Avalanche in May, 2013. This role gave him final say in hockey decisions, a power he still possesses almost four and a half years later. His tenure has not gone smoothly, with an apparent power struggle with Patrick Roy resulting in Roy leaving the organization, and the team finishing with only 48 points last year.
Now it appears that Sakic, who had a full offseason as THE voice within the organization, for the first time, has put together the team that he wants. It is younger and faster than in years past, as the organization shifts away from veterans with size, to youngsters with speed and skill. Maybe most encouraging of all, is that Sakic appears to have learned from the missteps of the past.
I believe that executives tend to be given too much credit for a team’s success, and too much blame for a team’s failure. As Taylor Swift famously put it, “Players gonna play.” With that said, a team does need to be constructed with a full organizational vision, and everyone needs to be on the same page. I am optimistic that the Avs are on the right track, thanks to Joe Sakic’s vision.
The 2013-14 season was a magic carpet ride for the Colorado Avalanche. Everything that could go right during the regular season, did. However, it hid some questionable precedents that were being set. Joe Sakic went out to acquire veterans and reclamation projects, and for a while, it worked. Alex Tanguay, Nick Holden, and Max Talbot all contributed to the team’s success.
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However, in all cases, the players would never have as good a season with the Avs again. Other players, including Reto Berra, who was given a two-year contract, sight unseen, rarely contributed.
More alarming was the establishment of the pattern of indecision that has been a trademark of Sakic’s tenure. Paul Stastny, an impending UFA, was not traded at the trade deadline. Rather, he was allowed to leave for nothing in the offseason.
The 2014 offseason, coming off a playoff appearance led Sakic to believe the team was closer than they really were. More veterans, Jarome Iginla, Danny Briere, and Brad Stuart were added. While Iggy had one great season, the other two never performed well for Colorado. In 2015, the process was repeated with a multiyear contract for Francois Beauchemin.
Learning From Some Mistakes; Repeating Others
The 2015 offseason marked something of a transition in Joe Sakic’s tenure as Executive VP. Rather than allow the disgruntled Ryan O’ Reilly to leave the organization for nothing, Sakic was proactive, trading him to Buffalo for a bevy of young talent. The trade produced two surefire members of this year’s team, Nikita Zadorov and J.T. Compher, and possibly a third, A.J. Greer.
Unfortunately, some bad habits were harder to break. With the Colorado Avalanche in playoff contention at the trade deadline in February, 2016, Sakic added veterans and reclamation projects, Shawn Matthias, Mikkel Boedker, and Eric Gelinas. The team failed to make the playoffs, and took a step back as a result of the trade deadline acquisitions.
Last year, Sakic was highly criticized for his lack of activity, yet again. Most fans wanted him to trade away most of the veterans to give young players a chance to play. While a couple were moved, including Iginla, and Cody McLeod, many were not. Those who were traded did not produce the abundance of draft picks the fans desired.
It is worth noting that many of the players in question have not found NHL jobs in 2017-18. Rene Bourque has found work in Europe. John Mitchell signed a PTO. Fedor Tyutin has not signed anywhere. Francois Beauchemin signed a one-year deal with Anaheim that was widely lambasted in the media.
Recent Moves: Younger & Faster
The biggest move made by Joe Sakic at the 2017 trade deadline was acquiring Sven Andrighetto, a young, speedy, and skilled player, who figures to be a top 9 forward for Colorado this season.
This offseason, the team did not add many veterans. Rather, Sakic added NCAA free agents, Alex Kerfoot and Dominic Toninato. The former appears to be slated for a top 9 role with the Avs, while the latter figures to be an early call-up from San Antonio in the case of injuries. Both appear to be skilled and have good foot speed.
The younger portion of the plan has been facilitated by seemingly good drafts the past few years. Tyson Jost, Mikko Rantanen, Andrei Mironov, and Anton Lindholm, all taken in the Sakic era, figure to be key contributors to the Colorado Avalanche this season. The future also looks bright with the likes of Cale Makar and Conor Timmins in the pipeline.
Sakic is still willing to sign a reclamation project. It would appear, however, that he has become smarter as to what players to take a chance on. Nail Yakupov was given a one year deal, for little money, and he will still be an RFA at the end of the year. If he succeeds, as it appears that he might, he could be a member of the Colorado Avalanche for years to come.
On the other hand, Jared Cowen, another former first round pick, was only given a PTO by the Avs. I can’t help but feel that two years ago, Sakic would have given the same type of player a multiyear deal. Now, after failing to impress during the preseason, Cowen was released with no cap penalties to the Avalanche.
Finally, it is somewhat ironic that the main criticism of Joe Sakic as an executive, his inactivity, may be what he is ultimately judged on this season. I am, of course, referring to the Matt Duchene trade rumors saga. Sometimes, the best trades are the ones a team does not make. None of us will ever know the exact offers that Sakic had in front of him over the last few years.
No matter what the offers were, if Duchene bounces back, and has a great year, we will all look back at the lack of a trade this offseason as a good thing. More to the point, if he does play well, it will increase his trade value. Maybe the best trade offer for Duchene will come at this year’s trade deadline, or next offseason. Maybe Duchene has a stellar year and stays with the team long term.
In any case, I am cautiously optimistic that the Colorado Avalanche will dramatically improve this season. If the team does so, it will be with a team created in the image of Joe Sakic.