TORONTO – One of the most talented and gracious players ever to have donned a pair of skates has retired. Joe Sakic, a longtime member of Team Canada on the international stage and Quebec/Colorado in the NHL has decided not to try to come back after serious surgery limited him to only 15 games this past season. A herniated disc was the culprit.
As soon as he becomes eligible he will certainly be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and the IIHF Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game he played for so long and at such a high level. In one sentence, there is nothing Sakic did not accomplish during his career.
A first-round draft choice by the then lowly Quebec Nordiques in 1987, Sakic played at the U20 championship in 1988, helping Canada to a gold medal. He joined the Nordiques the year after. He scored 23 goals as a rookie, and in his second season he recorded 102 points, the first of six 100-point seasons sprinkled throughout his career (the most recent came just two years ago).
Sakic gave the team instant respect, and it made the playoffs every year he was in the league except this past season, when injury prevented him from contributing to any meaningful playoff run. When the team relocated to Colorado in 1995, Sakic had a core of talent around him, and the team won the Stanley Cup in its first season in Denver. Five years later, he led the Avalanche to a second Cup.
He played in his first World Championship with Canada in 1991 and three years later took the team to an historic gold, the first since 1961. Sakic played in the first World Cup in 1996 and the second eight years later, losing in the finals in the first instance and winning in 2004. He is also one of a small group to have played in the three NHL Olympics to date—1998, 2002, and 2006, winning gold in ’02 and captaining the team four years later.
Sakic is one of 22 members of the Triple Gold Club, for players who have won the Olympic gold, World Championship and the Stanley Cup.
Indeed, Sakic was captain in the NHL for the last 16 years of his career (and 17 in total), and his personal accomplishments mirrored his team contributions. He leaves the game with 625 career goals in the regular season, 1,016 assists, and 1,641 total points, all totals that rank among the top players in the game’s history.
He played in 12 All-Star Games, won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1996, and was honoured with the two most important individual honours for 2000-01—the Lester B. Pearson Award and the Hart Trophy. He also won the Lady Byng Trophy in ’00-’01, testament to his gentlemanly conduct throughout his career.
In addition to his incredible resume, Sakic was known for his wrist shot, so fast and quick, and deceptively effective. His passing was pinpoint, and his quiet leadership respected by all not only who played with him but against him as well. Few players have earned the respect and admiration of opponents the way Sakic has.
A British Columbia native, Sakic had been looking forward to the possibility of playing one more year, including participating in the 2010 Olympics in his home province. Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman said as much last week when he extended an invite to Sakic to the summer camp, and that might have spurred Sakic to make a quick decision about his future.
But in truth, the Avalanche are now a badly struggling team and Sakic, who turned 40 on July 7, is not getting any younger. Combined with the seriousness of his back injury – and his extraordinary career – there was nothing left for the great Joe to prove, no need to play one more year after 20 incredible ones.
Sakic will be missed on ice, but his contributions will live on forever in the minds of fans who have seen him play. The game will be the lesser for his absence, and we can only watch him exit gracefully thinking one thing – thanks, Joe. It was great knowing you.
ANDREW PODNIEKSNHL Notes:
- Saku Koivu, one of the best Finnish players ever and one of the most dominant forces in international hockey since the mid-90s, signed with the Anaheim Ducks on July 8, after not receiving a new offer from the Montreal Canadiens. The 34-year-old Koivu played 13 seasons in Montreal where he held the title of team captain for the last 10 years, equaling Jean Beliveau as the longest-serving captain in Canadiens history. In Anaheim, Koivu will be re-united with Finnish national team colleague Teemu Selänne.
- Czech forward Jiri Hudler, 25, signed with Dynamo Moscow of the Russian KHL, on July 8. Hudler, who won the Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2008, spent five seasons with the Red Wings accumulating 255 games, 52 goals and 75 assists. He had a short stint in the Russian league back in 2002-03 when he played 11 games with Ak Bars Kazan.