Av lose classy Sakic, face of their franchise

Jul 8 2009 - 7:04pm

The security blanket is gone as the Colorado Avalanche moves from a proud past to a blurry future.

Joe Sakic departs as one of the more classy superstars ever to play any sport. He was, for 20 seasons, the face of a franchise.

But it was, no doubt, time to go. It's time for the Avs to lock their eyes on the future.

The team recently tried -- and failed -- to hire Patrick Roy as coach. The team tried -- and failed -- to patch a myriad of holes by bringing back a beat-up Peter Forsberg late in the 2007-2008 season.

The team must finally embrace the reality that the glories of the past are gone, and as Sakic waves goodbye, this is the ideal time to start the embracing.

Sakic turned 40 Tuesday, and he might have had one more decent season left, but Super Joe, the dominating player who could carry a team, departed a few seasons ago.

No doubt, he was spectacular in his prime. He led the Avs to Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001 while converting hundreds of thousands of Colorado hockey agnostics to hockey believers.

Colorado College coach Scott Owens has long admired Sakic.

"I usually don't get too carried away with this stuff, with these old guys," Owens said, "but he was the perfect player at the perfect time for Colorado. He played a skill game that was attractive to watch, and it pulled fans in."

It was painful to watch Sakic dragging his tattered back around the ice for 15 games last season, and if it was painful to watch, imagine the agony of the man doing the dragging.

Yet, even in his final days, he remained a powerful symbol. He was the walking, skating reminder of the years when the Avs ruled the NHL. He embodied class.

He was adored -- and that's the right word -- in the Avalanche locker room. They kidded him about his flecks of gray, but they admired his work ethic and his enduring skills.

They believed in him, a little too much.

Before the 2006 season, when it became obvious the Avalanche would struggle in the NHL's new financial framework, right wing Ian Laperriere scoffed at skepticism surrounding his team.

"You got Joe Sakic on your team," Laperriere told me, "you got a better shot at winning than the other team."

It was a great line and, once upon a time, sound logic, but the Avs missed the playoffs in two of the next three seasons.

The Avs have a new coach and a new general manager.

It's time, as Sakic skates into the sunset, to develop a new star.

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