1. Sakic Hangs 'em Up
If hockey were as popular as the NFL, NBA or MLB these days, the retirement of a superstar like Joe Sakic wouldn’t have flown so far under the radar. A sure-fire, first ballot Hall of Famer, Sakic won two Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Hart Trophy, a Lady Byng, a Lester B. Pearson and was selected to 13 All-Star teams during his 20-year career. He officially announced his retirement on Thursday.
“After having the privilege of playing for 20 years, I'm leaving the game of hockey with nothing but great memories and a sense of accomplishment. The game has given me more than I ever dreamed of, and for that I am truly grateful,” said the 16-year captain of the Quebec Nordiques/Colroado Avalanche.
Sakic retires as the eighth leading scorer in NHL history, having tallied 1,641 points (625 goals, 1,016 assist) in 1,378 games. His first 100-point season came in 1989-1990 and his sixth, and last, 17 years later in 2006-2007. His numbers are very impressive, especially when you consider the era in which he played. Burnaby Joe began his NHL career in 1988-1989, just in time to catch the tale end of the highest scoring era in league history, but not early enough to enjoy the statistical boost experienced by many 80s playmakers. Sakic was unfortunate in that the prime of his career coincided with one of the driest offensive periods in league history. The league goal-per-game totals speak for themselves.
In Sakic’s rookie season there were 7.48 goals scored per NHL contest (all goal-per-game stats courtesy dropyourgloves.com); that figure was below the average for the decade of the 1980s, but is still a threshold the league has not reached since. Once the 1990s hit, goal totals began plummeting at a rather steady pace, culminating in a brutally low number of 5.14 in 2003-2004. Scoring has increased a bit in recent years, but the 2008-2009 total was still only 5.83.
Where would Sakic rank if he had begun his career in 1978 instead of a decade later? It’s difficult to quantify, but safe to say he would be a lot higher on the totem pole of career scoring than eighth place. However, Sakic was considered by many to be the type of player that transcended statistics.
In addition to captaining the Avs to Stanley Cup wins in 1995-1996 and 2000-2001, he was a gold medalist in every major international tournament in which Canada participates: the World Junior Championship (1988); the World Championship (1994); the Olympics (2002); and the World Cup of Hockey (2004). Sakic’s strong two-way play in Salt Lake City led to his being named MVP of the 2002 Olympic Hockey Tournament.
The timing of his retirement is a bit ironic in that on July 2 he was named to Team Canada’s Orientation Camp for the 2010 Olympics despite the fact he played in only 15 games last season.
“He's been such a great player and an example to the young guys,” Steve Yzerman, Executive Director of Team Canada, told CTV. “If he's playing at the time, I want him at the camp.” Sakic had a realistic shot of being named captain again (he wore the “C” for Canada in 2006 at the Turin Games), but now the mantle will likely fall to Calgary’s Jarome Iginla, Anaheim’s Scott Niedermayer or Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.
The Avalanche have already announced that they plan to retire Sakic’s number 19 jersey at their home opener this season. Sakic’s sweater will join those of Parick Roy and Raymond Bourque as the only Avalanche jerseys in the Pepsi Center rafters.
2. Koivu a Quackhead
After 13 years spent in the hockey pressure cooker that is Montreal, Saku Koivu has chosen sunnier weather and a more agreeable media, signing a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Anaheim Ducks.
Koivu served as captain of the Canadiens for nine of his 13 seasons, leading the club to eight playoff appearances and one Northeast Division title while scoring 641 points in 791 games.
In the 2008-2009 season Koivu tallied 50 points in 65 games, his lowest point total for a season in which he played at least 60 games since 1998/1999. His Goal Versus Threshold (GVT) was 8.1 in what was a disappointing season for the Habs. With expectations high, due to both a talented roster and the club’s 100th anniversary, the Habs finished 8th in the Eastern Conference and bowed out of the playoffs in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
Koivu’s tenure with the Habs was up-and-down, to say the least, as he overcame obstacles both life-threatening and political while donning the red and blue.
In September of 2001 the Finnish product was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the same form of cancer that Mario Lemieux overcame. Koivu also beat the disease, though it did cause him to miss nearly the whole 2001/2002 campaign. He was honored with the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance following his triumphant return near the end of that season.
That’s the life-threatening.
In October, 2007, Koivu was roundly criticized by prominent Montreal lawyer Guy Bertrand for not speaking French during a videotaped, pre-game announcement. The captain responded by explaining that was not comfortable recording the piece in a language in which he was not fluent. Eventually, Koivu recorded a brief greeting in French that was played before a Canadiens’ home game shortly thereafter.
That’s the political.
Hopefully, he’s up to snuff on his surf lingo, lest he incur the wrath of the So-Cal faithful.
3. Blackhawks’ Gaffe Could Cost Millions
It looks like that little snafu in the Blackhawks’ front office, reported in this space last week, could turn out to be a major issue for the club in the coming seasons. The team was late in presenting qualifying offers to a handful of their restricted free agents (RFAs), and the NHLPA subsequently filed a grievance contending that the players in question (Kris Versteeg, Cam Barker, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, Aaron Johnson and Troy Brouwer) should be made unrestricted free agents. It would appear that the ‘Hawks error involved the way the offers were sent to the players. The NHL strictly prohibits such paperwork being sent by regular mail; league rules say offers must be faxed or couriered to their recipients. However, someone with the ‘Hawks slapped a stamp on the offers and dropped them in a mailbox anyway - they were subsequently received by the players after the deadline.
As a result of the miscue, GM Dale Tallon signed Versteeg and Barker to three-year contracts at roughly $3 million a season before the issue was decided. Problem is, the ‘Hawk wound up paying much more for the talented, young pair than they would have had the qualifying offers been properly dispersed. For a team that was already looking at a cap nightmare in the near future (thanks to the big contracts of Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet and soon-to-be-big contracts of several of their young stars), this was the last thing they needed.
According to Jim Kelley of SI.com, the extra money on the payroll is going to be a hurdle for Tallon and his staff to overcome. It may ultimately cost the GM his job.
In taking the blame for the mistake, Tallon sets himself up as the fall guy when the cap issues come to a head. When young stars like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook come off their current (and very affordable contracts), the Hawks will have real problems. If they lose one of those players and ownership or upper management comes looking for someone to sacrifice to a questioning fan base, Tallon…will make a more than convenient scapegoat.
In addition to Kane, Toews and Seabrook, youngsters Duncan Keith, Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd are also due for raises when their current deals expire.
4. News and Notes
Claude Lemieux has retired…again. The agitator, known as much for his on-ice shenanigans as his playoff heroics, came out of a five-year retirement to sign with the San Jose Sharks last season. He appeared in 18 games, notching one assist…
Number two overall pick Victor Hedman came to terms with the Tampa bay Lightning this week, inking a three-year rookie contract at a cap hit of $3.75 million…
Alex Auld is on the move…again. The journeyman goaltender has been dealt by the Ottawa Senators to the Dallas Stars for a sixth round pick in the upcoming draft. The pick originally belonged to San Jose. Auld, who will serve as Marty Turco’s backup, joins his seventh team in nine years…
Defenseman Chris Pronger and the Philadelphia Flyers have agreed on a seven-year contract extension that will pay the former MVP $34.9 million. Both sides expressed interest in an extension almost immediately after Pronger was acquired by the Flyers this offseason. The deal begins in 2010-2011…
An established NHLer has joined the Kontinental Hockey League…again. Jiri Hudler, formerly of the Detroit Red Wings, has signed a two-year deal with Dynamo Moscow that could be worth up to $5 million, according to the Detroit Free Press. Hudler scored 23 goals and 34 assists last season for a total of 57 points. His GVT of 10.9 ranked him 7th on the Red Wings’ roster.
Bill Duke is an author of Puck Prospectus. You can contact Bill by clicking here or click here to see Bill's other articles.