DENVER – Joe Sakic’s nameplate above his locker has been taken down, his captain’s role handed over to Adam Foote.
Although Sakic retired in July, it is just now sinking in that No. 19 won’t be back on the ice with the Colorado Avalanche. Sakic’s leadership, lethal wrist shot and precision passing have been shelved – for good.
“All these years, he was always here, he was always our captain,” said right wing Milan Hejduk, whose team begins training camp Sunday. “Now, he’s gone.”
And just like that, life begins for Colorado without “Super Joe.”
“This is different for everyone, from in the locker room to all the fans and the city of Denver,” centre Paul Stastny said. “We were fortunate to have him for so many years.”
Sakic left the game among the NHL’s career scoring leaders. He was eighth in points (1,641), 11th in assists (1,016) and 14th in goals (625).
But the last few seasons had been taxing. Sakic missed most of the 2008-09 season because of an aching back that required surgery to repair a herniated disk.
The injuries ultimately led to his retirement.
Now, the Avalanche must move on to the rebuilding process.
It’s been an active off-season for the Avalanche as they try to rebound from a season in which they finished last in the Western Conference for the first time since moving to Denver from Quebec in 1995.
The Avalanche cleaned house in the wake of their dismal year, firing general manager Francois Giguere and parting ways with coach Tony Granato. GM Greg Sherman and first-year NHL coach Joe Sacco were put in charge of fixing the franchise.
“We’re going to try to get this organization and team back to the level of play that’s expected of it,” Sacco said.
The first order of business was taking center Matt Duchene with the third overall pick in the June draft.
A young Sakic? The Avalanche are certainly hoping.
“At age 18, it looks like he has all the tools,” Hejduk said. “He looks good so far.”
The team also shored up its shortcomings in net, signing veteran goalie Craig Anderson. The Avalanche traded Ryan Smyth to the Los Angeles Kings for defencemen Kyle Quincey and Tom Preissing.
Colorado heads into training camp with a young look. The team had 11 players make their NHL debut last season, the most in franchise history for a single year.
“I think our players have a lot to prove,” Sacco said. “It’s a fresh start for a lot of players, fresh start for the coaches, a fresh start for the organization.”
With Sakic gone, Foote steps in as the team’s captain. He’s hoping the years of playing alongside Sakic – winning Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001 – rubbed off on him.
“It’s definitely big shoes to fill. I was with him a long time,” said Foote, who is entering his 18th season. “But we’re going to take his professionalism and what we learned off him and keep that alive in this room. That’s one thing we want to make sure stays here.”
Foote has been texting Sakic quite a bit these days – just not about hockey. Sakic is trying to convince Foote to swap him Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte in a fantasy football trade.
No deal. Sakic is the defending champion of their league and swindled a couple of big-time players from T.J. Hensick last season.
“He’s always trying to steal guys,” Foote said, laughing.
Sakic’s sweater will be retired in the season opener on Oct. 1, getting raised to the Pepsi Center rafters. It will be just the third number retired in the history of the Avalanche, joining Patrick Roy (33) and Ray Bourque (77).
“At some point it had to come,” Hejduk said. “It was his time.”