DENVER – Patience paid off for the Colorado Avalanche, who signed Joe Sakic to a one-year, US$6-million contract Wednesday after he decided to play a 20th NHL season rather than call it a career.
“Ultimately it came down to the fact that I still enjoy playing and competing,” the 39-year-old captain said in a statement released by the team. “I’m comfortable with my conditioning and my overall health.
“I’m ready for the start of camp and am looking forward to the upcoming season.”
Because the Democratic National Convention is taking place this week at the Pepsi Center, the Avs’ home, the team said it wouldn’t hold a news conference until next week.
Sakic’s teammates had started to fear he wasn’t coming back, and the announcement was a relief.
“Everybody was starting to worry what Joe was going to do,” forward Ian Laperriere said. “It’s great news for more than one reason.
‘What he brings to the ice, everyone knows, Joe is Joe. But what he brings to the locker room, the respect, everybody’s so calm when he’s around. That’s what he brings that people don’t see.”
Sakic’s agent, Don Baizley, said his client informed him of his decision late Tuesday night. The sides had been talking over the summer, so it didn’t take long to finalize the contract. Sakic’s new contract includes a no-movement clause.
Sakic was coming off his most difficult season, having missed 38 games following hernia surgery before returning to the lineup to help the team reach the playoffs after a one-year absence.
But unlike a year ago, when he signed a one-year, $6.75-million deal the day after the season ended, Sakic left town this spring unsure whether he had worn the blue and maroon sweater for the last time.
And general manger Francois Giguere was fine with that.
Unlike the Green Bay Packers, who pressed quarterback Brett Favre for a decision in March so they could plot their future with or without him – an approach that ultimately backfired when Favre changed his mind, unretired and forced an ugly divorce that ended with him playing for the New York Jets – the Avalanche took the opposite approach with Sakic.
Giguere told him to take as much time as he needed, even if that meant informing the team of his decision on the eve of training camp in September.
Giguere explained he wanted Sakic to be 100 per cent committed either to returning or retiring lest he have any regrets.
Despite the uncertainly, that approach sat well with his teammates.
“He earned the right to take his time,” Laperriere said. “He’s done everything for this organization.
“They told Joe take as much time as he needs, there will always be a place here for you. No pressure.
“For sure, I was worrying, and a bunch of us were worrying about what was going to happen because we know we’re a much better team when he’s in the lineup. Now that he made the right decision, everybody’s pumped. We know how much better we are when Joe’s in.”
The Avs’ approach had its risks, such as payroll uncertainty entering free agency, but it also had its rewards.
“Patience is the answer,” Baizley said. “If you insist on a quick answer, you’re probably going to get the answer you don’t want.
“If you insist on an answer now, it might be no. If you give me more time, it might be yes.”
As an unrestricted free agent, Sakic could have fielded offers from other teams but told his agent he would play for the Avalanche next season or not at all.
“Teams asked if they could at least submit an offer for consideration and Joe told me to advise teams not to bother,” Baizley said.
Baizley also represents Peter Forsberg, who returned to the Avalanche last season but continued to be bothered by foot problems that had him in and out of the lineup. Forsberg has been skating in Sweden but hasn’t made enough progress, Baizley said.
“Peter would like to play if his health will permit him. Right now he’s working on his health issues related to his foot and there’s nothing new on that,” Baizley said. “It hasn’t progressed to the point where we’re in serious discussions with the team.”