DENVER – Joe Sakic, the Colorado Avalanche’s longtime captain who led the team to two Stanley Cup titles, is retiring after a 20-year NHL career, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because Sakic, a 13-time all-star, is expected to formally announce his decision to retire on Thursday at a news conference.
Sakic, who turned 40 on Tuesday, has been the face of the franchise since the team relocated to Denver from Quebec in 1995. He teamed with Patrick Roy, Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote to capture the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001.
It’s been a storied career for Sakic, who has won championships and league MVP honours, and led Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal in 2002.
But injuries over the last two years began to mount, curtailing his playing time. He missed most of the 2008-09 season because of an aching back that required surgery to repair a herniated disk. He also damaged three fingers on his left hand in a snowblower accident.
Known for his laser wrist shot and precision passing, Sakic will retire with his name among the NHL’s career scoring leaders. He is eighth in points (1,641), 11th in assists (1,016) and 14th in goals (625).
The pride of Burnaby, B.C., Sakic said just before the end of the season that he was hoping to be healthy enough to possibly join Team Canada for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
It’s unclear whether he will play. However, Steve Yzerman, Canada’s executive director, recently extended Sakic an invitation to orientation camp next month.
Sakic was so popular that he became known by two nicknames – “Burnaby Joe” to the fans in the Vancouver area and “Super Joe” around Colorado.
He wasn’t an intimidating presence – he’s only five foot 11 and 195 pounds – but his speed and intelligence always had him in proper position.
Sakic also was regarded as a quiet, unassuming superstar, a modest player who didn’t care about stats as much as wins.
He captured the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship and outstanding play in 2001. Sakic exuded his class by handing the Stanley Cup over to longtime defenceman Ray Bourque after the Avalanche won the championship, Bourque’s only title.
Sakic will leave as the franchise’s leader in almost every offensive category. He skated in 1,378 regular-season games, and another 172 in the post-season.
He was selected by Quebec with the 15th pick in the 1987 draft and made his NHL debut on Oct. 6, 1988, against the Hartford Whalers – earning his first assist. Two nights later against New Jersey, Sakic scored his first goal.
Sakic had six seasons where he notched at least 100 points and 14 in which he reached 50 assists – including a total of 64 three seasons ago.
Sakic came up clutch in the post-season, scoring eight overtime goals. He also won the Conn Smyth Trophy as playoff MVP in 1996.
Just before the end of the regular season, Milan Hejduk was asked about what he would remember most about Sakic if the captain retired.
“Unbelievable player,” said Hejduk, whose team turned in their worst finish last season since moving to Denver, resulting in the firing of coach Tony Granato and general manager Francois Giguere. “First ballot Hall of Famer. Great guy as a person, great guy in the locker-room. I was fortunate enough to play many years on the same team with him.
“It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. He’s definitely a special player.”
When asked in April to briefly describe Sakic’s contributions to the team, Avalanche defenceman John-Michael Liles was stumped.
“I don’t think there’s one word to describe Joe,” Liles said. “He’s such a leader – that’s a pretty good word – both on and off the ice.”