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Avalanche captain Joe Sakic optimistic he'll return this season

DENVER - Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic has the passion and persistence to return to the ice this season.

Now if only his left leg would co-operate. Sakic is still trying to get the strength back in his leg after January surgery to repair a herniated disk. However, the 39-year-old remains guardedly hopeful he can skate in a game before the home finale on April 12.

As for his long-term plans, Sakic refuses to even think about that until the summer.

"I just want to be able to try to come back," said Sakic, who recently returned to the ice but has yet to go through contact. "Where the future stands, I'm not too sure."

It's been another injury-filled season for Sakic, who decided to return for a 20th year after almost retiring during the off-season. Sakic had his most trying season in 2007-08, missing 38 games after hernia surgery.

This season has been even more taxing.

Sakic originally strained his back in the weight room in early November, causing him to miss a game against Minnesota.

He briefly returned before hurting it again at Phoenix on Nov. 28.

Captain Joe hasn't played since.

In December, Sakic mangled his left hand in a snow blower accident when he tried to clear snow from the machine at his home.

While sidelined, he underwent surgery on his bothersome back.

He's still waiting for the strength to return in his left leg, part of the slow process of nerve regeneration.

In the meantime, he's growing quite anxious.

"We're trying to get it back as strong as possible," said Sakic, who pronounced his hand fit and feeling fine. "Hopefully, sometime by the end of the year, I'll be able to make it."

What's the hurry?

After all, the Avalanche aren't post-season bound. The team is rooted in last place in the Western Conference and in the midst of their worst season since moving to Denver in 1995.

Sakic denied the speculation that he's coming back simply because he might be stepping aside after the season.

"I'm a hockey player," Sakic said. "You're a professional. You try and come back. When you're healthy, you play."

And playing sure beats the alternative - rehab.

"It's a lot easier playing games," Sakic said, grinning.

Sakic hasn't done much playing this season, suiting up for just 15 contests with two goals and 10 assists.

The growing assortment of injuries over the last two seasons may cause Sakic take a long look at whether he returns for a 21st season.

"But I don't have to think about it right now," he said.

Or whether he'll play for Team Canada at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

Yes, he definitely wants to. After all, the Winter Games are basically in his backyard.

But he doesn't want a spot handed to him, preferring to earn his way onto the squad.

"There's a lot of real good, young hockey players that are looking for that same opportunity," said Sakic, who's eighth on the NHL's all-time list in points (1,641) and 11th in assists (1,016). "If you come back, you'd still have to earn your spot on the team. That's down the road. I'm not thinking that far ahead."

Rather, his mind is focused on returning to the rink before the season runs out.

That's something Avalanche coach Tony Granato would like to see as well.

"Anyone that knows Joe and knows what he's about, you'd love to see him back on the ice," Granato said. "We're all optimistic that we'll get that chance to see him again."

That is, if his left leg would only co-operate.


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