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Colorado Avalanche star Joe Sakic on schedule for return in March

DENVER - The Colorado Avalanche remain confident that captain Joe Sakic will return to the ice this season after he recovers from a back operation and three broken fingers.

Sakic mangled his left hand in a snow blower accident in December and while he was sidelined he underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk that had been bothering him all season.

"We're still optimistic and hopeful that he'll be able to return at some point this year," coach Tony Granato said Tuesday after the morning skate. "He's been around a lot, he's upbeat and still gung-ho about giving it a run to get back."

Sakic almost retired after a trying 2007-08 season in which he missed 38 games following hernia surgery. But he decided to return for a 20th season on the eve of training camp.

It's been another injury-riddled season for Sakic, who also missed a game with a tooth infection.

"If there's one guy you know who will do everything he can to make sure he gets back, it's Joe," Granato said.

The 39-year-old centre has played in just 15 games this season with two goals and 10 assists, watching the Avalanche sink into unfamiliar territory - last place in the Western Conference.

The Avs (26-30-0-1 heading into their game Tuesday night against Ottawa) have never been below .500 this late in the season.

"It's difficult to look at the standings right now," Milan Hejduk said. "But (there are) a lot of games left and you never know what can happen."

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