It started in the summer of 2017.
The Colorado Avalanche, coming off the worst season by any individual team in the salary cap era to that point, were at a crossroads: Stay the course or reboot once again.
Their franchise face at that time, Matt Duchene, had made it very clear he wanted out of the organization that drafted him third overall. Star prospect Nathan MacKinnon had yet to find his stride. And rookie coach Jared Bednar had just overseen the unmitigated disaster that was the past seven months in his first season on the job.
Most teams would have cleaned house by the final buzzer, eradicating any prior stench of the failure they just endured.
That Avalanche team had every reason to salt the earth behind them, really. They were burdened with a roster in shambles, a locker room divided, and a leadership group that, at all levels of the organization, appeared well over their heads.
But Joe Sakic didn't make the easy move. He stuck it out, against what most expected him to do.
Bednar came back. Duchene was eventually traded the next season for a package that would eventually build the very bedrock of this current Avs roster. MacKinnon was signed to what soon became the best-value contract in the entire NHL. And, despite losing the draft lottery shortly thereafter, the Avalanche would use their disappointing fourth-overall selection on a CJHL defenseman by the name of Cale Makar.
Fast forward five years, and the Colorado Avalanche are Stanley Cup champions, having just crafted a playoff run that featured two series sweeps, countless blowouts, and just three total losses despite losing their 100-point centre, starting goaltender, and top-four defenseman for weeks on end.
The 2021-22 Avalanche are among the deepest and most dominant collections of talent the NHL has seen in recent memory.
They are relentless. Inevitable. Their roster, from top-to-bottom, meticilously crafted and fine-tuned over an entire half-decade in order to blend the speed and size required that reign supreme in the modern game.
Sakic didn't do it by himself, either. In fact, he made sure of that, filling his front office with those whose opinions he not only valued, but actually challenged those his own.
Clearly, it paid off.
The job that that front office has done in the years since tumbling to that cavernous low has made their climb to the top of hockey's highest mountain possible.
It was how Sakic & Co. pounced at the perfect time to pry Nazem Kadri out of Toronto when his value was its lowest, relinquishing a package that now looks like one of the bigger trade steals of the past five years. It was taking advantage of the Islanders' cap troubles to shake them down for Devon Toews for pennies on the dollar. It was opting against the big-ticket Ben Chiarot during this year's trade deadline search for defensive depth and instead paying a comparative bargain for the objectively better-fitting Josh Manson.
It was recognizing the importance of goaltending and opting to bite the bullet when it came to price in order to get Darcy Kuemper, who has given the Avalanche just enough stability to get by. It was hounding Canadiens GM, Kent Hughes, for months on end about Artturi Lehkonen before finally meeting his asking price to land the winger who, in short order, has assimilated into the lineup better than the organization could have ever imagined. It was stepping up to pay Gabriel Landeskog what he was worth on the eve of free agency last summer to keep the team's captain and beating heart in the building for the foreseeable future.
And, of course, it was turning a disgruntled Duchene into Sam Girard, the draft pick that netted Bowen Byram, and prospects Shane Bowers and Jusse Annunen
Good teams benefit from their fair share of luck. Great teams, though, take that luck and wring every single drop out of it. That's precisely what the Colorado Avalanche did. And by putting the right pieces in place, ensuring they were guided by the right voices, and played a system that maximized their collective talent, the Avs took their sliver of luck and rode it all the way to the Stanley Cup.
What a remarkable feat of team building -- one that should serve as the blueprint for budding contenders for years to come.
Live it up, Avs fans. Your team is the best of the best.