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Joe Sakic one constant in Colorado lineup that has been turned upside down

He hopes his Colorado Avalanche emerge from radical roster remodelling to once again be a force in the NHL, he hopes he can play long enough to be on Canada's team at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and there isn't a hockey fan in Canada who wouldn't wish him well.

At the age of 37, the Burnaby, B.C.-born centre has been the heart and soul of the Avalanche forever. He was given the 'C' in 1992 when they were the Quebec Nordiques, and today he's the longest-tenured captain in the NHL.

"To play this long and to wear the C . . . it's an honour, obviously, to represent your organization," he said after practice Wednesday. "To be a captain this long, I'm fortunate to have stayed healthy and still be playing.

"We're still going strong and, hopefully, there'll be a couple more years."

He has Olympic gold from 2002 and Stanley Cup rings from 1996 and 2001.

The 2006-2007 season, in one big way, is like starting over. Turnover has been dramatic. Rob Blake, Alex Tanguay, Dan Hinote and Steve Konowalchuk are all gone from last year's team, and only Sakic and Milan Hejduk are holdovers from the '01 championship squad.

"It's different faces but the goals and the way we play are the same," says Sakic. "That's not going to change in this organization.

"We expect a lot of ourselves. We've got a younger team but those guys are all playing tremendous right now. Hopefully, we can keep building and just get better as the year goes on. We're looking for a strong year again."

Rebuilding might be demoralizing for some veterans, but it seems to rejuvenate Sakic.

"We've got good camaraderie," he says. "It's fun to come to the rink."

Maybe being around much younger players keeps him young. The father of Avs rookie centre Paul Stastny, Peter Stastny, was Sakic's teammate with the Nordiques.

"He reminds me a lot of Peter the way he plays the game," Sakic says of the young Stastny, who was born in Quebec. "He's built like his dad and he's just as smart.

"He's always in the right spot. He's going to have a tremendous career."

The only thing that bugs Sakic is that he doesn't get to play every NHL team anymore. The unbalanced schedule brought him in for his first game in Toronto since March 20, 2004, and it'll be another three years before Colorado is scheduled back into Air Canada Centre.

"It'd be nice to play everybody in the east once," he said. "I do like the fact you play a lot of games within your division.

"That builds up rivalries. But it'd be a lot nicer if we saw everybody at least once."

Oh, and you just know he'd love one more Winter Games experience.

"I'm not thinking that far ahead," he insists. "I'm enjoying myself and having fun and, hopefully, I'll keep going."

Meanwhile, another 20 goals and he'll be on the precipice of 600. Only 16 men having reached the milestone.

He has more points - 1,493 before facing the Leafs - than any other active player. He'll move past Paul Coffey and into 10th spot by the end of the season.



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