Has the last of the Nordiques, the last of the great Captains, decided to hang up his skates?
If so, thank you for the memories, Joe Sakic. You were one of a kind.

Legendary center Joseph Steven Sakic (“Joe Sakic”) will hold a press conference Thursday, July 9, 2009. Reports around the league are that Sakic, two days removed from his 40th birthday, may be announcing his retirement from the National Hockey league. If so, this would end an incredible twenty year career, all spent with the team that drafted him, the Quebec Nordiques (now Colorado Avalanche).

In the beginning
Born to Croatian immigrants in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, Joe Sakic grew up speaking his parent’s mother-tongue. As many immigrants trying to make a new life, Sakic, like his parents, had a strong work ethic. Growing up small, Sakic used superior skill on the ice rather than size to make his mark, much like his idol, Wayne Gretzky.

Drafted fifteenth overall in 1987 by the Quebec Nordiques, the 5’11”, 195 lb centerman from Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, began his first season with the Swift Current Broncos (Western Hockey League) rather than in the National Hockey League. In October 6, 1988, Sakic made his NHL debut against the Hartford Whalers in which he recorded an assist. His first goal came on October 8 as he put the puck past Sean Burke of the New Jersey Devils. Those were just the first of many for “Burnaby Joe”, who became captain of the Nordiques in 1992 and remained captain after the team’s move to Colorado in 1995 for the rest of his career.

Hall of Fame totals
Sakic’s career totals are staggering: 1378 career games, 625 goals, 1,016 assists for a total of 1,641 points, a career +30 rating, and 614 PIM. Of his 625 regular season tallies, 205 were on the power play, 32 were shorthanded, and 86 were game winners. Those numbers place him 8th on the NHL’s all-time scoring list.

In the Stanley Cup playoffs, Sakic appeared in 172 games scoring 84 goals and assisting on 104 others, for a total of 188 post-season points, a -2 rating, and 78 PIM. Joe Sakic scored 27 power play goals and 4 shorthanded goals in the post season, with 19 of his 84 career post season lamp-lighters being game winners.

Joe Sakic, whose wrist shot is one of the best that has ever been seen in the NHL and who’s stick handling ability is unprecedented, holds nearly all Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche scoring records, including most all time goals, assists, and points. He also holds the franchise record for the most games played in a Nordiques/Avalanche sweater.

NHL Hardware
The list of awards that have had the name Joe Sakic inscribed on them is impressive: the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001; the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1996, the Hart Memorial Trophy, Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, and Lester B. Pearson Award in 2001. He was voted into the NHL All-Star Game 13 times through his career, including the first All-Star team in 2001, 2002, and 2004.

International Play
Representing Canada, Joe Sakic won Gold in the 1988 World Junior Championships, Silver and Gold in the 1996 and 2004 World Cup of Hockey, respectively, Silver and Gold in the 1991 and 1994 World Championships, respectively, and Gold as a member of the 2002 Canada Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey team. In the 2002 Olympics, he was also named to the Olympics Ice Hockey All-Star team and tournament MVP. Sakic could make one final appearance in a Team Canada sweater, as he has received an invitation to Canada’s tryout camp for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, which will be held in Vancouver, not far from Burnaby, B.C.

Injury plagued final season
The Colorado Avalanche prepared to take the ice for the 2008-2009 season without their captain. However, in August, Joe Sakic signed a one-year, $6 million contract. This season, his 20th in the NHL, was cut short due to injuries. Burnaby Joe’s final season totals were 2 goals and 10 assists for a total of 12 points in 15 games.

On October 23, 2008, Joe Sakic scored career goal 625 on an assist from Darcy Tucker at 3:32 of the third period in front of the home crowd in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche beat the visiting Edmonton Oilers 4-1 that night. Little did all of us know that this would be the last goal of the season, and ultimately of his career, for “Joe Clutch”.

Sakic herniated a disk in his back while in the weight room and would miss a month. He returned to the ice on November 28, 2008, skating one shift in a 2-1 loss to the home team Phoenix Coyotes.

Taking time off due to his injury, Sakic was out until early December 2008, when the unthinkable happened. In an attempt to clear snow from a mechanical snow blower, Sakic nearly lost three fingers. Those fingers ended up broken, and the rest of the 2008-2009 season was ultimately lost.

“This is what you’ve done your whole life. Since I was six years old I’ve played hockey,” Joe Sakic said to reporters at the end of the regular season. “I think when you get to that point, you have to decide first and foremost if you can do it at the level you want to play at, and secondly if you’re willing to do what it takes off the ice to get that accomplished.”

Hall of Fame Career
If this announcement on Thursday is truly a retirement announcement as has been reported, it is the end of an incredible career – one worthy of a first-ballot entry into the Hall of Fame.

If this is the end, thank you for the memories, Mr. Sakic. You were a true champion, an incredible leader, a revered captain, and a player that far too few claim to be their idol.

If this is the end, so long, “Super Joe”.