No player has been the face of the Colorado Avalanche during the 12 years the franchise has been in Denver more than their captain Joe Sakic.
As the key member of their two Stanley Cup championships in 1996 and 2001, the 38-year-old Sakic has always been known to be the opposite of injury prone and would have to be seriously hurt to miss a game. However, according to Rocky Mountain News writer Aaron J. Lopez, Sakic had injured his right groin during Colorado's 4-2 victory over Edmonton on November 28th and has not played since he was in the lineup for his team's 5-2 win in Los Angeles on December 1st.
Some players may be able to play through the pain, but the injury was serious enough for Sakic that he was placed on injured reserve two days later. He had played in 232 straight games dating back to January 6, 2004 before he was sidelined. While the Avalanche have been a playoff contending team this season and especially strong on home ice where they were 15-3 entering yesterday's game against the Kings, hockey observers will see how Sakic's teammates will respond knowing he's out for a significant period of time. The last time he missed a chunk of any season due to injury was during the 2002-2003 campaign when he sat out 24 games due foot and ankle ailments.
In a team press release from Thursday, the Avalanche announced that Sakic will be out of the lineup for the next 8 to 12 weeks and had undergone hernia surgery. The coaching and medical staffs hoped that this wouldn't have resorted to Sakic missing more than the 13 games lost since he last played, but team physician Andy Parker said the captain was not responding well to treatment.
"Joe's rehabilitation has not progressed as anticipated and upon further evaluation the decision has been made to perform surgery in order for him to fully recover," Parker said.
So when will Sakic return? It is most likely not until March as Lopez had given a broad timeframe of either early in the month if the captain's rehabilitation goes well or if it takes the full 12 weeks, the end of that month. Either way, that's a good portion of the second half of this season.
This brings me back to what I had stated a few moments ago. How well will Colorado play in his absence for the next three months? They were 8-5 since Sakic was put on the shelf. One positive about what faces the Avalanche is the presence of another leader in the locker room in former Oilers captain Ryan Smyth. His free agent signing over the summer looks even more significant now than it did when he arrived in Denver. But Smyth knows that regardless, making up for what Sakic continues to bring to the team will be a very difficult task.
"It's a huge loss. He's an inspiration, on and off the ice," Smyth told Denver Post Avalanche beat writer Adrian Dater after Thursday's 4-2 loss to Detroit at the Pepsi Center. "We're just going to have to do the best we can without him, but you don't replace a Joe Sakic."
Dater also mentioned in his article on Friday an interesting scenario that faces the Avalanche from a personnel standpoint. However he was told by Colorado general manager Francois Giguere that he won't be quick to make any knee-jerk trades now that Sakic's out.
"This could give us a chance to some of our younger players to make an impact," Giguere said. "(About a trade), I'll say what I always say: We're always trying to make our team better, in any way."
In other words, Giguere will just see how the team fares as they enter the second half of the season and if there is a situation that presents itself where a trade makes sense, he'll look into making a deal with the right trading partner.
Dater has brought up a very important point on what lies ahead where he says that Sakic is only under contract for this season for $6.75 million. Since the captain is expected to miss more than 10 straight games or 24 straight days, under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams can apply for salary cap relief. Any of the 30 National Hockey League teams are allowed to exceed the cap by up to the amount of the injured player's salary with as many replacement players as it wants. Will Giguere take advantage of that opportunity remains to be seen, but if the Avalanche aren't in a position in the Western Conference standings he feels comfortable with at the time the team qualifies for the extended salary cap room, speculation of any moves will surface.