What will constitute success to Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic in 2017-18? Enough with the one-liners already as to what that might be.
After a franchise-low 48-point season in 2016-17, Sakic had a wide-ranging conversation with BSN Denver where he talked about what it was like to live through that season - and what his plan is to make sure that kind of thing never happens again on his watch.
Sakic, in his fifth year at the helm of a franchise in which he remains the all-time leading scorer as a player, said he realized early on last season that it would be a painful one. He realized, a year too late probably, that he had too many older players who took up too much cap space, and that a rebuild of sorts needed to happen. He wanted to start the tearing-down process in the midst of the horrible season, but knew it wouldn't be that simple.
"To be honest, we had to get through last year. It's not like we didn't try, but we got through last year, and we believe we had another really good draft. We know those players are going to come shortly, so we like the direction we're taking," Sakic told BSN Denver.
Sakic realizes some might call this spin. He knows there is a segment of the Avs' faithful who might consider this Baghdad Bob-style propaganda. Maybe it will prove more wishful thinking in the final analysis, but Sakic really does seem confident that, finally, he's got a good handle on his job and that prosperity is truly just around the corner. Well, maybe it will still be a pretty wide turn around the corner. He won't come right out and say anything like "If we don't make the playoffs this year, I'll eat my hat!"
But, he believes his organization is better stocked with younger, hungrier players than the ones of the last few, where guys such as 39-year-old Jarome Iginla and 35-year-old Francois Beauchemin were wrongly given too much ice time and cap space. Lesson learned, he says.
"Last year is over. There's nothing you can do about it now. But we feel that our young guys right now are starting to take that next step to be here and play, and I think it's going to be a pretty exciting year for our fans to see these guys grow together," Sakic said.
People who have known Sakic a long time see his more confident self finally showing through in his job as a GM. He won't come right out and admit it, but the fact that he's more in control than in the chaotic months of last summer, when Patrick Roy upped and quit the team in a huff, is to his benefit. Plenty of people wondered how long it would be before an inevitable clash between Sakic's job title and Roy's ego happened, and last year gave us the answer.
Despite continuing criticism on Twitter from fans and media, Sakic hasn't taken any of it personally. He has tried to use the criticism in a constructive manner, just like he did early on as a player when many said he would never win anything because he was too one-sided and not fiery enough. Deep inside, however, there remains a hugely competitive persona who, now that he better knows the lay of the land with his job, can better succeed. That's the aim, anyway.
"You're always learning something new in this job," said Sakic, who turned 48 in July. "But I really believe that we're building something now, and this is the start of the build. I feel good about this year. We all know it's a winning business, but I really feel like (we'll see) the development of our players and that we'll compete."
Sakic knows everyone wants a resolution of some kind with the Matt Duchene situation. Fans, media and probably many Avs players themselves are impatient for something to be decided, one way or the other. Sakic simply will not be rushed into something he isn't comfortable with, however, even though he is acutely aware that a) it will likely be a continual locker-room distraction the longer he stays and b) the team needs help on defense, which only a Duchene trade might salve in the short term.
"That's the one position that's not a quick fix," Sakic said. "You've got to draft and build. We're going to see some young kids this year, and one thing I know for sure: we're going to be faster back there. It's a fast game and you've got to be able to skate. We're still looking to improve that position. But our young guys are starting to push. (Chris) Bigras is going to push, (Andrei) Mironov is going to push. (Anton) Lindholm, we expect him to be one of our guys. (Duncan) Siemens is going to push. We're going to be young on the back end and we're going to be young throughout our lineup, but I think it's going to be a good thing."