SAN JOSE, CALIF. - Joe Sakic emerged from behind a curtain, a line of demarcation between him, his Colorado Avalanche staff and any nosy media people, after the second period of Saturday's "Rookie Showcase" tournament game between the Avs and San Jose Sharks at the host's normal practice rink.
He looked tanned and fit and his demeanor was relaxed and, for him, kind of chatty. Make no mistake about it, though: There is another line of demarcation in which Sakic is determined to hold firm. The all-business, serious-as-a-heart-attack manner in which he addressed the situations of two top players, both of whom may or may not be on hand when veterans are due to report on Thursday, made it clear Sakic isn't about to be bullied into something he doesn't want at the bargaining table by opposing general managers and either Matt Duchene or Nikita Zadorov.
The 2,000-pound elephant in the room in all things Avs these days is the ongoing drama involving Duchene, who has yet to skate with any teammates this summer in Denver and whose agent, Pat Brisson, has been noncommittal about whether his client will report to training camp if he isn't traded first.
"He's under contract and I expect him to be here on the 14th," Sakic told BSN Denver. "He doesn't have to be here 'til the 14th. Not everybody always come to camp early. It's not for me to (say), but I assume on the 14th, he'll be here."
And, what if he doesn't?
"Well, I don't have to worry about that right now," Sakic said. "Training camp is Thursday. There's nothing to think about right now. Training camp isn't until the 14th and we expect everyone that's signed to be there, like every other year."
Duchene, who hasn't commented publicly since an NHL function in Toronto earlier this summer, gave every indication he wanted a change of scenery, telling NHL.com, "Divorced is a strong word so I wouldn't say that, but I think I've made it so that [any team association] is not part of my identity My identity will be with a team come training camp. I don't know what team that is yet, but my identity right now needs to be strong in myself and belief in myself."
Sakic remained coy about whether he's actively shopping Duchene. He may not be the one doing all the calling around the league, but he certainly has been and remains in listening mode. Sakic won't say it out loud, but any trade involving Duchene will have to be to terms of his liking. That means, getting as much quality youth as he can on defense, the team's biggest weak spot.
"We're going in a direction. We're building this thing up, and whatever we can do to help our building process, we're going to do," Sakic said.
As to the situation surrounding the young defenseman Zadorov, Sakic said the team has made what he feels is a more than fair offer, based on his age, production to this point in his career and what comparable players around the league have already signed for. Sources say Zadorov wants $2.5 million per year on his next deal, but the Avs aren't going much past the $2 million mark.
It might not seem like a big difference in a big-money era, but here we are, into Sept. 10 and still no agreement between one of the Avs' more promising young D-men and a team that needs as much of that as it can get.
"We're confident with where we are in negotiations," Sakic said. "At some point, he's going to have to decide what he's going to do. My only hope is that he will be here on Thursday."
Sakic did leave open the door that further talks with Zadorov's agent, Roland Hedges, can and will continue, saying, "I'm sure we'll talk again." But, time is running out for an orderly start to what would figure to be a key season in Zadorov's development.
Sakic knows some of his critics have been in a full-throated roar over the protracted situations with Duchene and Zadorov, but as was made clear Saturday, he's not going to just cave in to any pressure. If anything, his demeanor suggested, "I'm in charge, I got this", not some fifth-year GM coming off three consecutive non-playoff seasons and worried about the peanut gallery.
"You learn more in this job every day," he said. "We knew we had to get younger, and we had to just get through last year to start the youth process. We feel that a lot of them are ready now and we're going to give them every opportunity to show it. We all know it's a winning business, but what we really want to see is the development of our youth and see our team compete, to play fast and see that level of consistency, of growing together and making sure fans are excited with what's coming."