Great leaders have come and gone in the game of hockey.
Some are immortalized forever on hockey's biggest stage: the Stanley Cup Finals.
That could be said for the all-time greatest leaders, including Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, and others.
With the game's most exciting and emerging superstar in Sidney Crosby eyeing his first prize in only his third NHL season, we must remember those other great leaders who led their teams to greatness and immortalized themselves in hockey history.
This first segment will focus on the Colorado Avalanche's Joe Sakic.
Joe Sakic (Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche 1988-89 - Present)
"Burnaby Joe" has carried himself with humility, dignity, and a sense of leadership that is second to none in the game of hockey. Sakic is also on a very short list of players in the modern NHL to have played their entire NHL career within the same franchise. Because of this, Sakic has become the face of the franchise as well as a great ambassador for the Colorado Avalanche on and off the ice.
Growing up in British Columbia, Sakic's parents were Croatian immigrants. Sakic did not learn how to speak English until kindergarten, as his mother had taught him the native Crotian tongue to be his first language. A small and feisty forward, Sakic took the mold of one of the games greats, looking up to Wayne Gretzky's style of play as he fell in love with the game of hockey.
Sakic's career started very early when he was lighting goalies up in the British Columbia Amateur Hockey Association in the mid 1980s with the Burnaby BC Selects. In 1985-86, Sakic scored 83 goals and 73 assists in 80 games. Those stats caught the eyes of many in the junior level where he was added to the Lethbridge Broncos for the remaining 3 games of their season in the WHL.
Sakic would amass 296 points in 136 games with the Swift Current Broncos before becoming the 15th overall pick by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft in Detroit. He made his NHL debut on October 6, 1988 and got his first assist that game. Two days later, Sakic netted his first NHL goal against Sean Burke of the New Jersey Devils.
During his first season in Quebec, Sakic wore the #88 because of teammate Alain Cote wore Sakic's familiar #19. In his second season, Sakic was able to change his number back to #19. Sakic's first few seasons in Quebec were productive as it took him only two seasons to top the 100 points plateau, which he hit in 1989-90. However, Sakic's productivity couldn't help the struggling Nordiques to raise from their position of seller-dwellers in the Adams Division.
In 1990-91, Sakic and teammate Steve Finn were named co-captains of the Nordiques. Sakic would wear the C for home games, while Finn would wear the C for road games. His leadership shone through very strongly during the Eric Lindros fiasco in Quebec when he commented that the Nordiques only wanted "players here who have a passion to play the game."
At the start of the 1992-93 season, the Nordiques situation had improved due to the Lindros trade that brought in many skilled players. Sakic also became the sole captain of the Nordiques at the start of the season. That year, the Nordiques would clinch a playoff spot but would be bounced by the Montreal Canadiens in 6 games.
Sakic's first playoff experience left a bitter taste in his mouth. His next playoff experience would come in the 1995 playoffs, where once again the Nordiques were bounced in the first round by the New York Rangers in six quick games. It would be the final games for the Quebec Nordiques.
When the franchise moved to Colorado, much of the team stayed the same. With the improvement in goaltending when Patrick Roy was traded to Colorado from Montreal, the Avalanche seemed to have a strong contending team. During the Avalanche's first year in Denver, they captured the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship. During their run, the Avalanche would defeat Trevor Linden's Canucks Steve Yzerman's Red Wings to clinch the Stanley Cup.
Sakic's leadership showed through their run to the Cup as he amassed 18 goals and 16 assists in 22 playoff games. For Sakic's effots, he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP.
Since their first run to the Cup, Sakic immortalized himself as one of the games premier leaders. His signature hard wrist shot gives goaltenders all around the NHL nightmares.
Once again, Joe Sakic's leadership showed when the Avalanche captured a second Stanley Cup title in 2000-01, as Sakic passed the Cup off to Ray Bourque to hoist the Cup for the champion Avalanche.
Sakic's leadership has also been seen on the world stage. During Canada's run to gold in Salt Lake City in 2002, Joe Sakic was an instrumental part in the Canadian offensive juggernaut led by other great leaders Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman. Sakic would net 4 goals and 3 assists in 6 tournament games and capture Tournament MVP honours and an All-Star team selection en rout to winning the gold medal for Canada. Despite wearing only an "A" on his jersey, Sakic came through for his team in the end.
Sakic has also been a model of consistency in the modern NHL. Despite the lock-out seasons of 1994-95 and 2004-05 and this last season where injuries limited Sakic to only 44 games, he has produced eight 20+ goal seasons, four 30+ goal seasons, three 40+ goals seasons, and two 50+ goal seasons in 1995-96 and 2000-01.
Sakic has eclipsed the 100 point plateau six times in his career, with a career high 120 points in 1995-96. He recorded his 1000th career point December 27, 1999 against the St. Louis Blues and then became only the eleventh player to reach the 1500 career point plateau on October 25, 2006 and the sixth to do so with one franchise.
Sakic notched his 1000th career assist this last season on March 22, 2008 against the Edmonton Oilers. He also reached the 500 goal plateau on December 11, 2002 against the Vancouver Canucks. In addition, Sakic played his 1000th career game on March 9, 2002 against the Los Angeles Kings.
Truly, these numbers speak volumes about one of the games greatest ambassadors and leaders in Joe Sakic.
Joe Sakic Career Stats: 1363 GP, 623 Goals, 1006 Assists, 1629 Points
Joe Sakic Playoff Stats: 172 GP, 84 Goals, 104 Assists, 188 Points
8th All-Time Points (1629)
11th All-Time Assists (1006)
14th All-Time Goals (623)
1st All-Time Playoff Overtime Goals (8)
T-7th All-Time Playoff Points (188) w/ Doug Gilmour
7th All-Time Playoff Goals (84)
Awards & Accomplishments:
Amassed 22 Points (6 Goals, 16 Assists) in 12 All-Star Game Apperances
Amassed 41 Points (22 Goals, 19 Assists) in 48 Senior International Games from Olympics to World Championships
Conn Smythe Trophy - 1996
2002 Winter Olympic Tournament MVP & Tournament All-Star Team
Hart Memorial Trophy Winner - 2001
Lester B. Pearson Award Winner - 2001
NHL All-Star Game MVP - 2004
NHL First-Team All-Star - 2001, 2002, 2004
Lady Byng Trophy Winner - 2001
Bud Light Plus/Minus Award (shared with Patrick Elias) - 2001
NHL/Sheraton Road Performer Award (most road points) - 2004
NHL Foundation Player Award - 2007
M.A.C. Award (Most Assists with Children) - 1998
WHL Player of the Year - 1988
WHL Bob Clarke Trophy (Leading Scorer) - 1988
WHL East First All-Star Team - 1988
WHL East Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year) - 1987
WHL East Player of the Year - 1987
WHL East Second All-Star Team - 1987
CHL Player of the Year - 1988
National Hockey League (1996). 1997 NHL Yearbook. Toront: Worldsport Properties, 232.