The Avs' best move would be to lose Sakic and Blake
Posted: Friday October 21, 2005 2:06PM; Updated: Thursday October 27, 2005 9:50AM
Colorado GM Pierre Lacroix didn't need to watch his team blow a three-goal lead at home, for the second time in less than a week no less, to realize a window was closing.
The team he has constructed -- or more accurately, the team he has left after being squeezed by the newly imposed salary cap restrictions -- is simply not good enough to win in its current form. With sub-par goaltending and a patchwork defense bleeding points away, the Avs face an uphill struggle just to grab a playoff berth.
It was time for a dramatic move. So early on Wednesday, he informed veterans Joe Sakic and Rob Blake that the club would not exercise its option to keep the future Hall of Famers under contract for 2006-07. With both men set to earn close to $7 million each next season, they'll now become unrestricted free agents on July 1.
The purpose behind Lacroix's calculated gamble? Open up $700,000 in immediate cap space that will allow him to buttress his battered blueline this year and, hopefully, re-sign both vets before next season to deals better reflective of the new restrictions.
Of course, the risk involved has die-hard Avs fans in a panic. What if these guys get a better offer and sign elsewhere?
Well, what if?
Seems to me the best thing that could happen to the Avs would be to see them both seek out new home at a lower altitude.
The thought of Sakic skating for the Canucks or Blake returning to the Kings might seem like heresy to the faithful, but as an option, it sure beats the inexorable slide toward mediocrity that their continued presence all but guarantees.
At first glance, Sakic seems like a solid bet to re-up with Denver. He's been with the organization since being selected 15th overall in 1987 and has said he'd like to finish his career with Colorado.
Hopeful fans will look to the hated Red Wings and their captain Steve Yzerman, who has toiled for 22 seasons wearing only the winged wheel, as inspiration. They'll point out that Yzerman signed at a discounted rate this season, giving the team the advantage of his experience and the freedom to offer more lucrative deals to younger players.
But remember that the 40-year-old Yzerman's literally at the end of the line. Forget being on his last leg -- he's wobbling on a stump. Plus, he looked around and saw a Wings team that had a chance to contend this season before agreeing to his deal.
Can Sakic make the same assessment of the Avs in 2006-07 and beyond?
At 36, he's in fine fettle and likely is looking for a long-term deal to take him to the end of his career. He's also an extremely driven and competitive athlete. Committing to a team in transition probably is not the way he wants to play out the string.
Despite the emotional train wreck of losing Sakic (a feeling Avs fans could share with the Boston faithful, still recovering from the departure of Ray Bourque), his absence would not devastate the team.
Going into Friday's action, the Avs ranked sixth overall offensively, averaging 3.83 goals per game -- and that's without a single goal yet from next-gen stars Milan Hejduk, who could return this weekend having recovered from knee surgery, and Alex Tanguay, who has contributed just seven assists in six contests this season. Both will eventually make an impact that would ease the loss of the captain.
The team also has a core of impressive offensive prospects in left wings Wojtek Wolski and Tom Fritsche, center Ryan Stoa and right wing Marek Svatos who will be ready to carry the mail when the team hits its next cycle.
The Avs will make the adjustment quickly to life without Sakic. It might take their fans a while longer.
In just his fifth season with Colorado, Blake is less of an emotional flashpoint. An accomplished defender with his Hall of Fame pass all but stamped, he'd be the No. 1 rearguard on nearly every team in the NHL. But at 36, he simply can't be considered the right man for this particular job much longer.
His struggles this season are a primary reason for the team's early woes. An aggressive-minded defender, Blake's game is based around taking risks that result in an offensive chance or a big hit. With his former safety net, Adam Foote, now patrolling the Columbus blueline, and unable to find that easy chemistry with new partner Karlis Skrastins, Blake's sortees are creating more of a challenge for goaltender David Aebischer than opposing players.
An appropriate partner might be acquired with that freed-up cap money, but that's a short-term solution. Considering what he's likely to ask -- and the impact that would have on Lacroix's ability to rebuild the team's tattered blueline -- Blake is precisely the wrong kind of player for the Avs to depend upon going forward.
Still, his is a sexy name -- time to fire up the hot stove, Toronto fans! -- and his services should be in high demand even in a crowded market for UFA defensemen. Several teams, including the Habs, Rangers and even the Bruins (if they choose not to resign Brian Leetch) could woo Blake to the Eastern Conference.
His loss would ensure short-term pain -- there's no defensive help coming from the prospect pipeline -- but his departure would allow the team to create an entirely different identity for the blueline. Based on what we've seen so far, that's a step they can't make soon enough.
Rebuilding after the loss of both Sakic and Blake will be a tremendous challenge for Lacroix, a man who has made his name as a master of spring trade deadline sleight of hand, but who has failed to pull a significant summer free agent rabbit out of his hat. But if the Avs lose both players, this week's move will have freed up more than $13 million for 2006-07, about one-third of the total cap. That'll buy a lot of younger, faster rabbits for next winter and, more importantly, winters beyond.