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Sakic will have final say in new Avalanche role

by Adam Kimelman

Joe Sakic never shied away from pressure as a player during his Hall of Fame career, and he isn't ducking it now in his new position.

Sakic on Friday was named executive vice president of hockey operations for the Colorado Avalanche as part of a restructuring of the team's front office.

Josh Kroenke, son of owner Stan Kroenke and president of the Denver Nuggets, one of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment's other sports holdings, takes over as Avalanche president. He replaces Pierre Lacroix, who will remain with the team as an adviser. The club also announced Greg Sherman will remain as general manager.

Sakic, however, will have final say on all hockey matters. It's a change in responsibilities for him; he spent the previous two years as an executive adviser.

Joe Sakic, who spent all 20 of his NHL seasons with the Avalanche franchise, was named Colorado's executive vice president of hockey operations Friday as part of a restructuring of the team's front office. (Photo: NHLI via Getty Images)

"It was pretty easy -- I didn't have any pressure the last couple years," Sakic said. "But obviously there's pressure coming with this title. I'm ready for it. I really believe together we can achieve this. I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Part of that challenge involves finding a new coach who can help guide the team to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season. Joe Sacco was fired after the Avalanche finished 15th in the Western Conference this season.

Sakic said his goal is to have someone in place prior to the 2013 NHL Draft, which will be held June 30.

"The big thing right now, the most important thing, is we have to find a coach," Sakic said. "A coach that we feel can take this young group to the next level."

Sakic wouldn't discuss any potential candidates for the job, but did mention some attributes he thought whoever gets the job needs to have.

"We want a very passionate coach," he said. "We need that winning attitude in the dressing room. I believe we have some good, quality young players -- some great players -- but they're still young, that are learning, and we want to have a coach here who's going to lead them."

The Avalanche's young core of players is one of the things Sakic said drew him to the job. Among that group is captain Gabriel Landeskog, 20; centers Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene, 22; and goalie Semyon Varlamov, 25. The team owns the first pick of this year's draft.

"We still have good, quality players there that obviously are going through some growing pains now but we really believe in them," Sakic said. "I was a player that went through that kind of situation as well. We were a young team, you think you're there and you have a setback, and that's what happened this year. You have those bumps. But one thing our group has to learn is to be more consistent and not to let the lows get too low."

Kroenke said he considered a more full-scale rebuilding of the front office, but instead opted to keep Sherman and bring in Sakic.

Sherman was hired as GM in 2009, and after picking Duchene and O'Reilly in the 2009 NHL Draft, built a team that made a surprising run to eighth place in the Western Conference and a playoff spot in 2010. However, the team has yet to return to the postseason, and this season finished 29th in the League standings.

"I think that all options were considered," Kroenke said. "Whether we like it or not we finished near the bottom of the League this year. I had to evaluate everything. After seeing the guys this year, I know that we have some young talent. I considered all options and I kept coming back to the fact that some of these guys have really passionate feelings about the young guys that we have acquired. I think they deserve the right to see this through. I don't think we're near as far off as people like to believe. I'm very excited about the future of this team."

Sherman said he was looking forward to working with Sakic and Kroenke.

"I am excited for what lies ahead for our hockey club," he said. "The fact that both Josh and Joe have taken on larger roles speaks to their belief about what this franchise is capable of achieving."

Sakic said though he will have the final say in hockey operations, he expected to receive a lot of input from Sherman and the rest of the staff.

"I have a great working relationship with Greg," Sakic said. "We think alike on this. We want to move in the right direction. We have some great hockey people in our organization that care about this team and want the same thing. Together as a group we're all going to have a say and ideas and do what we feel is right for the organization. When it comes down on a hockey decision, hopefully we'll all agree, but I will be making the final decision. But Greg and I have a great working relationship and that's going to continue."

Sakic spent all 20 of his NHL seasons with the Avalanche franchise, starting with the club when it was the Quebec Nordiques, and captaining it to a pair of Stanley Cups in Colorado. He's the eighth-leading scorer in League history with 1,641 points, was a captain for 17 seasons, and was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012. Now he's ready to have that kind of success in a new role.

"I like our players," Sakic said. "I had a great meeting with Josh last week and both of us talking, we want the same thing: We want to win a championship. My role the last couple years has been to run the business side, but I really enjoyed this side of the game. I wanted to have more of a say and a bigger part of the organization. He brought it up to me and after talking to Josh, I know we're getting a commitment from Josh and Stan. That's really the only reason I'm here. I know the commitment is there. We want to try and win a championship on this side."


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