DENVER – Fresh off their Stanley Cup victory, the Colorado Avalanche promoted Joe Sakic to president of hockey operations and Chris MacFarland, who has been the Avs’ assistant general manager, to the GM job, the team announced Monday.
The announcement comes after Sakic, who captained the Avalanche to its first two Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001, was named the 2021-22 winner of the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award after leading Colorado to its third Stanley Cup in franchise history this year.
Sakic was named the executive vice president of hockey operations for the Avalanche in 2013 and took over as general manager the next year following his 2009 retirement as a player. He joined the Avalanche front office in 2001 as an executive adviser and alternate governor.
Just as he was one of the NHL’s top players, captaining the Nordiques and Avalanche for 17 total seasons, winning a Hart Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy and being named to the Hockey Hall of Fame, he has been among the most successful front office members in the NHL.
The Avs finished in last place in the league in the 2016-17 as Sakic and MacFarland, who joined the Avalanche as assistant general manager in May 2015 from the Columbus Blue Jackets, worked to rebuild the team.
The team drafted Gabriel Landeskog in 2011 and he became the youngest NHL team captain in NHL history. He won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. The Avalanche drafted Nathan MacKinnon first overall in 2013 in Sakic’s first draft as general manager, who also won the Calder in 2014. The current team’s other assistant captain, Mikko Rantanen, was drafted 10th overall in 2015. The three became the building blocks for the team’s turnaround.
Sakic hired head coach Jared Bednar in August 2016 fresh off his Calder Cup championship with the Lake Erie Monsters but shortly before NHL training camp.
But despite the team finishing last that year with just 48 points, the Avalanche stuck to their charted path and saw a major turnaround the next season – finishing with 95 points and making the playoffs.
Sakic drafted Makar fourth overall in the 2017 draft, who would win the 2020 Calder Trophy in his first year in the league, then the Norris Trophy this year as the league’s top defenseman, as well as the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the playoffs’ most valuable player.
The Avalanche finished with 90 and 92 points, respectively, in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons and lost in the second round of the playoffs each year.
The team traded for defenseman Samuel Girard in 2017, which also brought the pick that led the Avs to draft Bowen Byram in 2019. They brought in Devon Toews in 2020 and have also signed Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin, who were all major contributors to this year’s Cup-winning team.
The team finished with 82 points in the 2020-21 season and won the Presidents’ Trophy but lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Vegas Golden Knights – winning the first two games of the series before losing four straight.
Colorado came into this season the league’s favorites to win the Stanley Cup, but Sakic and MacFarland bolstered the team with veterans along the way. They signed Landeskog and Makar to long-term deals ahead of the season, signed Jack Johnson, and traded for Darcy Kuemper last July and signed defenseman Darren Helm.
Ahead of the trade deadline, they brough on Josh Manson, Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Cogliano as veterans for the push for the Cup.
Sakic and MacFarland have been working ahead of this week’s opening of free agency to resign some of the key pieces. Last week, they traded for the Rangers’ goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, who backed up Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin, likely spelling the end of Kuemper’s time in Colorado.
The franchise’s 72 combined wins this season tied a record set by three teams in NHL history and were the most in a single season since the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings.
At the Avs’ Stanley Cup celebration, Sakic heaped praise upon Avalanche fans for their support over the years.
“You guys are behind us all the way. This cup is for everybody here supporting this team,” Sakic said. “Congratulations to everybody here, every Colorado Avalanche fan!”