Breaking news: Joe Sakic is the new Colorado Avalanche Director of Hockey Operations, and Chris MacFarland is your new general manager.
This is something I and a few others have been speculating about, and today it became official. The good news, of course, is that Joe Sakic isn’t going anywhere. He will still be making some pretty big decisions regarding the team I would imagine.
But the grind of being an NHL GM can take a toll. No doubt, Sakic would like perhaps a little less hectic travel schedule, while MacFarland can do all the grinding work it takes. And, I know he’ll be ready for it.
Press conference at 1 p.m. today with these two, at Ball Arena. More later…
From the team release:
Sakic was the 2021-22 recipient of the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award, the first executive in club history to receive the honor. Under Sakic’s direction, the Avalanche had their most successful regular season in franchise history (56-19-7, 119 points) and continued that into the postseason with a 16-4 playoff mark en route to capturing the 2022 Stanley Cup. Sakic, who captained the Avalanche to a pair of titles in 1996 and 2001, became the first individual in league history to win a Stanley Cup as a captain and GM with the same organization. Colorado’s 72 combined wins this past season matched the NHL record set by the 1976-77 Canadiens, 1983-84 Oilers and 1995-96 Red Wings.
Colorado’s Stanley Cup championship came five years after a last-place finish in 2016-17. The Avs became the fifth team in the expansion era (1967-68) to win a title within five years of a last place finish and the first since the 2009 Penguins. Colorado won the Presidents’ Trophy the previous year in 2020-21, becoming the first NHL team to go from worst to first overall in four seasons or less since the Bruins in 1970-71.
The 2021-22 campaign marked Sakic’s ninth season as Executive Vice President, his 11th year overall in the organization’s front office. He took over his current responsibilities on May 10, 2013. Prior to assuming that role, Sakic, 53, spent two years as the club’s Executive Advisor/Alternate Governor, a position he was hired for on March 25, 2011.
Sakic announced his retirement from the game of hockey on July 9, 2009, following a career that spanned 20 seasons and 1,378 games with the same organization. He wore the ‘C’ as team captain for 16 consecutive seasons (17 seasons overall), making him the second-longest serving captain in NHL history. The Burnaby, B.C., native captured the franchise’s first Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2001, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1996, earned the Lester B. Pearson Award (NHLPA MVP) and Lady Byng Trophy (sportsmanship) in 2001 and was named to the NHL’s First All-Star Team on three occasions (2001, 2002 and 2004).
Sakic was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012, his first year of eligibility. The only player who spent his entire career with the Avalanche organization to achieve that honor, Sakic was officially inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 12, 2012. He was named one of “The 100 Greatest NHL Players” honoring 100 years of NHL hockey in 2017. Selected by the Quebec Nordiques in the first round (15th overall) of the 1987 Entry Draft, Sakic’s No. 19 jersey was retired by the Avalanche during a pre-game ceremony on Oct. 1, 2009.
MacFarland, 52, just completed his seventh season as the Avalanche’s Assistant GM. Hired on May 21, 2015, MacFarland has worked closely with Sakic regarding all hockey-related matters during his time in Colorado and was a pivotal part of the turnaround from finishing last in the league in 2016-17 to capturing the Presidents’ Trophy in 2020-21 and winning the Stanley Cup in 2022.
Prior to joining the Avalanche, MacFarland was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ hockey operations department for 16 years. He worked in nearly every facet of the organization including scouting at the professional and amateur level, player contract negotiations, salary cap management and arbitration, collective bargaining agreement administration, budgeting and team scheduling issues. He also oversaw the hockey operations efforts of the Blue Jackets’ minor-league affiliates.
MacFarland joined Columbus prior to the 1999-00 NHL campaign and served as the club’s manager of hockey operations from 2001-07 before being promoted to assistant to the general manager in July 2007. He moved to the position of assistant general manager a year later in July 2008. Born on March 28, 1970 in the Bronx, New York, he played college hockey at Pace University where he received a bachelor’s degree in business in 1992 and later graduated from the university’s law school in 1998. He began his career on the business side of the sport as an intern in the NHL’s New York office from 1993-94 and worked in the NHL Productions office while attending law school.
Heading into the 2021-22 campaign, Sakic, MacFarland and company locked up captain Gabriel Landeskog to an eight-year contract, while also signing defenseman Cale Makar to a six-year deal.
Landeskog, the second overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, captained the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup during his 10th season with the ‘C’ on his sweater. Makar, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, won the 2021-22 Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman and took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
The Avalanche acquired Darcy Kuemper in a trade on July 28, 2021, and signed free agent Darren Helm the following day. The club strengthened the team further as the trade deadline approached, adding Josh Manson on March 14 and Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Cogliano on March 21.
Mikko Rantanen, a first round pick (10th overall in 2015) who the Avalanche signed to a six-year deal in 2019, led the club in scoring this past season after being named to the NHL Second All-Star Team the year before. Nathan MacKinnon, the first overall draft choice in 2013 and the first player selected by Sakic as GM, was a finalist for the Hart Trophy three times from 2017-18 to 2020-21.
Makar (2020), MacKinnon (2014) and Landeskog (2012) have all won the Calder Trophy since Sakic joined the front office. No team has had as many rookie-of-the-year winners during that span.
Over the past several years, Sakic and his staff have brought in Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky via trade while signing Valeri Nichushkin. Kadri was selected to his first NHL All-Star Game this past year, while Nichushkin and Burakovsky have been key contributors to the club’s success.
The Avalanche have also improved their blue line. Samuel Girard was acquired as part of a three-team trade in November 2017, a deal that also yielded the fourth overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, defenseman Bowen Byram. During the 2020 offseason, the club acquired Devon Toews and signed him to a four-year deal. Last fall, the Avs brought in Jack Johnson on a professional tryout prior to the start of the season and he went on to play 74 regular season and 13 playoff contests.
The Avalanche organization was tabbed as having the NHL’s best farm system by The Hockey News in their 2020 Future Watch issue. Colorado boasted the NHL’s No. 1 prospect, Byram and the No. 13 prospect, fellow 2019 first rounder Alex Newhook (16th overall).
Head coach Jared Bednar, hired by Sakic in August 2016, is the winningest regular-season coach in Colorado history (240-168-46, .579) and the first Avalanche bench boss to lead his teams to five consecutive playoff berths. After guiding Colorado to the 2022 Stanley Cup, Bednar became the first individual to win a championship in the NHL, AHL and ECHL as a head coach. Bednar, a finalist for the Jack Adams Award in 2018, owns the third-highest postseason winning percentage (.635, 40-22-1) in Stanley Cup Playoff history.