They Won as N.H.L. Players. They’re Winning in Their Second Acts, Too.
Sometimes the best player on a team remains the backbone of the franchise even after retirement.
This is the case of two men who have won championships as players and now find themselves in contention for the Stanley Cup with the same organizations in off-ice roles.
For Colorado, who opened both the regular season and the playoffs as title favorites, that mainstay is general manager Joe Sakic. During his Hall of Fame career, all with the Quebec Avalanche and Nordiques franchise, he led Colorado to the Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001 when he was also the MVP of the regular season. He is the career point guard for overtime goals in the playoffs.
For Carolina, who won a ruthlessly competitive Central Division, their foundation is coach Rod Brind’Amour. As a player, Brind’Amour propelled the Hurricanes to the final in 2002 and a championship in 2006 as captain. Brind’Amour is one of only three players to win two Selke Trophies as the league’s top defensive forward and to score more than 1,000 career points.
Not all former players succeed behind the bench or at the front office, but both Sakic and Brind’Amour have reversed their organization in their second acts. Both teams are in the second round: The Avalanche swept the St. Louis Blues to become the first team to advance this year and play in Vegas, and the Hurricanes beat Nashville in six games to set up a series against the defending champion Lightning. Carolina lost 2-1 to Tampa Bay on Tuesday to fall behind, two games to zero, in the series. Colorado will look to take the 2-0 advantage over Vegas on Wednesday.
“They didn’t take any game for granted,” said Luc Robitaille, a Hall of Fame member who has played against the two and is president of one of his former teams, the Los Angeles Kings. “I think that would probably be the easiest way to describe them as players, and then they integrate that into their post-player careers – well, that means they still don’t take any days for granted. “
The Avalanche won the President’s Trophy this year as the best team in the league, but Sakic’s tenure didn’t start strong.
His first three seasons as general manager ended without a playoff appearance. In the third, 2016-17, the Avalanche scored a paltry 48 points, 21 less than any other team that season and the lowest total since the shootout was introduced.
The team then went through a protracted drama with Matt Duchene, one of their star attackers, and Sakic drew criticism over time without resolution. Colorado came out on top in a three-team contract that landed them a top defensive prospect and a draft pick which he used to select another.
Colorado has now made the playoffs in each of the past four seasons and crafted their first Cup in 20 years.
“I think that patient approach to building when the time is right has really helped us,” said Jared Bednar, Colorado coach since the 2016-17 season. “It helped us get past the top during the last years. I mean, every year we add guys who made an impact for us. “
In Carolina, the team went to the conference finals in Brind’Amour’s last full season as captain, 2008-9, and only returned to the playoffs in 2018-19, his first season as a coach. -chief. This is the Hurricanes’ third consecutive appearance.
Aside from the franchise’s first playoff appearance after moving from Hartford, Connecticut, in a first-round loss to Boston in 1999, Brind’Amour has been either a leading player or head coach of each. Carolina history playoff game.
While the Hurricanes have become known for the exuberance of their post-game “storm surge” celebrations, Brind’Amour’s intensity has defined the team, said Jeff Daniels, a staff assistant at Brind’Amour who played with him and trained him.
“He sets the tone every day, and he did it as a player, the way he presented himself and worked both on and off the ice, and now you see that as a coach, ”Daniels said.
Sakic and Brind’Amour aren’t alone in this year’s playoffs. Cam Neely, the Hall of Fame forward who has spent most of his career with Boston, is the president of the Bruins, who will face the Islanders in the second round of this year’s playoffs.
Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman is on his second major venture after the game. He enjoyed immense success with the Tampa Bay Lightning for eight years as general manager, but handed the reins to Julien BriseBois before the group Yzerman helped form won the Cup last year. In April 2019, Yzerman returned as general manager to Detroit, where he captained the Red Wings for 19 seasons.
But not all forays into coaching and management are going well for star players. Many of the most successful coaches were marginal pros or career minor leagues, and many executives who had their names engraved on the Stanley Cup dreamed only of hoisting it into their physical heyday.
Even Sakic idol, quadruple champion and career leading scorer Wayne Gretzky, has been unable to guide the Phoenix Coyotes to a better place than 12th in the Western Conference in four seasons as a ‘coach.
Hall of Fame Bryan Trottier also struggled as a coach. He had won six Stanley Cups with the Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins as a player and added a seventh as an assistant coach with Colorado in 2001. But his stint as head coach in the 2002 season -3 only lasted 54 games, mired in negative sentiment. of not one but two franchises. Islanders fans bristled at one of their former stars taking a job with rival Rangers, while Rangers fans were dismayed at his conservative system.
“Being the best player doesn’t mean you have the inherent abilities to be successful when you’re not playing,” said Neil Glasberg, an agent who represents coaches like Mike Sullivan of Pittsburgh and former goaltender Patrick Roy, now. coach and manager. .
Robitaille said many players are retiring and believe their new pursuits in the sport will be a continuation of their playing careers. Instead, he suggested that it was essential to transport yourself to a time when status was not yet a consideration.
“If you have all this success as a player and become a coach, you have to be prepared to go back to your childhood, when you were ready to make all the sacrifices to improve yourself,” said Robitaille. “When you start to get into management, it won’t be like the peak of your career when you score 50 goals or score .300. You have to go back to what made you great.
Brind’Amour’s contract will expire after the season, but he’s been more concerned with keeping his coaching and equipment teams intact than his own negotiations. Like Sakic in Colorado, Brind’Amour has become inseparable from his franchise and his city.
“It’s my home, so it’s more special to me than just a job, sure,” said Brind’Amour.
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