No slap-happy Joe

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

Joe Sakic laughs out loud when somebody suggests it doesn't look like he's lost a step after 18 seasons and 1,262 games in the NHL.

Too modest is the ageless Burnaby Joe, who'll go into the record books - and into the Hockey Hall of Fame one day - as a player known for his great head for the game and a wrist shot second to none.

With 38 candles waiting on the cake in July, the Colorado Avalanche captain remains one of the NHL's elite players - even on a team void of the depth it's had in past seasons.

With 24 points this season and 1,513 in the books when the puck dropped against the Edmonton Oilers last night, Sakic still has enough game to show the kids a thing or two. A step slower or not.

"I'm sure I'm not what I was in my late 20s," laughs Sakic, who trails only Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky in career points with a single franchise.

"The big thing is that you can stay healthy. Everybody seems to be playing a lot longer now than when I started. Now, with all the off-ice stuff, players are doing more to keep themselves in shape."

Drafted 15th overall by the Quebec Nordiques in 1987 during the waning days of the wooden stick era, Sakic's resume speaks for itself.

He hoisted the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 1996 and 2001. He was the NHL's MVP in 2001 and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner for the Avs' first Cup win. He's won the Lester Pearson, the Lady Byng and Olympic gold.

All the silverware aside, the NHL's longest-serving active captain and that sneaky wrist shot of his are closing in on former Oiler Paul Coffey for 10th place in all-time career scoring.

"I try, but it doesn't do too much," smiles Sakic, asked why he never slaps the puck.

"I try to avoid that. It's embarrassing. I won't hit the net. I learned early it's not worth it. I'll never do the hardest shot competition, that's for sure."

Sakic has sniped 30 or more goals eight times and twice topped 50 in a season on the way to 583 goals, and a lot of befuddled opponents swear they've never seen him take a slapper.

"He can really get it off quick," said Oilers defenceman Steve Staios. "I wouldn't say he's lost a step at all.

"If you're not close to him, he's going to get a good shot on net. If you're close to him, there's other seams he opens up. He's a smart player. He's nifty down low. Have I seen him slap the puck? Hmm."

Sakic, who leads active players with 82 playoff goals and 178 post-season points, has always had a knack for getting to the right place at the right time, then uncorking that hummer of a wrister.

It's tough to guess how many points Sakic might have if he played most of his career under the rules implemented the past two seasons to open up the game.

One thing's for sure: they've probably added a year or two to his career.

"It's still a game and it's fun," Sakic replies when asked why he's still lacing his skates with no plans to hang them up. "It's the competition. I love playing hockey.

"It's what I've done ever since I was a kid, and I haven't lost that love for it. It's a great game. There's nothing like it. There's some mornings, for sure, you wake up and say, 'Oh no, practice.'

"But it's what we do. As long as you can stay healthy and you feel you can keep contributing, you keep playing."


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