Avalanche team captain Joe Sakic hoists the Stanley Cup as he rides with Ray Bourque and their families in Monday's parade in downtown Denver for the 2001 Stanley Cup Champions. Mark Reis photo

Joe Sakic, playoffs god, won his first Stanley Cup at age 26.

Nathan MacKinnon is 26.

You can see where this is going, and it’s time we go there. Does a 25-year gap make for a fair comparison? Not really. Different eras, supporting casts, all that. But after two decades away the Avs are back in the Stanley Cup final, and two of the central figures opening a series against the Tampa Bay Lightning Game 1 Wednesday are Joe, the general manager and Avalanche legend, and Nate, who’s working on his own.

It’s time.

Stanley Cup Final: How Avalanche match up with Lightning — talent versus experience

The title of undisputed greatest hockey player in Avs history belongs to Sakic. No doubt, period, put your beer down. But is it a conspiracy theory to say MacKinnon eventually will one-up the big boss? Not at all, not with the mounting evidence. Plus, it’s good to ask questions.

It must start here: Sakic won two Stanley Cups, 1996 and 2001. MacKinnon has plans on how he would spend his time with the Cup — a parade in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he played juniors.

“But I’ve got to win it first,” MacKinnon said prior to the playoffs, not getting ahead of himself.

Both Sakic, who played in 172 playoff games for the Avs and Nordiques, and MacKinnon, 64 playoff games to this point, were and are playoff monsters. The playoffs bring together the best players and best teams, and still each was usually better than everyone else. Sakic’s 34-point masterpiece (over 22 games) in ‘96 remains the gold standard for a playoff run in Denver sports. And you know what’s weird? Sakic had a point in 13 of 14 games to start his crazy run in ’96. This postseason MacKinnon has a point in 13 of 14 games to start his in 2022.

This many coincidences feels like a hockey “Stranger Things” if you ask me.

The path to the Cup: How the Avalanche reached the Stanley Cup Final for first time since 2001

MacKinnon won’t reach Sakic’s mark of 34 points because the Avs have been too overwhelming and needed only 14 games (12-2) to reach the final. MacKinnon’s at 18 points. Only Makar (22) has more Avalanche points.

Lots of reasons make this an unfair comparison but still fun to talk about “First Take” style.

Sakic averaged 1.09 points per playoff game. That’s no joke. That’s top-20 all-time. But what if I told you only two players (with more than 50 playoff points) averaged more points per game than MacKinnon (1.36) — and their names are Gretzky and Lemieux? And only three reached 80 points faster than MacKinnon’s 59 games — Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Jari Kurri.

That’s no joke either. That’s top 3 all-time.

This postseason MacKinnon passed the great Milan Hejduk for third in playoff points among Avs players. He trails Peter Forsberg (153) and Sakic (177), and both marks are on the table. For the math junkies, at his current pace, MacKinnon would pass Sakic in 66 more playoff games. So he must play for a while and continue escaping the second round of the playoffs for a while. Not out of the question. He’s played 64 playoff games so far. As a reference point, MacKinnon is younger than Nikola Jokic, the NBA MVP who shares Ball Arena. I know, that threw me off, too.

MacKinnon’s in his ninth season, while Sakic played 20 for the Nordiques and Avalanche.

Nathan MacKinnon's evolution as a leader has Avalanche playing for the Stanley Cup: 'He's willing to do whatever it takes'

This postseason has been one short, actually, MacKinnon highlight reel. He has recharged memories of Sakic even in defeat, a hat trick against the Blues, and set up a winning playoff run with three points in Game 1 of Round 1. His primary competition for Conn Smythe honors — if the Avs beat the Lightning — would be Makar. But the tone-setter is mainly MacKinnon. In Game 1 against the Predators, MacKinnon scored a goal only 2 minutes, 20 seconds, into the game. In Game 1 against the Blues, he scored only 5:25 into the game. In Game 1 against the Oilers, it took him forever. MacKinnon scored 15:10 into the game, still in the first period. There will be no hesitancy from No. 29 in his first Stanley Cup final, either.

Good timing, too. His contract expires after the 2022-23 season. Sakic bet the franchise on MacKinnon with the No. 1 pick in 2013, and soon enough he will bet on MacKinnon again.

MacKinnon at the moment is the best bargain or most underpaid athlete in sports, whichever way you want to look at it. Ninety-three NHL players this season made more than MacKinnon’s $6.3 million. Sakic made $6 million in his final playing contract with the Avs — another stranger thing.

Yes, there's a long way to go for MacKinnon to reach Sakic levels of Avalanche history. But it’s not out of the question. He’s “got to win it first,” as he put it — at least twice. It’s time.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

Sign Up for Pikes Peak 5

Game analysis and insights from The Gazette sports staff including columns by Woody Paige and Paul Klee.

Success! Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Load comments