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DREW0711We kind of knew it was coming, but the retirement of Number 19 still comes as a bit of a shock.  Joe Sakic averaged more than a point per game through his entire 20-year NHL career, even in the last season where he only managed 15 games due to constant back pain.  With each goal (8 overtime playoff goals, folks) Burnaby Joe truly did make everyone around him better, and when it came time to hoist his second Stanley Cup as team captain, he demurred and passed the trophy on to Ray Borque, who had joined the Avs for the playoff run after failing for nearly two decades in Boston’s race for the cup.

These are the things that define a Franchise player.  And in twenty years, though he’s graced two cities with his presence and leadership, Sakic has only played for a single NHL team.

How often will a cradle-to-grave career with a single team happen in the modern, cap-driven NHL?

Detroit actually has three such franchise players, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Lidstrom — none of whom have played for any other NHL team.  And as they’ve already experienced, it’s a very big challenge to keep your high-priced toys and build out a balanced team.  Lidstrom will, very likely, retire as a Red Wing.  This will make it doubly difficult to retain Zetterberg and Datsyuk in the long-term as more of a burden will rest on them for leadership — and if the team declines they’ll likely head off in search of more rings elsewhere..

Eventually Iginla will hang up his Flames’ jersey, and Modano will fall behind the pace of play in Dallas.  It’s likely that Pittsburgh will ultimately have to choose among Crosby, Malkin, and Staal.  Which of the three will go the distance with a 20-year career on the Penguins?

With salaries for superstars nudging the $10 Million mark, and the Salary Cap remaining reasonably constant at around $55M (with GMs trying to exert downward pressure) it will be VERY difficult to retain talented superstars in their senior, so-called paycheck years, while continuing to develop new talent and surrounding them with a passable squad so that they can put bums in seats and take a stab at the cup one in a while.  There may even be some kind of inverse probability that high-paid stars will get a shot at winning a cup because of this.

Sadly — as Sakic, Iginla, Lidstrom, and Modano make their way to the exits — we may just have seen the last of the career franchise player.  Perhaps teams should start selling player jerseys to fans with velcro nameplates on the back.