For anyone who watched Joe Sakic's retirement press conference on July 9, 2009, they saw the humble superstar fight back tears as he spoke of leaving the game that he'd put so much of his heart and soul into over the years. He was a prime example of the one word that the 40-year-old's career has become synonymous with.
In the 20 years that he spent in the NHL, Sakic earned a reputation for not only being an amazing offensive talent, but he was also equally recognized as a player that brought a seemingly endless amount of integrity and sportsmanship everytime he hit the ice.
Overlooking the points, records, and trophies, Sakic was above a player who always put his teammates before himself with an unselfishness that has become a rarity in the league today.
It's become a sad reality that many big-name athletes have concocted this delusion that they are entitled to all the money and fame that comes their way, forgetting that even that though they are immensely talented in their field—it's still a privilege.
This is something that Sakic understood better than most and never took for granted in a career that spanned over two decades. So when Sakic announced that he would be hanging up his skates for good last week, it signified, pardon the cliche, the end of an era and also brought to surface an important question.
Who will carry on the torch?
A question that is put forth not only in a skill sense but more importantly in a sense of who will be able to match that skill with an unfathomed devotion and respect towards hockey.
Looking at the NHL as a whole, there is without question no shortage of star-power and talent but the potential for another Sakic, Mario Lemieux, or Steve Yzerman looks shockingly grim.
Is that why Pavel Datsyuk has won the Lady Byng for the last four years in a row?
Not to castigate Datsyuk, he has earned his spot as one of the league's elite players who carries himself like a true gentleman, but even with that, he is still nowhere near procuring a Sakic-like eminence.
As for Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovenchkin, arguably the NHL's two biggest currently active superstars, it'll likely be a mountain to climb if they ever hope to catch up. Four seasons in the NHL and most of the comparisons that people have made between them and their predecessors only involve points.
Not leadership. Not perseverance. Not sportsmanship. Not the will to win.
While Colorado Avalanche fans eagerly anticipate top prospect Matt Duchene's NHL debut in the near future, a player who has been often been billed as the next Sakic—there will still undoubtedly be a feeling of great emptiness as No. 19 is raised to the rafters never to be worn again.
Sakic's retirement is one of doleful pessimism as it marks a shift in priorities as the honour and pride that come with winning a Stanley Cup take a backseat to hunt for multi-million dollar contracts. A shift that has been in the making for years but upon Sakic's departure will be complete.