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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

Building a champion - the Nordiques-Avalanche recipe

The Quebec Nordiques joined the NHL in 1979 as one of the four former WHA teams to join the NHL. The franchise relocated to Colorado for the 1995 season, becoming the Avalanche, and winning the Stanley Cup in their first season in their new home. In their 16 NHL seasons in Quebec, the franchise won only two division titles (1986 and 1995) and six playoff series. Their final eight seasons were marked by consistent futility, finishing last in their division six times. What this resulted in was plenty of early draft picks, 12 first round picks between 1987 and 1994, including three straight first overall picks (1989 to 1991).


What became of all these picks? Let’s take a look:


1987: Bryan Fogarty (9th) and Joe Sakic (15th). Both players are featured in this post - one’s potential was squandered due to addiction, the other became the face of the franchise.


1988: Curtis Leschyshyn (3rd) and Daniel Dore (5th). Leschyshyn played nine seasons with the Nords/Avs, winning a Stanley Cup in 1996. He was eventually traded to Washington for a package of draft picks, including a first rounder used to select tough guy Scott Parker. Dore played only 17 games with Nordiques over two seasons and was out of pro hockey by 1994.


1989: Mats Sundin (1st). The big centre played four seasons with the Nords before he was traded to Toronto for Wendel Clark. Sundin became the Leafs captain and a Hall of Famer. Clark played only 37 games with the Nords, and was traded to the New York Islanders after one season in a three-player trade that landed Colorado Claude Lemieux.


1990: Owen Nolan (1st). Nolan played six seasons with Quebec/Colorado, and was traded to San Jose for defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh early in his first season with the Avalanche.


1991: Eric Lindros (1st). Lindros famously snubbed the Nordiques, refusing to play for the franchise. He was eventually traded to Philadelphia for a massive package of players.


1992: Todd Warriner (4th). Immediately after his drafting Warriner was sent to Toronto as part of the Sundin/Clark trade. He played 453 games over nine NHL seasons.


1993: Jocelyn Thibault (10th) and Adam Deadmarsh (14th). Thibault played parts of three seasons with the Nords/Avs before he was traded to Montreal in 1996 as part of the Patrick Roy and Mike Keane trade. Deadmarsh played seven seasons with the franchise, winning a Stanley Cup in 1996. In 2001 he was traded to Los Angeles for defenceman Rob Blake. Deadmarsh retired three seasons after the trade due to concussions.


1994: Wade Belak (12th) and Jeff Kealty (22nd). Enforcer Belak played 35 games over three seasons with the franchise before a trade to Calgary in February 1999 as part of the Theo Fleury deal. He went on to become a cult player for the Maple Leafs and died by suicide in 2011. The pick used to select Kealty was acquired in the Sundin/Clark trade, with Kealty never playing in the NHL. In 2000 he became a scout with Nashville, where he is currently the director of scouting and assistant general manager.


The Nordiques/Avalanche franchise had some major misses in terms of picks (Fogarty, Dore and Kealty), but in general turned this bevy of high draft picks into core players (Sakic, Leschyshyn, Deadmarsh) of their dominant late 1990s/early 2000s franchise. Perhaps more impressive was trading some of these players for key cogs (Thibault for Roy & Keane, Sundin/Warriner for Clark for Lemieux, Nolan for Ozolinsh, Deadmarsh for Blake).


We also can’t forget the Lindros trade, which brought Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg, as well as future Cup winners Chris Simon and Mike Ricci. Additionally, Ron Hextall was traded to the Islanders for the draft pick used to select Adam Deadmarsh, and Steve Duchesne was traded for a package that included Ron Sutter, who was flipped to the Islanders for Uwe Krupp, the man who scored the Cup winning goal in 1996. Finally, Mike Ricci was traded in 1997 to San Jose for a first round pick which was used to draft Alex Tanguay, a key player in Avs 2001 Cup win.


Card 333 - Joe Sakic
















A centre, Sakic was selected 15th overall by Quebec in the 1987 draft. The season of his drafting his WHL team, the Swift Current Broncos, were involved in a tragic bus crash that took the lives of four of Sakic’s teammates. The season following the draft, Sakic returned to the Broncos, scoring 78 goals and 160 points while winning WHL and CHL player of the year.


Sakic joined the Nords for the 1988-89 season, scoring 23 goals and 62 points, finishing eighth in Calder Trophy voting. He was named team captain for the 1990-91 season, and in the five years following his rookie season he recorded two 48 goal and three 100+ point seasons. Known for his sportsmanlike-play, Sakic was a Byng trophy finalist in 1991 and 1992, finishing top six in voting five seasons in a row.


In 1995-96 the Nordiques relocated to Colorado and became the Avalanche. In their first season in Denver Sakic scored 51 goals and a career-high 120 points while finishing sixth in Hart Trophy voting. During the franchise’s time in Quebec the Nordiques were plagued by poor playoff performances, having not won a playoff round during Sakic’s time with the team. In Colorado, the team won their first Stanley Cup in 1996, with Sakic leading the playoffs with 18 goals and 34 points, including six game winners, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.


Following the Cup triumph of 1996, Sakic’s four following seasons (1996-97 to 1999-2000) saw a relative drop as Sakic played less than 70 games in three of four seasons, still averaging over a point per game. In 2000-01 he returned in a big way, scoring 54 goals and 114 points, leading the NHL with 12 game winning goals and a +45 rating. Sakic was named a first-team all-star, won the Lady Byng, Hart and Pearson, and finished second in Selke Trophy voting. The season was capped off with Avalanche’s second Stanley Cup victory, with Sakic leading the playoff with 13 goals and 25 points.


In the five following seasons Sakic showed remarkable durability for a player of his age, playing in 81 or more games in four seasons. Returning from the 2006-07 lockout, Sakic scored 36 goals and 100 points, finishing third in Byng voting. During this span he was time named a first team all-star and was a runner up for the Byng in 2002.


Over the final two seasons of Sakic’s career (2007-2009), he played in only 59 games, scoring 52 points. In 20 NHL seasons, he played 1378 games, scoring 625 goals (16th all-time), 1016 assists (13th) and 1641 points (9th). Surprisingly Sakic never won the Art Ross, but he did finish top five in league scoring six times and played in 12 all-star games. One of the most clutch scorers of all-time, Sakic holds the record for most career overtime goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs with eight. Not surprisingly, he is the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise leader in goals, assists and points.


In 2011 he joined the front office of the Avalanche as a senior advisor and alternate governor. In 2013 he was promoted to executive vice-president of hockey operations and the following year was promoted to general manager, a title he holds as of this day.


YouTube clip: video from being named one of the NHL's top 100 players, including plenty of goals scored with his legendary wrist shot.


Card 334 - Petri Skriko

















The Finnish right winger was drafted 157th overall by Vancouver in the 1981 draft. Having played pro hockey since the age of 17 in his home country, Skriko came to the NHL in 1984-85 at the age of 22, scoring 21 goals and 35 points in his rookie season.


In his sophomore season he scored a career-high 38 goals and 78 points, scoring 30+ goals the next three seasons while scoring no less than 64 points each season. The definition of a streaky scorer, Skriko scored four hat tricks during the 1986-87 season to lead the league. He scored three of these hat tricks in a span of five games in November 1986, scoring 12 goals in total during his streak.


In January 1991 he was traded to Boston for a second round pick that would be used to select Michael Peca. After making the playoffs only twice in seven seasons with the Canucks, Skriko and the Bruins went to the Prince of Wales Conference Finals in 1991, with the right winger scoring four goals and eight points.


Less than a year after landing in Boston, Skriko was traded to Winnipeg early in the 1991-92 season. He played only 24 games in the NHL that season between the two franchises, leaving the NHL to represent Finland at the 1992 Olympics. He played the final 17 games of his NHL career with San Jose in 1992-93, finishing the season back in Finland.


From 1993-94 to 1998-99 Skriko played for Herning IK in Denmark, winning four league titles and twice being named player of the year. In 9 NHL seasons, Skriko played in 541 games, scoring 183 goals and 405 points.


From 1999 to 2006 he coached in Denmark and Finland, before working for a decade as a European scout with Washington and Calgary. From 2017 to 2019 he returned to coaching with his former team in Denmark, and since 2020 Skriko has been a scout for Florida.


YouTube clip: highlights from his four goal game versus the New York Rangers in November 1986.


Card 336 - Scott Pearson


















A left winger, Pearson was selected sixth overall by Toronto in 1988. Following the draft he played a fourth and final season in the OHL, also appearing in eight games with the Leafs in the 1988-89 season, recording one assist.


Pearson turned pro for the 1989-90 season, playing 41 games with Toronto (scoring 15 points) and St. Catharines of the AHL. Early the following season he was traded to Quebec with two draft picks for Aaron Broten, Lucien DeBlois and Michel Petit. Pearson played three injury plagued seasons with the Nords, with his most notable season coming in 1992-93 when he played 41 games, scoring 13 goals and 14 points.


June 1993 saw Pearson moved to Edmonton for Martin Gelinas and a draft pick. His first season with the Oilers was the best of his career, scoring 19 goals and 37 points in 75 games, while also recording 165 penalty minutes (all career-highs). Pearson would be on the move again soon, going to Buffalo for Ken Sutton during the 1994-95 season. Over two seasons he played 41 games with the Sabres, spending significant time in the AHL.


1996-97 saw Pearson return to Toronto, playing in only one game with the Leafs due to injury. From 1997 to 2000 he played with Chicago in the IHL, winning two Turner Cups. Pearson had two final NHL games with the New York Islanders in the 1999-2000 season, before capping his pro career with one season in Germany.


In 10 NHL seasons, Pearson played in 292 games, scoring 56 goals and 98 points. He made a brief pro comeback in 2006-07, suiting up with Gwinnet of the ECHL for one playoff game. Now a resident of the Atlanta-area, Pearson has worked in the healthcare industry since his retirement.


YouTube clip: fighting the Blackhawks’ Steve Smith. Please note the awesome mullet that Pearson is rocking.


Card 337 - Bryan Fogarty


















A defenceman, Fogarty was drafted ninth overall by Quebec in the 1987 draft. Following the draft he played two additional seasons in the OHL, where during the 1988-89 season he scored 47 goals and 155 points in 60 games, setting the record for most assists and points by a defenceman in a single season. Fogarty won the OHL scoring title and was named CHL defenceman of the year and player of the year.


He turned pro in the 1989-90 season, playing 45 games with the Nords and scoring four goals and 14 points. Fogarty recorded a -47 rating, worst in the NHL. In his second season Fogarty recorded nine goals and 33 points, which would turn out to be career-highs. In 1992-93 he played only 20 games with the Nordiques, spending the rest of the season in the IHL/AHL, including after a trade to Pittsburgh in March 1992 for Scott Young.


Fogarty played 12 games for the Penguins in 1992-93 before joining Montreal for the 1993-94 season. Over the next two seasons he played 34 games for the Habs, the final games of his NHL career. Fogarty was far from done with pro hockey, playing for 12 different teams between 1995 and 2001: Minnesota (IHL), Detroit (IHL), HC Davos (Switzerland), HC Milano 24 (Italy), Kansas City (IHL), Hannover (Germany), Indianapolis (IHL), Baton Rouge (ECHL), St. John’s (AHL), Knoxville (UHL) and Elmira (UHL). During this time Fogarty signed NHL contracts with Buffalo, Chicago and Toronto.


In 6 NHL seasons Fogarty played in 156 games, scoring 22 goals and 74 points. Throughout his playing career Fogarty struggled with substance abuse, and towards the end of his career found himself in legal trouble as a result. He worked his way to sobriety, and took over his family food business, but sadly died in 2002 at age 32 of an enlarged heart.


YouTube clip: two minutes of Fogarty's NHL highlights.


Card 338 - Don Sweeney



















A defenceman, Sweeney was drafted 166th overall by Boston in 1984. He was drafted out of US high school, and went on to play four seasons of college hockey with Harvard before turning pro in 1988-89. That first pro season was split between Maine in the AHL and Boston, playing in 36 games with the Bruins, scoring three goals and eight points. The following season Sweeney played in his first Stanley Cup Finals, contributing a goal and six points in 21 games.


Not a flashy offensive contributor, Sweeney scored a career-high eight goals in 1990-91 and 34 points in 1992-93. During the 1999 playoffs he scored three goals in 11 games after scoring only two goals in 81 regular season games. In total Sweeney played 15 seasons with the Bruins, appearing in 70+ games in 10 seasons; he was an assistant captain from 1996 to 2003.


In July 2003 he signed as a free agent with Dallas, playing in 63 games for the Stars, recording 11 assists. He retired following that season, having played 16 seasons and 1115 games, scoring 52 goals and 273 points.


Sweeney rejoined the Bruins organization in 2006 as director of player development and was promoted to assistant general manager in 2009. In 2015 he succeeded Peter Chiarelli as general manager, a position he holds to this day. In Sweeney’s time in the front office the Bruins have won a Stanley Cup (2011) and been to two Finals (2013 & 2019). In 2019 Sweeney won the GM of the Year Award.


YouTube clip: scoring the overtime winner in Game 2 of the 19994 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals versus New Jersey, as narrated by Don Cherry’s Rock 'em Sock 'em Hockey. The Bruins had a 2-0 lead in games, but lost the next four to drop the series in six games.


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