I spoke with Colorado Avalanche right wing Milan Hejduk today about his decision to sign a one-year contract extension that will take him through the 2010-11 season.
Hejduk, 33, is about to embark on his 11th NHL season, all with the Avalanche, and is one of two remaining links to the team's 2001 Stanley Cup championship team, the other being defenseman and new captain Adam Foote.
"The team has changed big time since then," said Hejduk, who is coming off a 27-goal, 59-point campaign. He led the Avalanche in goals and tied Ryan Smyth, who was traded to Los Angeles over the summer, for the team lead in points.
Hejduk wasn't certain during last season if he wanted to play beyond this year, but he still feels he can play at a high level and believes the Avalanche is on the right track with its rebuilding program after last season's last-place finish in the Western Conference.
"I decided to go one more year and we started negotiating," said Hejduk, who will make $3.9 million this season and $3 million in 2010-11. His deal includes a no-movement clause.
"I wanted to get it done before the start of the year so I wouldn't have to deal with it during the year," he said. "With February and March and the (league trading) deadline coming, there's always tons of rumors and I didn't want to have to go through that. Definitely me and my family, we don't want to go anywhere else. I didn't want to do that five or six years ago and I don't want to do it now."
Eleven of the 23 players who will begin the season with the Avalanche are 25 or younger. The roster includes two 18-year-olds, first-round draft pick Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly, the first of the team's two second-round picks.
"We've got some really good looking kids," Hejduk said. "It looks like we've got some really good young players in the organization, more depth than I saw at last year's camp."
One familiar name is missing.
The roster doesn't include longtime captain Joe Sakic, who retired in July. As of today, his corner locker remained empty as a tribute to the future Hockey Hall of Famer. His No. 19 jersey will be retired during ceremonies before the Avalanche meets San Jose on Thursday in the season opener at the Pepsi Center.
"Joe was the face of the franchise for such a long time," Hejduk said. "We'll be a younger team. Obviously everyone will miss Joe -- the fans, us -- in the locker room and off the ice. But what can you do? If it's time, it's time. We all have to retire at some point.
"It is a different feeling. The main guy, the key guy, is gone. But after a while, you'll get used to it. It'll be pretty exciting when Joe is honored. He's definitely earned it."