July 9, 2009 at 1:47 am

Ted Kulfan: NHL insider

Another Red Wings rival fades away

Joe Sakic, a key figure in the Wings-Avalanche rivalry, is expected to announce his retirement today. (Jack Dempsey/Associated Press)

Another link to the classic Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry is gone.

It was bad enough when Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman, Claude Lemieux (the first time) and Darren McCarty were skating off the scene, retiring, and taking so much emotion with them.

Now we learn Joe Sakic is expected to announce his retirement today.

On the Colorado side, Sakic is basically the last man standing in terms of those bloodbaths. Milan Hejduk came aboard in the late 1990s when the rivalry was beginning to fade. And, really, who hates Milan Hejduk?

The Wings still have Chris Osgood, Kris Draper, Nicklas Lidstrom and Kirk Maltby from those glory days.

But back to Sakic, the man of the moment.

Some Wings fans might still hate the Avalanche, but not many dislike Sakic. Like Yzerman, he's a player the other side can't help but respect.

Most Wings appreciated the quiet way Sakic went about leading the Avalanche. He did most of his talking with his play.

Sakic's numbers rate with the best -- 625 goals (14th in history) and 1,641 points (eighth), two Stanley Cups, Olympics, World Cup and world championship gold medals -- and assure him a ticket into the Hall of Fame in 2012.

"He'll go down as one of the best to ever play the game," Wayne Gretzky said.

Indeed, Sakic will.

Monster sighting

Remember the hoopla last spring/summer over Swedish forward Fabian Brunnstrom ?

The Wings were one of several teams in the bidding to sign Brunnstrom, 24.

Dallas eventually signed Brunnstrom, and the results were mixed, at best. He scored 17 goals (with 12 assists) in 55 games, got sent to the minors for a brief stretch, and wasn't very good defensively.

Overall, the hoopla didn't match the production.

This summer's Brunnstrom?

It's another Swede, goaltender Jonas Gustavsson , who signed this week with Toronto.

"The Monster," as Gustavsson is called, is 6-foot-3, 181 pounds, and rangy. He covers a lot of the net and was considered the best goaltender in Europe last season.

Getting Gustavsson means Vesa Toskala needs to play like he did two seasons ago, and avoid occasional shoddy play he showed last year in Toronto.

Leafs general manager Brian Burke insists otherwise.

"He's not coming in trying to unseat a guy who has been here a long time, has a long-term contract and has had a lot of success," Burke said. "That being said, we were very frank with Jonas that we feel Vesa is going to have a big-time, bounce-back year now that he's healthy.

"Don't think you're going to walk in here and knock this kid out of the net. You're going to have to do something to do that."

Lemieux retires

Talk about an underwhelming comeback.

Lemieux, 44, retired Wednesday from San Jose.

Last season Lemieux worked his way back after a five-year retirement, and played 18 games with the Sharks (one in the playoffs). A fractured jaw cost him valuable playing time.

What's Lemieux's take on San Jose's stunning first-round playoff loss to Anaheim?

"If you look at the last 25-30 games, the coaching staff was looking to put some lines together for the playoffs that had some chemistry, especially the third and fourth lines," Lemieux told the San Jose Mercury News.

"They wanted to get something going for the last stretch, and that was going to be my opportunity on that third or fourth line. But we ran into a large amount of players getting injured -- myself, Mike Grier , Marcel Goc . That ended up costing us."

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Still available

There are some intriguing names left on the free-agency list:

  • Todd Bertuzzi: The Wings wouldn't have minded keeping Bertuzzi two seasons ago. Terrible defensively, though, and takes dumb penalties.
  • Mike Comrie: His girlfriend is Hillary Duff, so every city's hockey writers are hoping he signs with them.
  • Mathieu Dandenault: Ability to play wing, defense could intrigue teams like the Wings.
  • Robert Lang: Playing time still could be an issue.
  • Mike Grier: Hard-working veteran would fit nicely with a contender.
  • Michael Peca: Gritty player who wants to stay in the East.
  • Alex Tanguay: His contract demands don't match his production.
  • Jason Williams: Columbus still seems like a good fit for him.

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