Avalanche Roundtable: Are the Avalanche better off without Patrick Roy?

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Patrick Roy resigned from his posts with the Avalanche. Instant reaction?

Andi: There may have been some surprised shouty-caps used when I first heard the news.  Coaches come and go, but it’s not usually 40 days before training camp is set to start.  August is supposed to be boring!

But I guess that's Patrick Roy's MO.  Stuff simmers behind the scenes, then all of a sudden, the decision is made and he's gone.  It's the Montreal trade and his retirement all over again.

Overall, I liked a lot of what Roy brought to the team, especially his enthusiasm, willingness to try new things, and the way he inspired the players.  Unfortunately, the club didn't make much progress during his three-year tenure, which is unacceptable with the core entering their win-now years.  Much of that blame was on the questionable defense, but there's no denying Roy's systems and personnel use played a part.

For the team to move forward, he either needed to find a way to fix the possession-related issues, or he needed to leave.  I'm sad he didn't decide to give it one more try, but if he wasn't 100% committed to moving forward with this group, then this is the best outcome for everyone involved.

Cheryl: After a moment or two of shock, I wasn’t really surprised. He doesn’t take losing well, and two years of losing had to frustrate him (regardless of how much he was responsible for that). He also had a clear vision for the team with which Sakic’s decisions didn’t seem to be aligning (for example, wanting to get bigger on the blueline and Barrie getting the contract he did). I was a bit taken aback by how he did it, though. And when. It’s pretty unprofessional and callous to announce it via your own press release and to do so this close to training camp.

Luke: My reaction was similar to Cheryl’s. Once I got over the initial shock, I wasn’t overly surprised. Despite Sakic reiterating that he values Roy’s input on personnel decisions, it’s clear that the weight Roy’s voice carries in these matters has diminished, particularly since Assistant General Manager Chris MacFarland was hired last May. Evidently, this doesn’t jive well with Roy, who was Owner, General Manager, Head Coach, and VP of Hockey Operations for the Quebec Remparts, and is accustomed to having a certain amount of influence within the front office.

From the sounds of it, Roy was firmly entrenched in “win-now mode” and was interested in pursuing big ticket UFAs this summer, whereas Sakic was focused on extending Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie, and giving Colorado’s young core time to blossom. Roy also hates to lose, and if he wasn’t able to come up with a solution to the defensive zone issues that have plagued the Avalanche for the past three seasons, then I can understand why he would be inclined to walk away on his own terms.

The timing here obviously isn’t great, but the more I think about it, the less I’m concerned. NHL teams fire coaches mid-season every year, and many of those teams still manage to have success on the ice. Look no further than Mike Sullivan and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sure, having the opportunity to pursue a proven candidate like Bruce Boudreau or Mike Yeo would have been ideal, but there are plenty of terrific coaches out there we’ve had minimal exposure to.

For example, the Philadelphia Flyers had a considerable amount of success last season with North Dakota alumnus Dave Hakstol at the helm. Similarly, coaches like Jon Cooper and the aforementioned Mike Sullivan cut their teeth in the AHL for brief periods of time before being thrust into NHL roles where they found immediate success. While NHL experience is undeniably helpful, if you’re able to design and implement an effective system, select and deploy the best players available to you, and communicate effectively, you’re going to have success no matter what your specific background is.

J.D.: Initially, I was stunned, then sad, then angry, and continued moving through all the stages of grief. I will always be grateful for his role as a player and for coming into a tough situation as a coach and helping breathe some life into an organization I had almost given up on. My second reaction went along the lines of "I sure don’t want to play poker with either Joe Sakic or Patrick Roy" because the resignation seemed to catch everyone off guard.

My final reaction was more of a question. Erik Johnson actually took the difficult interview today on 950. Where were the players who wear the letters? I think it would have been good for the team captain to address the coaching change, or at least an assistant captain. My hat’s off to Erik Johnson for stepping up.

Evan: Shock.  And most of that was due to the timing.  I never expected Roy to get fired by Joe Sakic, and I always expected it to end with him stepping down, but not in the middle of August.  The timing is awful for the team.  Most of the top head coaching candidates get locked up by the draft, and I’m not sure teams are going to be eager to let the Avs interview their coaches this close to the season starting.

Roy’s first year was magical, but the two years that followed were frustrating, to say the least.  If nothing else, he brought excitement and energy back to a fanbase that desperately needed it after the Joe Sacco era.  His accessibility and transparency with the media and the fans was a breath of fresh air, and I hope the new coach is able to continue with that.  As for his work behind the bench, it seemed that other coaches had figured out how to attack against Roy’s teams and the systems he was using.  I don’t think he ever had an

As for his work behind the bench, it seemed that other coaches had figured out how to attack against Roy’s teams and the systems he was using.  I don’t think he ever had an All-Star roster at his disposal, but I also don’t believe this is a team that should have been outshot most nights at the frequency that they were.  A change isn’t going to be the worst thing in the world, but the timing of it is less than ideal.

Joe Sakic stated they would like to hire someone young who is a good communicator. Who do you feel fits that criteria?

Cheryl: I have no idea. I could see the Avalanche going for Steve Konowalchuk. Lol. Kidding. Sort of. Please don’t do this, Joe.

Andi:  I’ve seen a number of names thrown around: Dallas Eakins (former Oilers coach), Sheldon Keefe (current Marlies coach), Nolan Pratt and Tim Army (current Avs assistant coaches), or George Gwozdecky (former DU coach).  It’s also worth mentioning that old friend Bob Hartley is available.

However, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was someone else entirely - an assistant coach Sakic poaches, an AHL bench boss out of the blue, or a NCAA/Juniors up-and-comer… who knows.  I’m torn between wanting someone young with progressive ideas and a vet who knows how to push the buttons to get the current team winning.  There’s really no way of knowing where Sakic is going to jump.

Too bad this announcement didn’t come when Boudreau and Yeo were still available.

Luke: I hate to sound like a broken record here, but Sheldon Keefe is a name that immediately comes to mind. Keefe has worked closely with Kyle Dubas for a number of years, first with the Soo Greyhounds, and now with the Toronto Marlies, so it’s not a stretch to think he’d mesh well with MacFarland.

I’ve also heard good things about recent hire Nolan Pratt, but I don’t really know all that much about him. If Colorado receives permission to talk to other teams’ assistant coaches, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take a run at Todd Richards, whom MacFarland is familiar with from his time in Columbus. As I mentioned earlier, I won’t be at all surprised if the hire ends up being someone I’ve had zero exposure to, and speculating about it is mostly useless. It sure is fun, though.

J.D.: I was glad to hear Sakic state they were going to look outside of their organization. I have no idea specifically who they have in mind, but I’m all for poaching an assistant coach from Tampa Bay or the Blackhawks, or even the Penguins. And under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should they even consider Marc Crawford. I will never forget his complete thuggery with regards to the Steve Moore incident and his total lack of accountability.

Evan: If they’re looking at young coaches, the first two that come to mind are Travis Green and Sheldon Keefe.  Keefe is much younger, and would actually be younger than a few of the players on the roster, but he’s got pedigree and has had success at every coaching level.  Green was rumored to have been considered for the Anaheim coaching job a few months back, and is another guy who has had success at every level.  Now it’s up to the Avs to get permission from Vancouver and Toronto to actually talk to these guys.

Ultimately, is this the best outcome for the Avalanche in the long run?

Andi: Depends on who they hire of course - the coaching selections remaining in mid-August are not always the best - but I’m going to go with a tentative yes.

As I mentioned above, the team stalled out under Roy.  In the end, I think he got tired of losing and felt the only way to reverse course was to revise the core.  When he found he didn't have the control to do that, he left.  To me, this hints very strongly at the idea that he didn't know how to fix what was wrong systematically, so his departure opens the way for someone who might.

Cheryl: I think so. I was never convinced Roy was the right guy for the team. I was happy with some of what he did with the Avalanche, but his inability to utilize personnel well and his stubborn resistance to the lessons he could learn from advanced stats made me question how effective he would continue to be. I think the team needs someone who recognizes the value of possession beyond “We need to shoot the puck more.”

Luke: This is fodder for an entire article on its own, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Roy’s main (and really, only) strength as a coach was his ability to connect with his players and get the most out of them, and by the end of his time in Colorado, he wasn’t even able to do that. His player selection was suspect, his deployment even more so, and the systems he chose to implement were ineffective and outdated.

When he needed to hire a new defensive assistant coach, he locked in on Dave Farrish, a product of the Carlyle era of ineptitude in Toronto. He regularly poo-pooed the use of analytics in the media, as though evidence-based decision-making was somehow beneath him. Unless Colorado is able to pry Michel Therrien from Marc Bergevin’s tightly clenched fists, it’s hard to imagine how his replacement could be worse, from a hockey standpoint.

J.D.: Only time will tell if this is the right move for the organization. A lot depends on who they hire. If the new coach brings in a fresh approach - a more effective defensive strategy, better offensive system (shoot the puck!), and can help the core rise to their perceived potential, then the team will benefit. If he really wasn’t enjoying himself anymore, he would not have been able to help the team.

I like the changes made in the offseason and while some media are complaining they didn’t make any big changes, allowing the young guys a chance to earn their spot on the team instead of signing some aging vets IS a big change. Also, adding Nolan Pratt and re-organizing the San Antonio Rampage all bode well for the future development of the Avalanche. The ball is now in Sakic’s corner and we can all analyze how the search goes, who is selected, and how the team steps up in adversity.

Evan: It’s entirely possible they do come out of this a better team.  Even though the Avs never bombed to the bottom 5 of the league under Roy, the type of hockey they were playing was not conducive to winning long-term.  The Avs need to find a coach who is willing to trust the talented young players (Zadorov, Bigras, Rantanen) that need to play in the NHL and let them take their lumps.

They also need to find a coach who can put a system in place that allows the Avs to spend less time in their own end, and keep some of the pressure off their defensive core.  My worry is that their options are going to be limited because of the timing of this move, so Sakic has a lot of work ahead of him, none of which he anticipated having to do.

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