OPINION: Roy’s waning front office influence might have saved the Avs

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During Patrick Roy's press release the other day, he dropped this paragraph:

I have thought long and hard over the course of the summer about how I might improve this team to give it the depth it needs and bring it to a higher level. To achieve this, the vision of the coach and VP-Hockey Operations needs to be perfectly aligned with that of the organization. He must also have a say in the decisions that impact the team's performance. These conditions are not currently met.

I firmly believe he's absolutely correct in this statement.  His outlook on what this team required to get to the next level did veer off in a different direction than Sakic's, and as a result, his influence on the roster severely waned.

And that's the best thing that could have happened for the Colorado Avalanche this summer.

After going back a few months and beginning to connect the dots, I think there’s a good chance that Roy really wanted Alex Radulov on the team. Radulov played for Roy during Juniors, and the two won the Memorial Cup together in 2006.  Rumor was that Radulov to Colorado was a done deal if the club wanted it – both the coach and player were on board.

Enter Tyson Barrie, Nathan MacKinnon, and the salary cap. The two members of the Avalanche core were restricted free agents this summer.  Ever stop to wonder why it took so long to sign them?

From Frei (June 17th):

I’m certain coach Patrick Roy is lobbying to sign a big, physical defenseman — even if it means "overpaying," which is automatic on the UFA market — and hoping to use Barrie as a fifth D-man and power-play specialist, but not in the top four in front of Semyon Varlamov or Calvin Pickard.

If Roy really saw Barrie as a 5th best defenseman, then he probably wasn’t thrilled with the 4-year, $22 million contract the blueliner received this summer. It’s also very possible that Roy wanted to see MacKinnon on a bridge deal to free up cap space, and a potential Matt Duchene trade to clear even more. Given his comments after Duchene celebrated his 30th goal of the year and the significant smoke that went up on the trade front earlier in the off-season, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility.

Instead, Sakic stood pat, upgraded a few important deck chairs, and did basically what he said he was going to do all along. After the dust settled, the $5.75 million that it took for MTL to land Radulov was simply not there for the Avs under the salary cap system.

To make matters worse, Roy’s desire for more defensemen to push Barrie out of the top 4 was only partially met with Fedor Tyutin, and one of his most relied-on defensemen, Nick Holden, was traded to New York for a draft pick.  Both of these moves, along with the new contract, cemented Barrie's spot in the top two pairings.

On top of that, beyond Tyutin, no win-now veterans were brought in, forcing prospects like Nikita Zadorov, Chris Bigras, Mikko Rantanen, and maybe even J.T. Compher into expanded roles next season. While this youth movement is indeed needed for the long-term health of the franchise, it's probably not conducive to making the playoffs, which no doubt didn't sit well with an individual very unaccustomed to starting the summer in mid-April.

Add in the Avs' small, NCAA-bound draft pick in the first round (Tyson Jost) instead of a player with size - plus the fact they didn’t take ANY players from Roy's old stomping grounds of the QMJHL - and I could imagine why Roy felt like the organization wasn't listening to him anymore.

There’s no doubt Sakic leaned heavily on his former teammate during their early tenure, but the front office addition of pro-analytics Chris MacFarland, the revamp of the scouting department, and the natural maturation that comes with experience meant that Roy didn’t have as much of an authority over these decisions anymore.  Having a seat at the table is much different than easily getting your way, and the division between front office influence and more traditional head coach role was growing wider by the day.

Heading into the summer, it's pretty clear Roy felt that the biggest weakness of the franchise was the roster. When he wasn’t given the carte blanche to alter that roster – bringing in Radulov, demoting Barrie, potentially trading Duchene for another defenseman with size, the continued tenure of Holden, veteran alternatives to the kids, and the ability to choose the first round pick – he probably felt stuck. Which, unless he altered his systems, he likely was.

His inability to successfully adapt after his first season was a big reason why the team's progress has stalled out in the subsequent two years.  While part of that was undoubtedly due to less than outstanding lineups, doubling down on Roy's antiquated tactics and dismantling the core for the sake of Holden, Radulov, and other risky veterans would have set the franchise back even further.

Those large, reactionary, and premature win-now moves easily could have proved more disastrous than even the terrible summer of 2014 and the misguided additions of Brad Stuart, Danny Briere, the husk of Jarome Iginla, and the later draft bust of Conner Bleackley.  Given what I said about Roy having expanded input early on, it makes me wonder how many of these mistakes (plus the overall meh tenure of Reto Berra) fell to his advice anyway.

In the end, it was clear Roy either needed to significantly adapt or leave for this team to move forward on and off the ice.  As sad as I am to see him throw in the towel, I trust in the direction Joe Sakic is leading this franchise.   It's unfortunate Roy didn't want anything to do with the upgraded roster after this summer, but his departure opens the door for someone whose views do align with the vision of the organization.

So, thank you, Roy, for knowing when to get out; and good luck, Sakic, finding someone to replace him.  If this is how he truly feels, then this break was the by far the best outcome for everyone involved.

And while Roy will be deeply missed, it's hard to argue that the Avs - especially the front office - will be worse off without him.  

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