Everybody forgets this about Patrick Roy’s final season with the Avalanche as coach: The team was among the top eight in the Western Conference with 11 games to go. The Avs were a playoff team under Roy to that point, before Matt Duchene got hurt, Semyon Varlamov finally proved mortal and Roy lost patience with them and several other key members of his group.
Would any of the Roy rip-job artists like to apologize now and admit they were wrong? I’m not holding my breath on that. But it’s an indisputable fact now, now that the Avalanche is not much better than an AHL team: Roy was not the problem.
It’s been hilarious watching the Roy bashers, who said it was all about his wrong system as to why things went so bad at the end of last year, dine on heaping helpings of crow as the Avs become more and more of a carnival act. The fact is, as is becoming clearer every day, Roy may have been the only reason why the Avs were as competitive as they were in his three years at the helm.
Look, I’m not saying Patrick Roy was the second coming of Scotty Bowman. But, jeez, isn’t it clear now that Roy was something of a magician getting as much out of his rosters as he did? Keep in mind: Roy won a division title his first year on the job. If the NHL’s season had ended after 71 games last year, he would have been a playoff coach again too. The sandwich year of the three, he had a (technically) winning record.
But Jared Bednar was supposed to be the guy who “got it” as a new breed of coach, who understood what it took to be a puck-possession team, who knew the ins and outs of system hockey. Roy was too old-school, a subject of mockery to the analytics crowd after he dared question their analysis of what it took to be a winner in today’s hockey.
As Dr. Phil might ask the Roy critics: How’s that workin’ for ya? Night after night, we keep seeing Bednar do his best impression of a deer caught in the headlights. The latest embarrassment was Saturday’s 6-1 loss in Winnipeg, completing another win-less Avs road trip.
The problem with the analytics crowd in hockey has been and continues to be: What is the proper definition of “the system?” How is “the system” differentiated from adequate talent to implement such a system?
I’m no Roy apologist. I covered the guy for nearly nine years as a player and three more as a coach. He was impossible to get to really get to know, could double-cross you on any number of things (and not think twice about it) and the amount of humility in his body would fit comfortably into a thimble.
But he is among the smartest people about the game that I’ve ever been around at least. It might be hard to diagram on a fancy analytics pie chart, but Roy had gut instincts and insights about the game that, as anyone who has ever been around him as a teammate or player or other regular acquaintance, continues to marvel over.
He failed to make the playoffs his final two years on the job with Colorado, and, sure, he made some mistakes probably. We still don’t know how much of a say he had in some of the bad trades the team made in his time as coach, but he can’t be let off the hook entirely even though he didn’t have Joe Sakic’s title as general manager. Roy did have the added title of vice president of hockey operations, along with head coach, don’t forget. He no doubt had a major say in the big moves of those three years, including the Ryan O’Reilly-to-Buffalo deal for his former junior player (Mikhail Grigorenko) and others, and the Alex Tanguay deal with Arizona that cost them very promising defensive prospect Kyle Wood.
Roy the front-office guy might have been a liability to Roy the coach. Still, Sakic had and continues to have the higher placement on the organization’s pyramid chart. It’s become clear that Roy lost a power struggle with Sakic and the rest of his allies in the organization during the off-season, over personnel decisions on and off the ice.
That was a good thing, according to Roy’s many critics at the time.
Hey, just one question now, eight months later:
How’s that workin’ for ya?