On Friday, the Colorado Avalanche announced a major change in the makeup of their front office. Josh Kroenke has assumed the title of Team President from Pierre Lacroix, Joe Sakic was named Executive Vice-President of Hockey Operations with Greg Sherman serving as General Manager.
After the dismal season the Avalanche had, it was obvious that some kind of major change was happening in order to change the culture and it seems that the team has taken this seriously.
The Message Being Sent
With the fan base not happy about where things were headed, the Avalanche needed to be very careful about what their actions would be saying. Had the Avalanche kept Joe Sacco, who led the Avalanche to one playoff appearance and two finishes in the basement of the Western Conference in four years, the Avalanche would essentially be telling the fans they don’t care about winning enough to change coaches.
The Avalanche sent the correct message by firing Joe Sacco after what was a dismal season. The Avalanche must be very careful about the message they will send with the next coach they will hire.
Josh Kroenke finally stepping in and assuming the role of Team President now gives him the opportunity to prove to the fan base that he does care about the Avalanche just as much as the Nuggets. Terry Frei had this take on Kroenke’s answer to that very question at the recent press conference.
Josh Kroenke was asked the obvious, but reasonable questions, about a basketball-savvy ownership’s commitment to hockey, and he said all the right things. No, they won’t just throw money around, but they’ll give Sakic the financial resources he needs.
In my view, he should have been more assertive about it. He acknowledged the perception is out there, but whiffed on a chance to more assertively try to shoot it down. This has reached the point where not combating that image, including with aggressive spending, is a bad business move in the wake of the skepticism about ownership commitment, the deterioration of attendance and the shoving of hockey into the background of the general sports fans’ consciousness in this area.
Frei hits the nail on the head with this. The fan base will love the fact that Kroenke is going to take a more active role with the team, but they’ll need more than just his word that he cares just as much for the Avalanche. Actions speak louder than word.
Giving Joe Sakic all final say on hockey decisions sends a couple of messages. The largest message being that they don’t have complete and total trust in Greg Sherman. The other message is that Joe Sakic has the knowledge and competitive ability to get the job done for the Avalanche.
Perhaps the biggest message of all is that or Pierre Lacroix’s departure. Lacroix is held in high esteem by all in the Avalanche organization, and rightly so, but it because obvious that his management style was a thing of the past. Fans and players are tired of the strong arming and “take it or leave it” negotiating style that has forced many players out of this organization.
Josh Kroenke was asked, towards the end of the press conference, how the team could win back fans. Kroenke’s answer was simple, “Win.” While this will certainly help win back some of the fan’s good graces, there are a few other ways that the Avalanche could look to make nice with the fans.
First, they could lower ticket prices. The NHL, as a whole, has raised their ticket prices the most of any profession sport. The Avalanche could win the good graces of their fans by admitting that they have done nothing in their recent history to justify any type of hike in ticket prices. Lowering prices would be a huge step in repairing fan relations.
Changing certain old habits of Pierre Lacroix would be another huge step in the right direction. The Avalanche have made a common practice of not offering player extensions during the season have almost always waited until the season was over until any type of contract discussions began. If the Avalanche want to show a strong departure from these days, they need to be pro-active and move to sign Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly to long-term extensions.
Finally, Josh Kroenke could open up the purse strings in free agency. Now, it’s important that he not just spend money for the sake of spending money, but the past few seasons the Avalanche have made very few big moves in free agency. It’s time for the Avalanche to go after some big names again, when they’re available.
Better Days Are Ahead
While there are still a lot of things that are left unanswered for the Avalanche moving forward, the fact that they have made the choice to change direction is encouraging in and of itself. The Avalanche have acknowledged that the way they used to do things are no longer getting the job done.
With a new guard in place, fans have to believe that better days are finally ahead for the Colorado Avalanche. After all, after this year, how could things possibly get much worse?