The Colorado Avalanche used to be one of the proudest franchises in all of the NHL. People knew that when you stepped onto the ice against the Avalanche you were going to get a team that would leave everything out on the ice every single night.
To say that this is no longer the case is an incredible understatement. The Avalanche are about to finish up their fourth season under Joe Sacco and are about to miss the playoffs for the third year in a row. They are also about to find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference and league for their second year.
Needless to say, Joe Sacco’s reign as coach hasn’t really been a success, but it’s worse than you think.
In the beginning.
There was so much promise during Sacco’s first season. The Avalanche defied all expectations from around the league and made the playoffs as an eighth seed. The team looked young and exciting and there was a lot of promise for the coming years.
Unfortunately, the 2009-2010 season was deceptive. While the Avalanche were a playoff team, they still weren’t a great team. As a team, the Avalanche were not very good defensively, giving up 32.1 shots per game, 25th in the NHL. Yet, with all these shots against, the Avalanche only allowed 2.78 goals per game. This means the Avalanche got some really good goaltending, and they absolutely did during the 2009-2010 season.
Craig Anderson played fantastically for the Avalanche that season. He played in 71 games for the Avalanche that year and had 38 wins. He posted a 2.64 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. He also collected seven shutouts during this season.
The most telling of all Anderson’s stats from this season were his shots against. Anderson faced more shots during the 2009-2010 season than any other goalie in the NHL. He did play a lot of games, but the goalie who faced the second most shots that season, Evgeni Nabokov, faced almost 100 fewer shots than Anderson did while playing the same amount of games.
While Joe Sacco did end up a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy, NHL coach of the year, it seems safer to say that Craig Anderson was the reason for the team’s success this year.
During the second season under Sacco, the Avalanche looked like they were ready to compete again, until the second half of the season. In the 2010-2011 season, or “the season that shall not be named,” The Avalanche won only five of their last 35 games, and only one of those wins was in regulation.
It was during this stretch that Avalanche fans heard a single constant refrain from the coach after every single game. The refrain that now sounds like fingernails across a chalkboard to all Avalanche fans. “We didn’t start the game on time.” This was Joe Sacco’s response after nearly every single game and, even though the Avalanche did suffer several injuries during the course of this season, serious questions began to be raised about Sacco’s ability to motivate a team.
This inconsistency has remained with the team ever since. The only consistent thing about this team has been that you just never know what team you are going to see. The worst part is that it isn’t a game to game issues, it is period to period.
The numbers are not kind for Joe Sacco. Joe Sacco is the only coach in Avalanche history to have an overall losing record (128-132-30). Now, to be fair, it’s obvious that Sacco is bound to not have had as much success as those coaches who had the loaded teams that were winning Stanley Cups.
But when you’re a coach in the NHL, you are judged by your wins and losses, and Sacco has had the worst record of any Avalanche coach. It gets worse.
Overall record is one thing, but let’s look a little closer. Colorado’s record against the Western Conference under Joe Sacco is a woeful 95-118-23. This is a winning percentage of only .451. You can’t expect to have too many playoff appearances when you struggle to win in your conference.
Worse yet, Colorado’s divisional record remains as bad as ever under Joe Sacco. Under Joe Sacco, the Avalanche are 30-53-6. This is a winning percentage of just .371. At this point, the only word that you can really use to describe it is pathetic, and it shows a disturbing truth about the Avalanche under Joe Sacco. The more a team plays the Avalanche in a season, the more success that team is likely to have.
It’s hard to draw any other conclusion about Joe Sacco’s reign as head coach than this one. Simply put, under Joe Sacco, the Avalanche have gotten worse. They had a great season at first, which seems to have been more of a result of stellar goaltending than good coaching.
The Avalanche effort is always under question, which is something that a solid coach would never allow from his team. This either means that Sacco doesn’t know how to motivate his team, or that the message he came in with that initially connected with the team has now been tuned out. Either way, it’s not good for the coach.
Finally, the records of the Avalanche versus their conference and division show that the more a team plays the Avalanche, the more likely they are to beat them. Also not good for the coach.
Sorry, coach Sacco, you are a failure as a head coach. I don’t see any way that the Avalanche can be satisfied enough with this effort to allow Sacco to keep his job. There are more problems with the Avalanche than just the coach, but Sacco certainly isn’t any type of solution.
End the reign of terror.
I’m a Denver native who has been a fan of the Avalanche since they came to town and a fan of the game before that. I started writing my own blog a couple years ago before moving to Bleacher Report and becoming a Featured Columnist there. You can also find me the Burgundy Brigade Podcast