Ranking the Avalanche’s Head Coaches

The Colorado Avalanche moved to the Mile High City in 1995 after the franchise fell out of favor with city officials in Quebec. The team had a new name, a new logo, and new fans but the roster and coaching staff was still the same.

Marc Crawford, who won the 1995 Jack Adams Award as the league’s coach of the year, resumed his head coaching duties in Denver until 1998.

Optimistic Marc Crawford.(photo by/Wikipedia)
Marc Crawford.(photo by/Wikipedia)

Since then, the team has seen five other coaches spend time behind the bench. Here is how they stack up compared to each other.

6. Joe Sacco (2009-2013)

Some may say it’s not fair to blame Sacco for all of the woes his team went through during his time here but he certainly shoulders his fair share.

Sacco started off his time with the organization as an assistant coach for the Lowell Lock Monsters, the Avalanche’s former AHL affiliate. Two years later, he was promoted to the head coaching position of the team’s new AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters.

Despite little success in the minors, Sacco was given the reins to the Avalanche in 2009 after former Avalanche great Patrick Roy turned down the job.

Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

Sacco got off to a great start and together he and his young team surprised the league by securing a playoff berth in his first year. At the end of the season, he was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award.

Unfortunately, that would be the peak of his time with the Avalanche and for three straight years after their 2010 playoff appearance, the team failed to return to the post season and Sacco was relieved of his duties at the end of the 2012-13 season.

5. Tony Granato (2002-2004, 2008-2009)

Tony Granato was behind the Avalanche bench in some capacity from 2002 to 2009.

Originally signed on as an assistant to Bob Hartley, he was promoted to head coach two months into the season after Hartley was fired. The team ended the season with another divisional championship and Granato was able to remove the interim tag from his name.

The next year, his first full season as a head coach, Granato was gifted with an All-Star team that included the familiar faces as well as new additions Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya as the franchise went all in on the season before the looming lock-out and implementation of a salary cap.

Granato failed to meet regular season expectations as the Avalanche finished second in the division. Additionally, the team fell short of postseason expectations and were eliminated from the playoffs in the semifinals.

That loss meant the end of Granato’s first tenure as head coach of the Avalanche although he remained with the team after he accepted his old job as assistant coach.

For the next three seasons, Granato served as the team’s assistant coach. Then, in May of 2008, he was once again offered head coaching duties for the Avalanche.

He failed to make it into the postseason for the second time in franchise history since its relocation to Denver and was fired at the end of the 2008-09 season.

Since then, Granato has been an assistant coach in the league for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings.

Tony Granato
Tony Granato with Dan Bylsma (Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE)

4. Marc Crawford (1995-1998)

Marc Crawford’s position on this list doesn’t have much to do with his accomplishments during his time with the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise. If accomplishments were the sole standards for which the coach is to be judged on, then Crawford would probably be number one on the list.

In four seasons with the franchise, he led the team to four straight divisional championships and one Stanley Cup.

His position on this list is due to his involvement in the infamous Todd Bertuzzi and Steve Moore incident in 2004.

Crawford was head coach of the Vancouver Canucks at the time and after Moore placed a legal hit on his captain, Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi committed the most malicious and violent act to have ever taken place in a hockey game and ended Moore’s NHL career.

In the ensuing legal aftermath, Bertuzzi claimed negligence on Crawford’s part saying he was partly to blame for the occurrences of that night. Additionally, Bertuzzi’s lawyers claimed Crawford “failed to exercise control over and caution his players against physical aggression toward Moore” and allegedly urged Bertuzzi and teammates to exact revenge on Moore.

Even after more than 10 years after the incident, it still remains unclear of what Crawford’s exact role in the on-ice incident is except as head coach of the Canucks, but the implications against him are quite alarming.

3. Patrick Roy (2013-Present)

Patrick Roy turned down the head coaching position in 2009 because he felt like he wasn’t ready for the NHL yet. He wanted to continue to learn in the QMJHL where he owned and coached the Quebec Remparts.

Finally, in 2013, he made his long awaited return to Denver to take the team back to its glory days.

MacKinnon may not be wearing the Avalanche emblem if not for the shortened season (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)


His first season, it seemed as if he could do no wrong and despite being outshot on most nights, the team pulled through miraculously to win the game. The team went from finishing second to last in the entire league in 2012-13 to capturing the 2014 Central Division title and home-ice for the playoffs.

Roy and the Avalanche were ultimately defeated by the Minnesota Wild in seven games but were tremendously happy with turning the franchise around in such a quick manner.

In his second season, things were not quite as fairytale-like as they were the year before. The team’s glaring weaknesses were exposed and they dug themselves a big hole early in the season. A hole they are currently trying to climb out of to get back into the playoffs.

Roy’s time behind the Avalanche bench has been short and with his reputation and tenure as a player for the team, he will certainly be given a long leash. Not only is he the head coach of the team, he is also the Vice President of Hockey Operations. A title given to him to allow him control over his roster.

2. Joel Quenneville (2005-2008)

Joel Quenneville started off his NHL coaching career as an assistant coach with the Quebec Nordiques and won the Stanley Cup with the team in 1996 before parting ways for St. Louis.

After seven successful seasons with the Blues, he returned to Denver to take over as head coach of the Avalanche.

In his first season as head coach of the Avalanche, he took a lackluster team all the way to the second round of the playoffs where they lost to the Anaheim Ducks. The round before that, the Avalanche had upset the Dallas Stars.

The next season, Quenneville failed to the make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history since its relocation to Denver.

The team was hit hard with the departure of Rob Blake and Alex Tanguay. Instead, they relied on the aging Joe Sakic and Andrew Brunette to do the heavy lifting for the team points-wise.

In his third and final season, Quenneville took the same roster into a season headed yet for another disappointment. Instead, Quenneville led them back to the playoffs on the back of sophomore legacy Paul Stastny. Joe Sakic was limited to only 44 games that season as he suffered through multiple injuries.

In the playoffs, Quenneville again took the Avalanche all the way to the second round where they were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions Detroit Red Wings.

At the end of the season, Quenneville and the Avalanche parted ways and Quenneville headed to Chicago to become a scout and later head coach. He won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010 and 2013.

Joel Quenneville
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville is now 3rd in all-time coaching wins with 693 (Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE)

Many fans still wonder how far Quenneville could have taken the team if it had a competent roster.

1. Bob Hartley (1998-2002)

Bob Hartley never played in the NHL or any other professional leagues. Instead, his journey to the NHL started off with his hometown Junior A team in Hawkesbury, Ontario. Coaching was just a part time gig for Hartley as his main source of income was as an assembly-line worker for PPG Industries.

His success with the Hawkesbury Hawks helped him land a job with the Laval Titans of the QMJHL. He spent two seasons with the Titans and almost won the Memorial Cup championship.

After leaving Laval, Hartley was asked to join Jacques Martin in the American Hockey League with the Cornwall Aces as an assistant coach. When Martin was promoted to the NHL, Hartley stepped up to the head coaching job and followed the Nordiques/Avalanche AHL affiliates all the way to Hershey where he won the Calder Cup in 1997.

When Crawford left the Avalanche, it was a no-brainer that Hartley should be given a shot at the NHL.

He led the team to four consecutive division titles as well as four consecutive conference finals appearances and one Stanley Cup victory in 2001.

He has the franchise record for wins as head coach with 193 and had four 40-win seasons.