The Next Avalanche: Can Patrick Roy Share Power?

Patrick Roy, the new Colorado Avalanche Head Coach

What does an NHL team do with a lame-duck general manager, a first-time VP of hockey operations, and a Team President who splits his time between hockey and basketball?  Throw them in a pot together and add a dose of rookie-coach-from-the-QMJHL, apparently.

This odd mix of ingredients makes up the new Colorado Avalanche, a team in the middle of an identity crisis who, for now, may have too many cooks in the kitchen.

For an organization that has many others jealous over their young talent, some going as far as saying they would prefer the Avs young core over the Oilers’, you would think finishing in 29th place and squandering another opportunity might compel them to seek a stable hand to keep their ship on course.

Several clubs have made available top-drawer coaches who now find themselves without work.  Alain Vigneault, Lindy Ruff, and most recently John Tortorella might have all given the Avs a new brand of hockey and certainly one that came with experience and results.

Instead, Colorado has dug deep into the well by hiring Joe Sakic as their new VP of Hockey Operations and Patrick Roy as their new bench boss who also will have a hand in hockey ops.

Three’s Company

Lost in the shuffle is the not-fired General Manager Greg Sherman who steered this ship in the wrong direction in the first place.  Yet, in the words of Team President Josh Kroenke, he deserves to see his work actualize.  This, in contrast to Brian Burke and Steve Tambellini, two former managers who waded through the bottom of the standings and were not retained to see the fruits of their labour.

Sherman’s luck with goaltenders is worse.  In the past few seasons, he has traded away Craig Anderson and attempted to solidify his goalie issues by trading away a first (Filip Forsberg) and second round pick for Semyon Varlamov.  His handling of the Ryan O’Reilly contract alone caused some to wonder if his job was no longer secure.

Roy is walking into a potentially volatile situation.  Sherman’s third-wheel syndrome will percolate all of next season while Roy, who was previously the owner, general manager, and vice president of hockey operations for the Quebec Ramparts, will have to defer to Sakic who previous management titles include the underwhelming executive advisor and alternate governor.

The former Canadiens goaltender has had his detractors, developing a Messier-like reputation for wearing different hats within an organization.  Red Fisher once said about  Roy’s time in Montreal: “Roy manipulated (head coach) Jacques Demers. He tried that stuff with Mario (Tremblay), telling him how to coach. It didn’t work”.*

Yet Roy does have an admirable coaching record in junior, winning one Memorial Cup, and in fact turned down overtures to coach the Avalanche in the past.  To his credit, he believed it was too soon to take the next step to the NHL and that he owed it to his children who were in their formative years.  At his introductory press conference, he vowed to “put in the hours” necessary to learning on the job and seems ready for another commitment to the NHL.

How Will He Handle the Goaltending?

Questions about his involvement with his goaltenders have been raised and Roy again has cooly deflected any concerns.  He spoke of a coach he already had in mind for the position in Colorado and Adrian Dater of the Denver Post recently opined that it could be Francois Allaire, the longtime tutor of Roy and master of the butterfly style.  He plans on staying aloof, allowing Allaire or whomever it might be to maintain control.  You can count on one hand how many professional goaltenders have become NHL coaches.  Emile Francis and Gerry Cheevers come to mind.  But there is almost no precedent for the path Roy is taking.

Roy’s overt personality may benefit from the balance that Joe Sakic brings, the cool-headed captain that lead the Avs to two championships.  But with Sherman still at the helm and two rookie NHL employees all having a hand in player personnel decisions, the learning curve will be steep.

This roster, that includes top draft picks in Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene, emerging stars in O’Reilly and P.A. Parenteau, and able support such as Steve Downie and Paul Stastny, is too good to go to waste.  These players are either in their prime years or fast approaching them and an unstable front office is often to the recipe for setbacks and squandered talent.

Patrick Roy has always been a top talent and a leader.  In Quebec, they practically handed him the key to the province and he has since been used to a large degree of influence over his hockey club.  He will be the straw that stirs this drink.  How he manages the kitchen will determine the fate of the new Avalanche.

*from Blood Feud by Adrian Dater