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The Colorado Avalanche fascinate me.
They fascinate me because Josh Kroenke handed player personnel over to Joe Sakic in May 2013, at a time when the franchise needed a nostalgic kick in the rear, Greg Sherman was seen as an ineffective general manager and John Elway made the world safe for big-name ex-jocks to take over the teams with whom they captured glory.
They fascinate me because that nostalgia extended to Sakic’s decision to not only bring on Patrick Roy as his head coach, but also in a player personnel capacity – years after he nearly was brought on as the team’s general manager himself. Three years in, and it’s a demonstrable fact that the Avalanche don’t possess the puck enough by NHL standards and give up an unsustainable number of shots.
They fascinate me because one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history has decided on a coaching scheme that puts the weight of the world squarely on his goaltender’s shoulders. And they fascinate me because there are as many "Blame The Players" critics as there are "Fire Roy" advocates.
They fascinate me because as much as player personnel and coaching are at fault for yet another non-playoff year, “the core” can be rightfully called out for its role in the last two disappointing seasons. Gabriel Landeskog, the 23-year-old captain, produced three goals and two assists in his last 10 games, going scoreless in seven of those 10 and skating to a minus-2. He has three even-strength goals in 33 career games played in April.
They fascinate me because the next steps for this franchise aren’t clear; or if they are clear, they can be clearly debated as to whether they’re the right steps.
The three primary questions facing the Avalanche this offseason:
1. Should Patrick Roy “step down,” as we know he won’t be fired?
2. Should the general manager go?
3. Do you break up the core?
The answer to question No. 1 would be, “yes.” Again, with the understanding that Roy would simply move upstairs for the last year of his contract (unless he re-upped) and bide his time until the Montreal Canadiens job opens. Because, obviously, right?
Shane O’Donnell of Today’s Slapshot had a rather comprehensive piece about why it’s time for Roy to go, including:
As a coach, your job is to get the best possible results out of the players that you are given. This means devising on-ice systems that maximize player talents, motivating players to put in the work needed on and off the ice to play to their full potential, and other things. The job of an NHL coach is not easy, but they are supposed to be the best of the best. Patrick Roy has shown that he doesn’t belong in the NHL, at least not right now.
Look, if Scotty Bowman says Patrick Roy has the stuff to be a great NHL coach, and he has, there’s every chance he will be one day. But it’s not going to happen in Colorado. This is the learning experience, the trial by fire, the place where Roy realizes tactics that worked in junior don’t translate here.
What this team needs, obviously, is a different kind of structure. Give them a Guy Boucher or, in a perfect world, a Dave Tippett. And then let’s see if the shots-per-game fall to levels were sustained success is realistic. (But watch, it'll end up being Marc Craword. Nostalgia!)
The answer to question No. 2 is … well, it’s immaterial. There’s zero chance Sakic has player personnel taken away from him after just one coach. Frankly, in sampling Avalanche fans’ reactions, he remains Teflon: Roy gets all the grief for the way the team plays, and Sakic seems to escape most of it despite assembling a supporting cast that isn’t up to NHL standards, especially on the back end. (And two more years of Beauchemin at $4.5 million isn't helping.)
Which brings us to question No. 3, where the answer is … probably?
As much as Roy has been critical of the core, the way he speaks about them isn’t in a “break up the band” way. Roy may have tipped his hand in a recent interview:
"I think our core needs to show more leadership," Roy told 104.3 The Fan in Denver, as transcribed by Pro Hockey Talk. "It was like this when I played for [the Montreal Canadiens], like this when I played for the [Avalanche]. The core are the ones that have to carry the team. They're the ones where, when you lose a game, it has to hurt from the inside. You should want more."
"My belief is our mindset needs to change," Roy said. "That's the conversation I have with (Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic) when we're talking about, 'We need to be stronger mentally,' and, 'We need to bring character players inside of this dressing room.' That's what we've been trying to do."
(Where do you go for “character players” after you’ve already added Jarome Iginla to your room?)
Here’s the thing: The Avalanche need help on the back end. Desperately. You have to give to get.
We like Matt Duchene. A lot. He’s not part of the problem. He hustles, he hauls ass and he cares deeply, even when the situation is dire. He’s part of the solution.
Unfortunately, the solution for the Avalanche is to trade Duchene for something that resembles a top pairing defenseman. You don’t move Nathan MacKinnon. We’d hang on to Landeskog over Duchene, which may not be the popular opinion in Denver. Duchene would bring back an impressive return with the right trading partner, as we cast an eye at Montreal.
You hate moving a guy like Duchene. But at the very least, perhaps he'll play for another coach who isn't going to blast a goal celebration while Rome is burning.
Then again, this is an Avalanche team that couldn’t afford Paul Stastny and, unfortunately, could mend fences with Ryan O’Reilly. Is seeing more high-end offensive talent leave, even if it’s for help on the back end, the solution?
An argument could be made for keeping the core intact under different leadership behind the bench. A strong argument.
There are problems with coaching. There are problems with construction. There are problems with execution. What do they do?
It’ll be fascinating to watch.
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