Of course he quit.
There was absolutely no other way this was going to ever end for Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche.
Joe Sakic was never going to fire his golfing buddy. Josh Kroenke was never going to force one of the franchise’s iconic legends out the door. The Avalanche were serving at the pleasure of Patrick Roy, and not the other way around. Even if they ever mutually agreed that Roy had to go, it would have been framed as a resignation or, best case, a kick upstairs to management.
But this wasn’t mutually agreed upon – Roy vacated his job(s) with the Avalanche on Thursday, to the surprise of Sakic. “He made the right decision,” said Sakic, “for himself.”
So of course he quit.
This is what happens when you have to sweeten the pot for a celebrity novice NHL coach with a vice president of hockey operations role, because he’s so damn precious and important to your sales pitch to disillusioned fans and because he believes he’s somehow earned the role. And then that coach discovers he’s one voice of many, and that while he can pick the players in training camp he doesn’t have the last word in picking them in the draft or free agency.
From Roy’s press release on his resignation:
“I have thought long and hard over the course of the summer about how I might improve this team to give it the depth it needs and bring it to a higher level. To achieve this, the vision of the coach and VP-Hockey Operations needs to be perfectly aligned with that of the organization. He must also have a say in the decisions that impact the team’s performance. These conditions are not currently met.”
Sakic is a terrible poker player. He spoke all day about being on the same page as Roy, about Roy being consulted on front-office strategy, about Roy being on board with what the Avalanche were doing. He said all of this despite Roy literally saying that he had no voice in player personnel decisions and that his philosophy “wasn’t perfectly aligned” with the organization.
So with due respect to Sakic, you can take his platitudes and use them as fertilizer.
Defenseman Erik Johnson got a little closer to the truth in speaking with the Denver Post:
“He had wanted to make some other changes that weren’t happening,” Johnson said. “It’s purely speculation on my part. Patrick’s very opinionated, upfront and honest, and I’m sure he took this job in the first place because he wanted to make decisions as well.”
And Roy himself tipped his hand earlier this year with the Post:
In an interview with The Denver Post on April 7, shortly before the Avalanche met the Dallas Stars in the next-to-last game of the 2015-16 season, Roy made it clear he believed aggressive moves were necessary in the offseason. He noted the Avalanche’s lack of success in landing talent in recent drafts beyond the first round.
“It’s the reason why I have a job,” Roy said of those draft problems. “But right now it’s also the reason why we have to go for free agency. July 1 is a tough day for any teams. It’s a market for the players, and we realize it’s hard to build your team on July 1.”
But Sakic said that Roy was “on board” with the team’s decision “not to go big” in free agency and focus on giving Tyson Barrie and Nathan MacKinnon long-term deals. They weren’t aggressive. They didn’t add the tough, veteran players that Roy said he wanted to add to the locker room. They were capped out.
And Roy felt powerless.
So of course he quit.
Because it wasn’t fun anymore. That’s the one thing Sakic kept reiterating.
“I’m happy for him that he doesn’t have to feel this stress,” he said. “Right now he’s very comfortable in his decision and probably relieved.
“[We always said] as long as we’re enjoying what we’re doing and having fun we’ll keep doing it.”
Who sucked out the feeling? It wasn’t the players. Or at least the majority of them.
Johnson said in a radio interview that “90 percent” of his teammates loved playing for “Patty” and are pissed off that he’s gone. “When the veteran guys on the team really respect and like the coach, it says a lot. Those are some of the veteran guys. Leaders on our team, who were really taken aback,” he said.
One wonders about that other 10 percent. Was it the younger core of the team – Gabriel Landeskog, for example – that Roy called out with frequency and claimed needed to “show more leadership?”
Sakic was asked about the core, and pinned Roy’s criticisms of them on the team’s playoff race fade last season. “We were struggling down the stretch. Frustrated how things were going. That happens,” he said.
Losing sucks, but it especially sucks when you know what winning feels like.
Mediocrity wasn’t acceptable for Roy. Not after 551 wins as an NHL goalie and not after four Stanley Cups. Not after success in junior hockey and a division title in his first year as head coach of the Avalanche – thanks, Semyon Varlamov and inflated PDO – set expectations so high.
He liked the players. He hated how they played at times. Like in a March 26 loss to the Minnesota Wild, a de facto playoff game, in which they lost 4-0 and played one of the worst second periods of their season. Roy was baffled. “I guess we lost our focus and for some reason they dominated play,” he said.
There was more, as Adrian Dater reported:
After the second period of the game, Roy blew up at his team. A team source told Bleacher Report that Roy’s screaming voice could be heard well outside the locker room and down the halls of the Pepsi Center. Roy, the source added, particularly lit into his top players, saying they were playing with no heart and that he might as well just “quit right now” if that’s how they were going to play.
The players liked him. “The downturn we had had nothing to do with management or coaching,” said Johnson. “The players have to be pissed at themselves. If we played better and would have won, this would have been a nonissue.”
But it was an issue.
So of course he quit.
Because that’s what we expect him to do after walking out on Mario Tremblay and the Montreal Canadiens in the most epic ‘trade me right [expletive] now!’ meltdown in NHL history. We expect him to make the best decision. For Patrick Roy.
Quitting the Avalanche may have been the best decision for Roy, but quitting in August is the worst thing that could happen for the Avalanche. (Sakic’s silver lining analysis was “at least it wasn’t during the season.”
Sakic says they’ll go outside the organization to find a coach by the start of training camp. The pickings are down to retreads and silent prayer than someone would let an assistant coach or AHL head coach interview. When one of the most viable options is another go-round with fellow possession abyss Bob Hartley, you can see how slim them pickins’ are. Had this decision been made three weeks ago, it might be a different conversation.
But in fairness to Roy, it’s clear this wasn’t easy. It’s clear he needed time and space away from this franchise to make this decision. However let down he was by the organization’s ‘misaligned vision,’ he’s leaving his friend in Sakic, he’s leaving (90 percent) of the players he likes and he’s leaving an organization that treats him like a golden god.
These are always the dangers in trafficking in nostalgia. Despite three seasons outside of the playoffs, a defensive scheme that proved ineffective at the NHL level and an apparent allergy to advanced analytics, Roy has his defiant true believers within the fan base, who think he’s been done dirty by Sakic and Kroenke.
And despite that lack of success, he still had his job for next season. Coaches get fired. So do executives. Legends with their numbers in the rafters? Different story.
The problem is that legends do eventually have an expiration date, because many of them make for underwhelming coaches. Wayne Gretzky comes to mind. They get increasingly frustrated with disappointing results, and their inability to change those fortunate like they could change them on the court or on the ice makes them eventually walk away.
Roy was actually asked about this back in April by the Denver Post, about whether he was getting frustrated enough to go.
“Not at all,” he said. “I guess my 10 years (including two as GM and part-owner only) in junior taught me a lot. As long as there’s respect and I feel our players are playing hard. … Are they playing well every night? No. But I feel that they’re playing hard for me and I appreciate that.”
The players didn’t quit, even though this wasn’t fun anymore.
Their coach and vice president of hockey operations did, because this wasn’t fun anymore.
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