If the Colorado Avalanche handed the keys to the kingdom to Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy with the sole intention of selling tickets, they’ve made a terrible, dreadful mistake. The Phoenix Coyotes tried that with Wayne Gretzky and we all know how it turned out.
There’s little doubt the hiring of Roy as head coach and VP, hockey operations and Joe Sakic as executive VP, hockey operations will provide an initial burst of energy and optimism to a moribund franchise that is in desperate need of both. But if new Avalanche president Josh Kroenke thinks the good people of Denver are going to shell out good money long term just to watch Roy’s gesticulations behind the bench or watch Sakic tap his chin with his index finger in the executive suite, he’s sadly mistaken.
What will ultimately determine whether the Avs once again become relevant in their own market is if Roy and Sakic – with the help of almost-certain No. 1 overall draft pick Seth Jones – can make the Avalanche into a team that turns its promise into performance and begins to actually show some results on the ice. (As an aside, Avs GM Greg Sherman will likely have to emerge from the Witness Protection Program to freshen up his resume. He might not want to highlight that 2011 deal that sent Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart to Colorado for Erik Johnson, Jay McClement and a first round pick.)
In Sakic and Roy, the Avalanche have taken an enormous risk - since neither man has one iota of NHL experience beyond being a player – but it was one worth taking. The hiring of Roy, in particular, is one that will bear watching. You can bet that Roy, who really, really likes to be in control, insisted on having a say in player personnel and didn’t leave running the cash cow known as the Quebec Remparts to simply coach. Much has been made of the fact that the list of (a) Hall of Fame players; and (b) coaches who make the jump right to the NHL from junior hockey is littered with examples of failures. But a lot of journeymen who apprenticed for years in the minors have failed, too.
The point is, if you’re a good coach, you’re going to be able to adapt your skill set to any level of competition. And it certainly helps when you can walk into the dressing room and blind your players with the bling that comes with wearing four Stanley Cup rings. And, if you’ll recall, Roy wasn’t just along for the ride for those four Cups. This is a guy who actually knows what it takes to win, both as a player and a junior hockey owner, GM and coach. Gretzky, like Rocket Richard who lasted just one game as coach of the Quebec Nordiques in the World Hockey Association days, was hired to the post almost exclusively because of the name he made for himself as a player. But Roy has been very successful building teams in junior hockey and has a proven record developing young players, something that will come in handy with a team that is as laden with youthful talent as the Avalanche.
Yes, Roy is a noted hothead, who once trashed a dressing room television and VCR when he was pulled from a game for eight seconds and was denied the victory. He has displayed a monumental temper and was believed to be pulling the strings when his son, Jonathan, a goalie with the Remparts in 2008, brutally attacked another goaltender in an act that led to assault charges and clampdown on brawls in the Quebec League.
But you’d also have to think that Roy has grown up a little in the 10 years since he retired from the NHL as a player. That certainly doesn’t guarantee Roy will not be immune to the occasional meltdown after a questionable call, but he’s smart enough to know that the same tactics that work with impressionable teenagers are not going to translate into the best league in the world.
And he’s a winner, not only as a player, but also as a coach. Unlike a lot of elite players, nothing was ever handed to Roy. He was an unknown QMJHL goalie when he was drafted and had a work ethic and mental approach that surpassed his talent as a player. After his playing career, he and other businessmen in Quebec City raised the Remparts from the ashes and built them into one of the most formidable powerhouses in the Canadian Hockey League. There has got to be some carryover into his coaching career. Anyone who knows Roy also knows he’ll leave no stone unturned in his quest to be the absolute best coach he can possibly be. Yes, he’s that proud.
The Avalanche have a core of terrific young players and this could turn out to be a coach’s dream if they achieve their potential around the same time. If you’re going to do that, you might as well find a coach who has the same capacity in terms of potential and the Avalanche have done that in hiring Roy.
The Sakic-Roy combination could crash and burn. Yes, it could. And it could have some dark times in the early days. But remember, Sakic was minus-102 in his first three seasons on some terrible teams before becoming one of the greatest two-way players in the history of the game. You’d have to think that two men as accustomed to success as Sakic and Roy certainly wouldn’t let things go off the rails.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.