DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 27: Head coach Joe Sacco of the Colorado Avalanche leads his team against the Winnipeg Jets at the Pepsi Center on December 27, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
To the surprise of no one, Joe Sacco was given a two-year contract extension by the Colorado Avalanche yesterday. Adrian Dater broke this news two weeks ago...and really it wasn't much of a surprise even then. When Sacco survived a critical three-game losing streak against division rivals in early December, the vibe seemed to be that the Avalanche were comfortable with their man. An extension seemed inevitable. But is it the right move?
After the Avalanche play their opening game in October, only Bob Hartley will have coached more regular season games for the Avs (Marc Crawford did coach a 4th season for the Nordiques). Unfortunately, he'll also be dead last in a couple of important categories: winning percentage (.511) and playoff wins (two).
Of course, those "other" coaches had some fairly good talent to work with. Sacco has never had the luxury of of penciling in Joe Sakic or Patrick Roy or Ray Bourque onto his lineup card. Or a healthy Peter Forsberg or Chris Drury or...well, you get the idea. In the last Cup season, Bourque was 6th on the team in scoring with 59 points. Sacco has seen 3 players top that point total during his 3-year tenure: Stastny and Stewart 2 years ago and Duchene last year.
It is ironic that originally I was going to write a story today about Peter Mueller and how he might be ill-suited to a Top 6 role. I'm bumping that to next week, but it ties in nicely. Sacco's performance behind the bench is difficult to evaluate, in part because only ONE team has spent less money towards the cap than the Avalanche. One might argue that Sacco's .511 winning percentage with the roster he's been saddled with is a marvel. On the other hand, the Nashville Predators have spent just a shade more than the Avs, and they've been in the playoffs all three years.
I simply don't know how to evaluate Joe Sacco, and almost every facet of his coaching seems to be at odds with each other. The Avs improved by 20 and 26 points during two of his years, and dropped by 33 points in the other. His handling of the goalies this year was masterful...but did he burn out Craig Anderson 3 years ago? (And don't even get me started on the goaltending last year). The defense is greatly improved. The defense is inconsistent. The Avs work hard. The Avs don't show up for big games. The PP is great. The PK is terrible. The offense has gone from great to terrible. Is Sacco squeezing all he can out of a limited roster, or does he shoulder some blame for the inconsistency?
I don't have a clue, to be honest. But we know that Sacco will be behind the bench next year. I, for one, would love to see what he can do with a bonafide NHL roster. Until that happens, we really can't give Skipper Joe a fair evaluation. And no, I won't be holding my breath for that to happen.