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Roy's Risdom: Abberant, illusory, or just ahead of the game?


Full disclosure 1: On the continuum of those who approach hockey with a slide rule and abacus vs. those who reverently wrap their fandom in unwashed socks and piously avoid the blasphemy of even thinking the "S" word when one might be underway, I find myself much closer to the latter although migrating slightly toward the mathematicians a bit.

Full disclosure 2: I am a bit of devotee of the Dario style when time doesn't truncate my texts, so this could get cumbersome.

Full disclosure 3: My aversion to the scientific analysis of the game is slightly willful as the sulfurous snippets of information I inhale are knowingly interpreted with the desire to understand the game in a way that feeds my fandom.

That said, I take no offense and derive no small amount of interest in the debate betwixt the statisticians that waxes and wanes here, so long as it doesn't devolve into absolutism at either end.

So this is another attempt to see the Avalanche's abberance in the statistical world as something more than temporary and satisfy (sorry Stevehouse and Jibble) my desire to defend my fandom balloon from the inevitable statistical pinprick that we all seem to assume anxiously awaits over an unknown horizon.

Much has been made of the fact that our PDO is too high our various varieties of Corsi too low, that our success is unattainable, that sample sizes are small, and that some type of regression is inevitable. Rather than complain about these measures, I'd like to point out to my fellow devotees of magical expectations, that the existence of those rubrics is what heightens our enjoyment of the game. Knowing that this unbelievable anomaly SHOULD come crashing down at any moment multiplies the excitement each time it doesn't.

But I digress, a bit from my primary purpose of positing theories about Woy's Wisdom. So here we go. What I want to do is posit a theory that much of what we are seeing may be a next level or next generation approach to coaching/system that is challenging the paradigm in a way that makes previously valid measurement tools less so. Time will tell the tale more truly (I fear not the tale I want), but the interim is ours and so I wish to indulge in some speculation.

Long vs. Short

Perhaps because of his patience in getting here, his comfort with organization, his satisfaction with his previous career, the fact that he came in with nothing to do but improve, or myriad other possible factors, Roy seems to be able to take a very long view of everything from injuries to player development to organizational structure. We have seen his willingness to give ample healing time and days off to players, his desire to look at the entire organization's way of training and developing players repeatedly and it feels as if all the negatives are bumps in the road and the entire organization has begun a strong, steady march toward long-lived success.

One snippet from which I made an interpretive leap was the one that revealed a Jiggy-led practice with Berra and the fourth line. In that, I saw both the salving of Jiguere's meet-your-replacement wound and a subtle recruiting pitch for the organization. This nod to Jiguere as a brother of both the crease and the bench might be a harbinger of a future organization that has the combined power of Roy, Jiguere, and Allaire working with goalies who fit their profile all through the system. Imagine the longterm power of that if the short has already yielded this year's Varly. If it is not to be and I overread the situation, then Roy was merely wise to give Jiggy an opportunity and some buy-in to Berra.

But we have seen already that Roy looks past the short term mistakes of growth, risk-taking and youth to look at where those might take a player, a line, a team. From comments, it does not seem like he doesn't see the mistakes, but simply notes them calmly, comments where necessary, and understands that these rare athletes WANT to get better and will do so given the opportunity.

Thus his decision to start Berra against the Sharks isn't about the standings. It is about who he wants/needs Berra to become and the irreplaceable power of this high-profile start in his journey to get there.

Gambling vs. Caution

We are no longer astounded when Roy pulls the goalie far too early or when a defensemen sets up below the dots. I believe that by gambling so often in these ways, Roy has actually lowered the risk of doing so because our players grow accustomed and comfortable to the unique demands of these situations. I am going to guess that we will likely be the best empty net team in the league (could stats support that?) per minute in the league.

As a fan I have noticed that I do not have my heart in my throat the way I used to when the net yawns open at our end. I think our players will likely score. Similarly, the hard pinches and "jumping up" by our defenseman don't scare me because I expect someone else to be back.****Sidenote for our better systems guys to educate me on. It seems when Roy's forwards play defense, they are more likely to play it like forwards --attacking the puck and fighting for possession- then defensemen--skating back and maintaining good gap control. I have a theory that because they attack aggressively in the neutral zone and play "defense" with their strengths, they are less often exposed than forwards as defenders typically are.

Finally, a bit of Patrick Henry (with a nod to Ecclesiastes) sums it up for me: "The battle sir is not to the strong alone, it is to the vigilant, the active the brave." Because the Avalanche get to attack, be aggressive, and take risks it removes the infinitesimal hesitation that is so often the difference between the victor and the victim. I believe these habits and tendencies gain even more power over time.

Confidence vs. Criticism

All coaches know that confidence is powerful, and them many of them go about systematically gutting it. This seems to be a core belief for Roy, perhaps forged diamond-hard in the crucible of his fiery exit from Montreal in which that very confidence that so permeates his persona was the very thing Tremblay seemed intent on dimming. I believe that Roy works hard at preserving player's confidence in unusual ways. Being honest with them about their strengths, weaknesses and roles is one way that this is done.

Making a phone call to Nate Guenin out of the blue in the middle of the summer is another and say what you will about his worthiness, there is no question that that action massively elevated Guenin's play over time.

I would say that playing Nate Holden and even Ryan Wilson at forward when he doesn't have room for them on defense is another way of saying "I trust you and believe in you as a hockey player" and allows them to feed that hockey hungry love that burns inside them and keeps them from bittering out and giving up.

Goalie on a pedestal

This last point postulates that there is more going on here with the defensive system that directly challenges the paradigm than anywhere else. It is predicated on a whole lot of wishful thinking, small size, and golly gee, mister wide-eyed fandom than the others, but its basic tenets are these:

1) Goalies NEED shots. Long ones, easily seen and from far away, especially early in games. This is largely in response to Varly's freakish 40+ shots numbers, but also helps me chip away at the Corsiatti idea of the Avs secretly sucking. The battles that I notice (and interference penalties) with Guenin especially take place off to the side of the Varly. His vision seems to be be a far more important factor in our defensive system than it is for others. Wiser more knowledgeable hockey fans might correct me about the systems of others, but I do see a shift in the way the Avs play defense.

2) Primarily the Avs seem to be geared toward keeping the puck in the other zone, stealing it in the neutral zone, and then setting up to keep the middle as clean as possible for Varly. This, unfortunately, leaves them vulnerable to a long cycle game against some teams which allows for long possessions with lots of shots, but ones that are easily handled.

Hopefully, time will prove me (or more importantly, Roy) right. Hopefully, too the old Hitchcockian guard will continue to scoff and stumble until well after our dynasty has been established.

MileHighHockey.com is a fan community, allowing members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Colorado Avalanche and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editors of MileHighHockey.com.

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