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The Joe Sacco Debate

When a team struggles - like, say, losing 18 out of 19 games - talk inevitably centers on whether or not it's time to fire the head coach. Coincidentally, the Colorado Avalanche have lost (checks notes) 18 out of 19 games and (browses internet) there indeed are some whispers that it's time to fire Joe. Since discussing the merits of someone's job and livelihood as if you had any say in the matter isn't douchey at all, and since we haven't already discussed this here at MHH, Beachie and I thought it would be totally fun to have a little debate about whether or not the Avs should fire Joe Sacco.

DDC: Beachie, I know a lot of people are calling for Sacco’s job, but I think there are a lot of short memories out there. I mean, this is a coach who was a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy last year after taking a so-so team to the playoffs. I know the team has been a huge disappointment this year, but are we really going to blame that all on the coach?

Beachie: I don't think it's an issue of blaming it all on Sacco. But just as we can't blame this year solely on him, we can't give all credit of last year's success to him either. The entire team played over their heads and rode a hot goalie to an unexpected playoff appearance. They all were out to prove something, and that drive propelled them as much as anything. I don't doubt Sacco was able to pull performances out of the players that maybe another coach wouldn't have been able to, but he's lost that touch this year. He has a team that gives up after one go-ahead goal. The team spends most games running around without unity or direction. Isn't it the responsibility of the coach to find answers to those kinds of things?

DDC: Sure, Sacco hasn't been able to improve the penalty kill and he seems incapable (or unwilling) to adjust to teams suddenly clogging up the middle of the ice. But he's just coached 150 NHL games. We're letting all of the young players take their time to develop. Shouldn't we give him a little time to develop as well? And look at the team he has to work with. Kevin Porter as the #1 left wing? No offense to Porter, but that would be a challenge for any NHL coach. As bad as it's been, I think he's done okay with the roster he has.

Beachie: "Incapable (or unwilling) to adjust to teams suddenly clogging up the middle of the ice." Yup, that's it in a nutshell. Regardless of how many NHL games he's coached, he has coached professional players for essentially six years now (2 asst for Lock Monsters, 2 head in Erie and the 2 in CO). When teams figure out your system, you change it. The only thing he seems to be changing are the lines. Yes, there have been injuries that have put players on lines where they don't belong. And yes, those injuries have also necessitated the juggling of said lines. But he's done it numerous times in the middle of games to allegedly "shake things up." Newsflash: it is not working, Joe. It didn't work three months ago when you first tried it, and it's still not working. As far as giving him time to develop...okay, how about he do that in Erie? Because while he's trying to figure out how to coach a young NHL team, those young players may have their development stunted because of it. Is that really fair to them?

DDC: I'm not saying that Sacco is perfect. I just have a hard time picturing ANY coach doing well with this team right now. They have just completely fallen apart. Some people might blame the coach for that, but this isn't a team he's coaching, it's a walking MASH unit. I think Sacco's performance last year has earned him an opportunity to come back next year with a healthy squad, fresh outlook and maybe a bona fide starting goalie. If the team stumbles out of the block next year, then bring on David Quinn or Sylvain Lefebvre. What, you think the Avs would go outside of the organization for his replacement?

Beachie: Look, I get that Sacco was given a losing scenario. Injuries to that many players - especially top ones - clearly set him and the team up for failure. But the failure is way beyond monumental and that's where the issue is IMO. The team gave up. A lot of people can say, "They're pros, they're being paid the money, it's their job to keep it together." And to an extent, that's true. But if they could do that without a coach, there wouldn't be coaches at all. Despite what people say, especially by quoting recent statements by O'Byrne and O'Reilly, it really seems Sacco lost the locker room, lost confidence from his team. Last season, even in the bad times, all players - even the vets - would come out and praise him. This year? I only see certain players doing it. Liles outright dodged the question by saying, "We're not going to talk about that." Sacco's inexperience got in the way, and now the Avs are looking at topping the season-that-shall-not-be-named as the worst in history. I just think keeping him is risking the development of our young guys way too much. There will be even fewer vets in the locker room next year and the average age will drop again, barring some huge signing (yeah, right). There at least needs to be a veteran at the helm, and not a veteran player - a vet coach. So let's bring in a vet coach...I've no idea who that is, which probably makes this whole argument moot, but I think it's something that needs serious consideration from the brass.

Well, there you have it. Beachie and I have both made our case. I think Sacco deserves a little leeway; injuries and horrendous goaltending like the Avs have seen would be tough for any coach to overcome, especially one as cheap as this franchise. Beachie thinks he's had his chance and the Avs need to bring in a proven coach to shape the young roster. I'm pretty sure I know how the requisite poll will go, but I'll post one anyway.