In the first move of what is likely to be a tumultuous summer, Joe Sacco has been relieved of his duties as the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche Homepage is unsurprisingly sparse, saying only that:
"The organization believes a change of leadership behind the bench is needed going forward," said Avalanche General Manager/Executive Vice President Greg Sherman. "Joe has worked for this franchise for eight seasons and he is a dedicated and hard-working coach. We appreciate all he has done and wish him the best in the future."
Sacco's four-year tenure as the head coach of the Avalanche has been something of a mixed bag and while he has his supporters among Avs fans and here at Mile High Hockey, three consecutive playoff misses and a pair of 29th place finishes finally pushed Sacco out the door.
- He coached a young unseasoned team to the playoffs in his first year as head coach and put up a good fight against the San Jose Sharks in the first round.
- Sacco has seemingly had a big hand in the development of some of the Avs young stars. From the outset he was pegged as a player developer, and when he was promoted from Lake Erie to Colorado he drug along a number of young players who immediately found success in the NHL including T.J. Galiardi, Brandon Yip and Chris Stewart. In more recent years he's been credited with helping to shape the games of young core players like Ryan O'Reilly and Tyson Barrie (who's zone starts and situational use helped them develop in the NHL).
- Sacco's aggressive fore-checking and penalty killing systems fit well with this young fast team and have been a defining piece of the squad's success (when they've had it).
- Others around the NHL and the world have recognized Sacco as a talented coach. Sacco was selected to coach Team U.S.A in the 2013 World Championship and in his first season, Joe Sacco was recognized as a finalist for the NHL's Jack Adams Trophy, awarded to the NHL's top head coach.
- The Avalanche absolutely obliterated their Eastern Conference opponents under Sacco, going 33-14-7 in three season's against the Eastern Conference.
- Sacco had a losing record in his tenure as Avalanche coach, going 130-134-30 over four years.
- Sacco has made some baffling lineup decisions over his career, including but not limited to: A) Matt Duchene on the wing, B) Paul Stastny as a defenseive zone starter, C) Greg Zanon and Matt Hunwick as semi-regular TOI leaders, D) 5-man power play, and E) Winnik on the top line.
- From a fan's perspective, Sacco seemed to have few tools for dealing with struggling players. If a 3rd period benching and a healthy scratch didn't fix a slump then nothing seemed to.
- Stubborn use of predictable systems. The drop pass, power play zone entry was a failure, and yet the Avs attempted it over and over every time they got the man advantage. The Avalanche finished 24th on the power play with just a 15% conversion rate.
- Joe Sacco's division record was probably the biggest black mark on his tenure as Avalanche coach. In 4 years the Avalanche never had a winning record within their own, markedly weak division.
o 2013: 5-13-0
o 2012: 8-14-2
o 2011: 7-16-1
o 2010: 10-11-3
o Sacco's Career Divisional Record? An Inspiring: 30-54-6
Reactions around the Avalanche fan base have been overwhelmingly positive, which is to be expected after a frustrating season that saw the Avs finish in 29th place and go 6-17-1 in the second half of this shortened season. But in truth, Sacco's firing holds more questions than answers for the future of the Colorado Avalanche. Is Greg Sherman next in line for a pink slip? If so, does he deserve it? Who will follow Joe Sacco as head coach? Will the Avalanche promote from within again with Tim Army? Will they keep up the nepotism and hire a former player in Patrick Roy? Or will they finally break the cycle and look for help from the outside world? We'll be exploring all those questions and more at MHH over what is going to be another long offseason. For now, here is Adrian Dater's list of possible candidates from his end of season blog:
"I've heard that Patrick Roy could be in the mix again as a possible coach. I've heard Tim Army will be the next coach. I've heard that Guy Boucher might be the next coach. I've heard that Sherman and Pierre and Eric Lacroix could be broomed by the Kroenkes. I've heard Joe Sakic will be the next John Elway of the Avs. I've heard all that. But have I been satisfied enough from my sources/reporting to actually authoritatively report that any of the above will happen? Nope. That's why you haven't seen anything from me on these scenarios."
Whoever the new Avs coach is, the teams' failures do not fall on Joe Sacco's head alone. More changes are coming for this rebuilding team. Between the draft, free agency and the hiring of a new coach, it's going to be a busy summer here at Mile High Hockey. We hope you'll join us for all the groundless speculation... errr coverage.