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Revisiting MHH's 2013-14 Avalanche Season Analysis: Part 2 - The Coaches

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Today, we shift our focus to the other big changes for the team: the guys behind the bench.

Doug Pensinger

There were a lot of mixed feelings about Patrick Roy becoming the Avalanche's new head coach. Even more feelings swirled when he brought in a bunch of guys from the Q to help him out. The one acquisition that wasn't in doubt was Francois Allaire. Let's see what we thought and how things ended up.

The Avs nearly did a complete overhaul behind the bench. With the exception of Tim Army, the coaching staff is brand new, and only one of the new guys (Francois Allaire) has any NHL coaching experience. How confident are you in their ability to make this team successful?

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What Andi said then: It's either going to be completely awesome or a complete train wreck. Roy expects to win, but I'm not convinced that he's been given a roster that can pull that off. If they feed off his competitive attitude and come together as a team, then we're in good shape, but otherwise, I'm concerned that he'll become frustrated and lash out. An inexperienced coaching staff means a lot of ups and downs as they adjust, but with the addition of a couple new specialty coaches (Allaire and Foote), I feel like the groundwork for a successful staff is here. It's really hard to get a read on how they'll mesh with the players and with each other right now though. Either way, it'll certainly be exciting, which in itself is a huge change from the past 4 seasons.

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What AJ said then: No personnel changes this off-season matched quite what happened in the front office as the management restructuring and hiring of Patrick Roy as Head Coach gave new life to a fan base who had become disillusioned with the stoic and seemingly wayward ways of the Lacroix Family. This represented a seismic shift in direction for a franchise that seemed obsessed with the glory days. Personally, I’m stoked. The energy surrounding the franchise is something we haven’t had in Colorado for at least five years and perhaps longer. We’re in an uncharted territory as a fan base as we hopefully continue the transition from doormat to up-and-comer. More than any single hire, I love that the Avs took a bold step in one direction. They finally gave us an idea of the vision they have for the franchise by bringing in guys whose goals are just as focused on winning as they were during their playing careers. While the league is quietly smirking at the Avs apparently obsession with the past, they seem to be overlooking that the Avs have built a sneaky dangerous team that’s going to be led by one of the most intense competitors the sport has ever seen. If Roy is able to instill the kind of heart and soul the Avs have clearly lacked the last couple years, they’re going to be a pain in the ass to play on a nightly basis. The Roy-Landy partnership might be the most exciting aspect of the Roy hiring.

What AJ says now: Nailed it.

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What Steve said then: I'm pretty confident in Allaire's ability to bring Varly into a more stoic and positional game, which will help him not need to make the dramatic save so often because he won't be out of position in the first place.

The rest of the coaching? Well at least we increased fucks given (no slam on Sacco; nobody has more give-a-fuck than St Patrick) and number of turd lines. We won't know for a good while. These guys have definitely successfully put in their dues in the Q but still, 0 NHL games coached. We just don't really know. It looks good on paper?

What Steve says now: That's basically what we saw from Varly this season, and it was far and away his best yet. My response on the rest of the coaching staff was a complete copout but I think any other answer would have been dishonest.

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What Mike said then: In a handful of words: not very. This team doesn't have the under-performing parts to suddenly turn into a deep playoff team with just a change in systems/who's yelling at them from the bench. I hope that Roy and Co. can be the tide that lifts all boats but the SS Avalanche has been beached for a long time and it might take some series tugboats to pull it out of the sand. Concordia. There, I've run that metaphor truly aground.

I expect Varly to be better both due to an actual goalie coach and due to another year of experience. Hopefully Allaire can get his mind and crease movements a little more "quiet" and focus on gaining some efficiency and consistency.

What Mike says now: That's a pretty thorough reverse jinx in the first paragraph if I do say so myself.  My second paragraph proves that I occasionally do know what I'm talking about.

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What Cheryl said then: Not gonna lie. I'm a bit worried. There's way too much rookie blood behind the bench for my liking. I appreciate that Roy went for guys he trusted, but unfortunately, those guys are all new to the NHL. I love Tim Army, but he just doesn't seem to be a "c'mon boys, let me show you how it's done" kind of assistant coach, at least not with the other coaches. He's great with the players, but, well, you know. I do think that Roy will be highly successful, though. I truly believe he will be the first "best of the best player" to become a "best of the best" NHL coach.

I'm very excited about Allaire. I know there's a lot of concern out there about his track record of "ruining" some goalies who could have been elite. But he's also taken some goalies and, by their own admission, made them elite. Two of them are with the organization. I feel confident that he will give Varly the technical foundation he needs to round out his game. I also think he'll make Varly a more confident player.

What Cheryl says now: Roy is the boss. Rather than intimidating his players, he developed a relationship with them the likes of which I've never heard about on other teams. He was brilliant in the calculated moves he made throughout the season, driving his team to become the division champs. He won the Jack Adams for a reason. His cast of characters were much more impressive than I expected, and wow, what a difference in Tim Army. Watching practices, it was like night and day from the Sacco years. I think Roy's rookieness (yes, that's a word) showed during the playoffs, though. Some really questionable decisions like who was getting ice time and when arguably cost the team that first round. Next year will only get better, I believe.

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What Earl said then: Maybe I should worry more about the inexperience of the staff, but I don't. Quinn was clearly lost with the D last year, Tourigny and Foote can't help but do better. Allaire will make a big difference not just with Varly/JSG, but all the way through the system. I don't see Patrick Roy failing at anything he puts his mind to, it's just not in his nature.

What Earl says now: Other than a few rookie errors and some questionable uses of LEM players, the staff did well. This year will be much more telling with opponents having a better idea of what the Avs are up to. Patrick needs to show a smart response to that or things could get ugly real quick.

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What Cole said then: I’m pretty confident that Roy and company can make some solid improvements on offense and defense. Roy has already stated that he doesn’t want to be a dump and chase team (THANK GOD) and I have a pretty good feeling that his power play wont be 100% reliant on a super formulaic drop pass zone entry play. I liked a lot of things about Joe Sacco, but I think he was too set in his ways and wanted to build a grinding team more than he wanted to adapt to the skill sets of his players.

As far as the defense, I don’t see how the coaching could get any worse than it was last year. The wrong guys got all the trust from Sacco’s coaching staff, and the right guys were never given a chance to bust their slump. If any of you saw the NHLPA rookie showcase preview, they interview Tyson Barrie and he talks all about how the power play is his bread and butter. What do you think it does to an offensive defenseman’s confidence to get pulled from the power play point in favor of a fourth and then a fifth forward? A coaching staff that doesn’t trust Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie to play on the power play, but does trust Matt Hunwick and Greg Zanon for more short handed TOI per game than Johnson is a woeful coaching staff indeed. The personnel aren’t good enough on this squad to make a huge leap, but some changes in time on ice management and matchups could certainly improve things.

The only place I’m really worried is in net. On paper, bringing in Francois Allaire is a brilliant move, he has great working relationships with Patrick Roy and J.S. Giguere and is widely regarded as one of the best goalie coaches in the business. But is he the right coach for Semyon Varlamov? Allaire has a bit of a reputation for being stubborn and Varlamov is a very raw young goaltender with some bad habits to break. Allaire could rework his play and help him become a steady force in the Avalanche net for years to come, but he could just as easily break Varlamov’s confidence and start us looking for a new starting goalie.

What Cole says now: Patrick Roy got all the press, but wow does it look like Francois Allaire made the biggest difference for this team.  Bringing in Allaire was a definite risk, the guy is known just as well for breaking goalies as he is for making them.  By all accounts Varlamov and Allaire have a great working relationship and while I expect Varlamov's numbers to regress some next year, I believe he and Allaire have built a solid foundation that will allow Varlamov to live up to his contract extension.  Now lets hope and pray that he can work magic on Reto Berra, because that whole backup thing looks like a mess.

Now onto the rest of the coaching staff.  Varlamov's play and Roy's reputation as an Avalanche legend covered up some serious warts on the coaching side.  Like all of Joe Sacco's teams, Roy's first team was woefully outshot and out-possessed all season.  That's a big strike one against the coaching staff. Let's all remember that Joe Sacco nearly rode a hot goalie and some high performance rookies to a Jack Adams award before years of mediocrity and fan vitriol.

To me, strike two is a number of seriously, mind bogglingly stupid personnel decisions which, in my opinion cost us the first round against the Minnesota Wild.  All season Roy and the coaching staff inexplicably refused to call-up players from Lake Erie.  I can't count the number of times that this team opted for an extra defenseman and 2:00 of Patrick Bordeleau on the "4th line" instead of creating four functional lines.  I don't understand that AT ALL.  That strategy did a couple of major things to hurt this team. First, I think it wore out the Avs top six before the playoffs because they were forced to play so many extra minutes. And second, it meant that when injuries DID happen, the replacement players from Lake Erie had extremely limited NHL experience, they were expected to jump in for the first time at a critical times.  That is not a recipe for success.

Don't believe me? Look at the end of the 2013-2014 season.  While playoff teams around the NHL were calling up a number of young AHL players and letting them play significant minutes in order to prepare for a playoff callup, the Avalanche got greedy chasing the President's Trophy.  An honor, certainly, but there is no reason that Ryan O'Reilly should be playing through an injury in game 82 while Jan Hejda and Erik Johnson play big minutes in a game that DID NOT MATTER.  What was the result? Jan Hejda broke his hand in that game and we saw one of the Avalanche's most critical players performance fall off a cliff.  What else happened in the final games of the 2014 season?  The Avalanche's top six played big minutes while Joey Hishon, Andrew Aggozzino and others sat in Lake Erie with zero games of NHL experience.  With Alex Tanguay, Matt Duchene, PA Parenteau and John Mitchell injured this team opted for more minutes of Marc Andre Cliche and Brad Malone.  Are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING? The fact that Joey Hishon played 12:00 fewer minutes in Game 7 than Marc Andre Cliche is an absolute joke, and a significant part of the Avs loss in that game.  Marc Andre Cliche shouldn't even play 12:00 minutes in a game.  That dude played 14:19 per game in the playoffs and had TWO SHOTS ON NET and 0 points.  That's two shots in 99:33 of ice time, that's 49:67 minutes on the ice per shot on goal that's unacceptable.  When a player is playing like that you don't reward him with more ice time, you reward him with the bench.

Now, that's a lot of negativity I know, but they should have won that series and I think personnel decisions from the coaching staff let the team, and us fans down.  From a systems perspective I like a lot of what the Avalanche did last year and I think they will improve significantly as they find better players who can thrive in Tourigny's defensive system.  To me that mean's defensemen who's primary asset is their skating.  Also known as: "Why I'm confused about the Brad Stuart trade and think Chris Bigras will thrive in camp".  Some problems on the coaching side were big, but I think it's safe to expect this rookie coaching staff to grow and improve as the team does.  On ice product aside, this coaching staff inspired a serious culture change on and off the ice, the importance of which can't be overstated.  Lots of goodwill and warm fuzzies back in the Can thanks to Roy and Co.

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What Sandie said then: Before I met with Kurt Etchegary I was one of the ones saying "this really could go either way". I wasn’t in love with it, but I didn’t hate it either. I thought it was the expected, and easy, route. He despises losing. Roy will not stand behind a bench that does not care about the on-ice product. He may not have NHL experience, but he has plenty of experience in the QJMHL – being the owner, GM, and head coach of the team. His regular season record speaks for itself 349-161-16-21 (W-L-OTL-SOL).

After chatting with Kurt I am firmly in the "love it" group. He didn’t hold back, guys at this age are rarely "groomed" for the media. Roy will make the team work, if the team had more veterans on it, I would be more worried. The fact is that he has worked with youngsters, and he has their respect in the lockerroom for what he has done at the Junior level and in the NHL. If this team was an older team, I’d have more reservations about Roy.