Most of us weren’t prepared for a new coaching era in Colorado. The charismatic Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy was well-entrenched behind the Avalanche bench, three years into the role, ostensibly line-in-step with a front office run by friend and former teammate Joe Sakic. They were supposed to be both the face and force behind the turnaround of a struggling organization that had experienced nothing but success during their playing days with the team.
Of course, that’s not how it worked out.
Sakic is now scrambling to find someone to lead the team when training camps open next month, and that’s not going to be easy. Just about every hockey organization, from Canadian juniors to the professional ranks, has their staff in place this time of year and are well underway with preparations for the season. No, NHL teams aren’t obligated to provide draft compensation anymore for poaching coaches, but this process won’t be as clean and tidy as it would have been in, say, June. Though coaches are reticent to deny top assistants promotional opportunities, the timing is a real disadvantage for them as well, and it shouldn’t be a surprise if some teams deny permission to speak to certain candidates.
So, given the sudden upheaval and the considerable wake left by Roy, what’s fair to expect from the next Avalanche coach?
Fans in Colorado rightly expect progress from a young core that should be hitting their stride as they enter their athletic primes. But does this change with a new voice drawing up the plays and calling out line changes? Does it matter if the coach has considerable NHL experience or whether he’s plucked from the junior ranks?
I mean, this is a significant organizational shakeup after all. Maybe it’s only fair we give the team a year to adjust, grow into a new system, wait one more season to become “ready for prime time.”
But when close followers of the team (and a great amount of statistical data) suggest Roy was the very reason for the team’s middling record, I would argue no. It doesn’t matter — not even slightly. This team should be improving, if not through a modernized defensive system and a functional breakout scheme, then at least because the young core should be maturing into a consistent playoff team on talent alone.
Whether the front office chooses a veteran disciplinarian like Hartley, or a hot assistant from the best possession team in hockey like Kevin Dineen, this coaching transition should not be a setback. It should be the jolt that vaults this team back into the playoffs, allows elite offensive talents like Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, and Tyson Barrie to reach even higher levels of statistical output. It should allow Semyon Varlamov to see mere league average of shots-on-goal and climb above a .920 save percentage for the first time in two years.
There should be no excuses for this team next season. Not even a new coach, whoever he may be.