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Is widespread loathing of Tim Army justified?

2016 Coors Light Stadium Series - Detroit Red Wings v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

For various reasons, Tim Army gets a lot of hate from Avs fans. He is associated with the Sacco years, perceived poor performance from the Avalanche power play and being old. But should we hate him? Should we want him gone ASAFP? Let’s take a look at what we know:

  • Army was a 9th round pick of the Colorado Rockies in 1981. He played 4 years at Providence College where he was captain and a Hobey Baker finalist in his senior year. A quick trip through the AHL and a couple Euro teams led him to the beginning of his coaching career
  • After several seasons as an assistant at PC he was chosen to assist Ron Wilson behind the bench for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim debut campaign. When Wilson moved on to the Caps in 1997 he came with. From there he got his first head coaching gig with the Portland Pirates (AHL) and spent 6 years as the head coach back at Providence before the Avs hired him in 2011. Along the way he’s had extensive experience coaching various levels of USA Hockey from U16s to the World Cup.
  • After a year spent as Avalanche video coach Army moved behind the bench and he’s been there ever since, outlasting 2 head coaches and a slew of other assistants.

It’s a fine resume. Plenty of experience, 14 years as an NHL assistant, 9 years as a head coach in the NCAA and AHL. You’d think he was pretty old but he’s not. He started out at age 24, so at age 53 he’s packed a lot of coaching knowledge away. He’s just two years older than Patrick, a year older than Avs HC candidate Lane Lambert and a year younger than Scott Arniel. Not trying to make a case for hiring him but he’s not some dottering old fool out there.

That’s what he’s done, what exactly does he do with the Avs?

  • He’s usually referred to as the “power play coach”. Often times he is seen with the whiteboard drawing up plays before the PP starts and occasionally for 6v5s at the end of games. Does that mean that he had carte blanche from Patrick to implement his own strategies and choose the personnel for man-advantage situations? No way to know for sure of course, but given the similarities between the PP and the Avs 5v5 play I tend to doubt it.
  • Is the Power Play really that bad? In Roy’s first year it was 8th in the league, that’s good. In 14-15 it was 29th, that’s bad. This past season it was 19th but 3 more goals and it would have been top 10. Strategically it looks awful, but watch everyone else’s and they look awful too. Around the league there are a few elite teams but mostly everyone passes it around for a while and hopes something opens up. It’s pretty random and affects games far less than most fans realize. Also like the Avs, most teams are really inconsistent on the PP, even the good ones.
  • Since he’s not changing lines/pairs during the course of normal play, Army is the coach that is in contact with the eye-in-the-sky. We don’t know exactly who that is, probably video coach Brett Heimlich, but Army is tasked with taking that information, passing it along to the head coach and communicating what the bench thinks the overhead viewer should be looking for.
  • During practices, Army runs drills with the forwards and also does extra coaching work afterwards with those that want/need it. Anecdotal examples that this is a strength would be Matt Duchene’s improvement on faceoffs, Mikhail Grigorenko’s improvement overall and I’m sure a bunch more that we never hear about. This is the least appreciated part of what he does and perhaps the most important considering that the Avs will very likely be skewing younger in the coming seasons. This is real live teaching and by all accounts Army is pretty good at that.

What we have here is a solid assistant that knows the org and the players well, will have more experience behind the bench to fall back on than any of the known head coaching candidates and that can teach skills. All three of those attributes will come in handy this season. As far as I’m concerned it’s ok to wish Dave Farrish into the cornfield but hanging on to Tim Army until this transition out of the Patrick Roy era sorts itself out next Summer isn’t a bad option at all.