30 in 30: Roy Behind Bench Is Avalanche X-Factor
It's fair to say the Colorado Avalanche have not been remotely the same organization since Patrick Roy announced his retirement as a player following the 2002-03 season.
The all-time NHL leader in wins by a goaltender when he hung up the skates, Roy powered the Avalanche to two Stanley Cup titles in their first six seasons in Denver, as well as eight straight division titles.
Colorado hasn't won the Northwest Division since Roy's final season, and a fourth-place finish in the Western Conference in 2003-04 is the only time since then the Avalanche placed higher than seventh. Of even greater concern, the franchise has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in five of the past seven seasons, including three times coming in last or next-to-last.
Roy returns to the Avalanche for the 2013-14 season having made the transition from the crease to behind the bench, and he'll attempt to prove a successful tenure coaching the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League made him the right choice to bring a halt to Colorado's gradual decline and push the club back toward the West's elite.
"I think my No. 1 quality is I'm not afraid to put in the work," Roy said in May at his introductory press conference. "When you work hard and put in the time, nothing can go wrong."
However, force of will alone -- even a will as strong as Roy's -- probably won't be enough to significantly improve a team that won 16 of 48 games last season and finished 29th in the League standings. The question waiting to be answered is whether the Avalanche added the necessary pieces during the offseason to be a playoff contender, and how their rookie coach will manage his players.
In leading the Remparts to 348 wins and a Memorial Cup title over eight seasons, Roy displayed the same fiery temperament that was a trademark of his playing days with the Avalanche and Montreal Canadiens. Will his style of coaching translate well to the NHL and a team that, though relatively young, also has its share of veterans?
Joe Sakic, his former teammate and the current executive vice president of hockey operations for Colorado, certainly thinks so.
"There's no one more passionate about this game," Sakic said. "He'll bring a winning attitude to this dressing room and help this young team grow. I know he'll get the best out of each player. He's the perfect guy for this organization."
There is no shortage of young talent in the Avalanche dressing room for Roy to mold. Start with Nathan MacKinnon, the No. 1 pick of the 2013 NHL Draft who doesn't turn 18 until Sept. 1, and include past top-three selections Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene along with Ryan O'Reilly -- each 22 or younger -- and there is the makings of a franchise on the rise.
Defenseman Erik Johnson -- like MacKinnon, a No. 1 pick -- and starting goaltender and fellow first-rounder Semyon Varlamov are 25 years old. Each is still trying to live up to the expectations that followed him into the League.
The Avalanche clearly have a nucleus in place, but turning potential into results will fall on Roy's shoulders.
The situation with Varlamov in particular bears watching. Colorado traded first- and second-round draft picks two years ago to acquire him from the Washington Capitals, but after posting 26 wins and a 2.59 goals-against average in his first season with the Avalanche, he went 11-21-3 with a 3.02 GAA in 2012-13.
In part, it will be new goalie coach Francois Allaire's task to help Varlamov rediscover his promise, but the relationship between Roy and his netminders will always draw scrutiny. Can arguably the greatest goaltender of all-time engineer a turnaround with a group that finished in the lower third of the League in goals-against average and save percentage a season ago?
"My objective is to be a bit of what the Avalanche has always been, a very offensive team, a lot of scoring chances, and the goalie, do your job," Roy said in May.
It's not far-fetched to believe Colorado could be an offensive powerhouse with its personnel and Roy's pedal-to-the-metal attitude. But in the NHL teams don't go very far without the goalie -- and the defense in front of him -- doing his job, and weaknesses on the back end get exposed a lot quicker than at the junior level.
Roy, though, is undaunted. If passionate is the word used most when describing him, confident can't be far behind.
"I understand there might be some adjustment to make. Junior is junior and NHL is NHL, but, at the end of the day, you prepare yourself pretty much the same and then the game is just a bit faster than maybe it is in junior,” Roy said. "All my years in junior, I've been using my NHL experience. The NHL experience I've been using is the one that I had with Montreal and Colorado and different types of coaches that I've had have been models for myself."