BURNSIDE: Greetings, my friend. Hope you’re getting your Game 7 game face on in Los Angeles. Should be a dandy. But as you gear up for the Kings-Sharks tilt, the Avalanche are gearing up for an entirely different challenge with the introduction Tuesday of Hall of Fame goalie and Avs icon Patrick Roy as the team’s coach. Dramatic doesn’t begin to describe the change in personalities and demeanors and reputations between former coach Joe Sacco and Roy. Sacco was a journeyman forward who helped the Avs to a surprising playoff berth in 2010 but ultimately couldn’t galvanize the many moving parts placed in front of him by GM Greg Sherman. Colorado has missed the playoffs the past three years and this season finished low enough in the standings (29th) to end up with the first overall pick in the draft.
As you so eloquently pointed out in your blog when news broke that Roy was going to return to Colorado, this marks a bright new beginning for an organization that has fallen off the sporting radar in Denver. The expectation is the team will select Seth Jones, who has strong ties to the community, with the first overall pick. That, plus Roy’s return, and the ascension of another Hall of Famer, former Avs captain Joe Sakic, to the top of the organization in terms of hockey decisions, will make the team more relevant. But one wonders how all these moving parts will fit together, my friend. What do you think the biggest challenge for Roy will be?
LeBRUN: Hola! from the Staples Center, sir. To me, Roy's biggest challenge will be to get a handle on the competition and the people he's coaching against. After a decade removed from the NHL, he's going to need to quickly ramp up his education on the players from other teams as well as the systems and coaches he'll face. This isn't major junior hockey anymore. Having said that, I know he's kept in contact over the years with people in the league, including the likes of Flames coach Bob Hartley. So Roy has tried hard to stay current on what's going on in the NHL, especially, I think in the last few years, when he felt he'd soon be ready for this challenge. Aside from that, obviously he's an emotional guy. He's going to need to try to suppress some of that temper when things aren't going well and remember that he's not going to intimidate anyone in the big league like perhaps he did in juniors.
BURNSIDE: Here’s the issue for a team that has made some pretty horrific personnel decisions in recent years: You’ve got two guys now calling the shots who have platinum credentials but zero experience. Think about the struggles Joe Nieuwendyk encountered as GM in Dallas. And Steve Yzerman is having growing pains in Tampa after some early success. Remember when Pete DeBoer went to Florida as the hot prospect out of the major junior coaching ranks? Now, he wasn’t a Hall of Fame player, but he was an accomplished coach who took some time to get his legs under him and it took a second job in New Jersey to become the coach many expected he could be.
So, both Sakic and Roy are going to have to buck historic trends if they’re going to turn it around in Colorado in the short term, although it was interesting to hear Roy say at his news conference Tuesday that he was going to bring the same passion to being an NHL coach as he did to being an NHL player, and that the Avs were going to have a “Stanley Cup attitude” from the get-go. And whether anyone likes to admit it, and no matter whether it’s fair, the fact that we’re talking Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy sets the expectations bar very high from the beginning ... not just in Denver but around the hockey world. So, knowing how quickly things can change in the NHL, do you see the Avs being a playoff team next spring, or is that unrealistic?
LeBRUN: They’re not a playoff team unless they can shore up their blue line. That’s a real thin group on defense. If the Avs draft Jones, that’s a major step in helping rebuild that group, but it’s going to take more than a rookie to turn things around on the back end. Sakic, Roy and Sherman should be looking at their trade options/free agency to see what’s out there. To me, though, that the Avs have moved Sakic into a more meaningful role and ponied up to sign Roy is telling. It seems ownership has finally come out of hibernation and is willing to commit more to the team. Whether the Avs make the playoffs next season is less important to the big picture here than the Avs' intent on becoming an “it” team again in this league.