Stanley Cups, ferocious rivalries, and Hall of Fame players are all distant memories of when the Colorado Avalanche ruled the NHL. In 1995, the shiny allure of the new pro sports team in Denver was instant. The first year the Avs moved to Colorado from Quebec they won the Stanley Cup. This was before Elway won his first Super Bowl, before Colorado knew what it was to be a champion in major sports. In a region known as “Broncos Country”, the Avalanche were the crown jewel. Five years later, the Avs won the Cup again – Colorado sports fans were spoiled with success.
But memories only mean so much in pro sports, and times change. The Avs that once doused one another in champagne in 1996 and 2001 are now the Avs that will need to check ID’s before bringing bubbly into the locker room.
The Avalanche has fallen from the Stanley Cup Finals to the NHL draft lottery. The Pepsi Center, noted for having a 487 game sellout streak for the Avalanche, is now desolate. Many fans seem to have lost hope in the struggling franchise.
In 2000, Rick Pitino famously told the media and Boston Celtics fans to let go of past glory and accept the fact that retired Celtics legends would not be walking through the The Garden doors to save the franchise. This logic is rational and applicable to the Avalanche – Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, and Patrick Roy will be not lacing up their skates for the team.
But in regard to the Avalanche, Pitino would only be half correct.
Josh Kroenke, President of the Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, has appointed Hall of Famers Sakic and Roy to help bring the Avalanche from depths of NHL obscurity. Roy will be head coach and vice president of hockey operations, while Sakic will take on the role of executive vice president of hockey operations.
Fancy titles, but what do they mean?
Basically, Sakic and Roy will be in charge of creating a roster that will be a yearly contender for the Stanley Cup. Sakic will make all of the final calls and Roy will play a significant role in contributing to those decisions. Greg Sherman, the general manager, will have some say, but his role seems to be reduced to number crunching and salary space.
Making Roy the head coach will bring the intensity and passion to win Avalanche fans witnessed in his time as goaltender. He has no experience as an NHL coach – but his 348-196 record as coach of the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) shows he has some idea of how to run a young team. The QMJHL is a premier junior league and contains many top NHL prospects.
Hiring Sakic and Roy also recaptures the interest of a diverted fan base. Seeing Roy behind the bench and knowing Sakic’s mind is behind the product on the ice will surely draw fans to the area, and Josh Kroenke appears aware of this.
The first test for the two former superstars is the NHL Entry Draft on June 30, where the Avs have the first pick. This draft has no clear-cut first choice. Seth Jones, a 6’4 defenseman and son of former NBA player and current Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Popeye Jones, was the favorite to be selected with the first pick by most NHL draft projections, but the decision has become murky of late after the emergence of forwards and teammates Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. MacKinnon and Drouin both had strong seasons in the QMJHL and together led their Halifax Mooseheads team to a Memorial Cup championship as Canada’s best major junior hockey team – beating out Jones’ Portland Winterhawks 6-4 in the final game.
The Avalanche already has a strong core of talented young players up front in Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and captain Gabriel Landeskog. The Avs suffered in 2012-2013 on defense – ranking 27 in the NHL in goals against with 3.1 per game – making Jones a sensible selection. There is also sentimental value in selecting Jones, taking into consideration Joe Sakic was the one who tipped his father – who was playing for the Denver Nuggets at the time – into starting Seth in power skating after Popeye approached Sakic and informed him of his son’s interest in hockey.
Again, memories and sentiments only go so far in pro sports. Sakic and Roy know this and have a big summer ahead.