A year ago, in the NHL lockout-shortened season, the Colorado Avalanche were able to come out with only 16 wins in 48 games played. So far in this season, the Avs have compiled 37 wins in only 58 games. The Avs have won 21 games more, while having only played 10 more.
What’s changed? Common thought is that when that kind of drastic improvement happens, there must have been some major change. However, that has not been the case.
Last year, the Avs were under control of head coach Joe Sacco, who had success early on in his career, but that success was a distant memory after the lockout. Most people believed that the Avs, built on key young players like Matt Duchene, Gabe Landeskog and Semyon Varlamov, would be able to come out of the lockout fast. They believed the younger players would outskate veterans at least for the first month of the season until conditioning was regained.
So when the team collapsed to a 29th place finish, questions arose about the organization’s leadership. The general manager, Greg Sherman, was put in question for some of his recent acquisitions – including the acquisition of Varlamov from Washington – and Sacco was on the hot seat.
So the front office was shaken up, albeit the new names were very familiar to the franchise. Joe Sakic, the captain for the franchise when it relocated to Denver, stepped into Sherman’s place, and he hired Patrick Roy to be head coach. Roy was given the ability to have input as to who would be on his roster.
Together, they made quick work to improve the organization, as they held the first selection in the NHL draft. There were many options, but they elected to draft forward Nathan MacKinnon against common thought. Many others thought they should draft for need – a lockdown defensemen – in Seth Jones. Now, as MacKinnon is leading the Calder Trophy race and is 2nd in the NHL in goals scored since the start of 2014, Sakic and Roy are being praised for the move.
MacKinnon has had a massive impact on the turnaround, but is he capable of giving this organization 21 more wins this season on his own? I don’t think so.
There haven’t been many other roster moves. They shipped David Jones and Shane O’Brien to the Calgary Flames for Alex Tanguay and Cory Sarich in the offseason, but Tanguay and Sarich have both been injured for long periods of time this season. They also swapped Steve Downie for Max Talbot in November with Philadelphia. Talbot hasn’t had much of an impact offensively, but Roy mentioned after it happened that he was acquired for his penalty killing skills, which have been on display.
But most of the turnaround can be pointed to the key players that were on the Avs roster a year ago. Four of them – Duchene, Landeskog, Varlamov, and Paul Stastny – are representing their countries at the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. There could be an argument as to why three others – Ryan O’Reilly, Eric Johnson, and Jan Hejda – should also be there.
How can this team that consists of many of the same players change so much in one year? Patrick Roy.
Sure, Roy has many critics from his colleagues in the NHL right now, mainly Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis and Bruce Boudreau in Anaheim. But what he has been able to do is come into the league and make an immediate impact with a team that was in desperate need for change. He should be in the forefront of the discussion to win the Jack Adams award as the NHL’s best coach.
The trick will be seeing if he can keep it up after the Olympic break and keep this dream season alive.