“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.
For the Colorado Avalanche, we pick ... head coach Patrick Roy.
A treacherous jump
Plenty of head coaches have jumped from lower leagues to the NHL, yet the likes of Dan Bylsma and Bruce Boudreau didn’t leap from the QMJHL. They also didn’t come with the built-in hype of being one of the greatest goalies in league history.
Controversy and/or eyeballs tend to follow the 47-year-old around wherever he goes, but let’s not forget that the Hall of Famer also seems to bring success to whatever team he joins.
Of course, that legacy of winning might mean that the noose could tighten around Roy’s neck much faster than other coaches if things go poorly.
Return to relevance?
Avalanche fans remember how quickly Roy can turn a team around, at least when he was wearing leg pads. The recently moved franchise made a leap from playoff team to genuine contender when Roy was famously traded from Montreal to Colorado in 1996, spoiling Avs fans with Stanley Cup victories right out of the gate.
The franchise is learning that early success in a “nontraditional” market can be something of a double-edged sword, however, as interest has plummeted since Roy left.
During the team’s gravy days, attendance came in at about 18,000 fans per game. Things began to really drop off in 2007-08 (16,842), dropping to a disturbing low of 13,947 per game in 2009-10. Things have only gotten a bit better the past two seasons, as crowds are coming in at a little under 15,500 per contest. (Attendance figures via hockeydb.com.)
The hope isn’t just that the Roy-Joe Sakic combo improves this team in the standings; it’s likely that the Avalanche handed this duo the keys to return this franchise to prominence, even with some stiff marketplace competition in the Denver Broncos and Denver Nuggets.
On paper, the Avalanche remain a flawed team. Still, considering the addition of Nathan MacKinnon, the return of Alex Tanguay and possible full seasons for Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Steve Downie, it’s not as if Roy has nothing to work with.
For obvious reasons, people will expect the biggest improvements to come in net. Roy receives two interesting pupils in wildcard netminder Semyon Varlamov and stylistic cousin Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Both netminders have glories, injuries and frustrations in their past, so Roy will be tasked with getting the most out of them.
Fair or not, the Avalanche have missed the playoffs four out of the last five seasons and haven’t won a postseason series since 2007-08. Slow and steady might not work for fans raised on instant success.
For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.