The Colorado Avalanche were a contentious topic in some circles last year. Those of us who favor quantitative analysis of the game, from myself to Gabe Desjardins to almost every single Oilers fans, saw an extreme disconnect between the Avs results and their underlying numbers. A young and cheap roster with holes every where, the Avs nonetheless rode Vezina quality goaltending and one of the best shooting percentages in the league to a mind-boggling first half and an eventual playoff spot (before being subsequently swept aside by the Sharks in the first round). Despite being soundly outshot every night, Colorado’s success was pointed to as the vitality of youth and the genius of rookie coach Joe Sacco, who was a Jack Adams finalist.
The skeptics amongst us pointed to variance. There was no magic here, just a team landing on the right side of lady luck for a spell. It happens to one or two NHL clubs every year and last season was the Avs turn. Naturally, Colorado fans insisted that the success wasn’t merely fortune: that the club’s stable of quality youngsters and the air-tight coaching of Joe Sacco combined to outperform expectations and their terrible possession rates. That their success wasn’t merely fleeting, but an indication of future glory to come! Alas…
The Avs have been afflicted by the injury bug this year. They still give up a lot of shots (although their overall possession rate has marginally increased this year), but the percentages have regressed. The team is currently languishing in 14th place in the Western Conference and as a result Joe Sacco has gone from a genius to schmuck inside about 12 months. Of course, the rationalizations about the Avs ability to effect shot quality and shooting percentages have followed Sacco’s reputation as a brilliant coach down the memory hole.
I alluded to this earlier in the season, about sensing a team that somehow didn’t quite have that kind of indefinable but you-know-it-when-it’s-there chemistry. And I’m not saying that it’s a BAD chemistry in the Avs’ room. I’m just saying that all year long it’s seemed to me that this Avs team just wasn’t always on the same page somehow, probably exacerbated by too many injuries and too many guys shuttling in and out of Lake Erie all the time.
But this team is one that has just seemed a little too uptight to me. Is it because Sacco’s drill-sergeant, tough-love ways have created that kind of atmosphere? To that, all I can do is ask the rhetorical question and leave it at that.
That’s Adrian Dater of the Denver Post. Notice how narratives can be flipped on their heads when the results are inverted. Last season? Team wins and we’re talking about a hard-ass coach coaxing great chemistry from his young players. This year? Team loses and the chemistry is off. Maybe it’s that coach and his hard-ass ways?
That’s the sound of knives being sharpened. I guess Coaches who are elevated by the bounces can also be sacrificed before them, unfortunately.