Not all successful junior coaches are cut out to coach pro hockey, but a certain type should expect to have an even tougher time: “name” junior coaches.
I bring this up in light of the news over the past day or two from Adrian Dater of the Denver Post that Patrick Roy is very likely to be named the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche. Dater relays the news from Stéphane Roy, Patrick’s brother:
“They’re discussing the final details of an arrangement. Colorado is going to be very happy. Patrick is looking for a new challenge,” said Stephane Roy, the younger brother of his famous sibling.
Stephane Roy, who played briefly in the NHL, posted on his Facebook page Monday night, “For all my friends I’d like you to know before the official news spreads that my older brother will be the new coach of the Colorado Avalanch(sic).”
So yeah, it sounds like this is happening.
Roy may very well go to Colorado and succeed, but I can think of a few reasons to be skeptical.
I understand that Patrick Roy is, in fact, Patrick Roy, and the Avalanche would really like to make their fans happy (“Hey, we won when he was here, having him around will mean more winning!“), but it seems unlikely that the best available coach – who you should always hire, for crying out loud – happens to be Roy.
NHL benches and the American Hockey League are littered with smart hockey minds who have experience coaching pro hockey. And it’s not even about the game of pro hockey so much as it is the players that makes that important (though the game is different from the QMJHL too). You aren’t dealing with junior kids who can be intimidated because you essentially hold their future in your hands (with their ice time and roster spot).
This is men, some near your age, who require the respect of the coach as much as the coach requires it himself. This is potential superstars who think they deserve more, only these ones often have leverage. It’s half-coaching and half human resources. I understand that Roy was once an NHLer and should know about these relationships, but there’s a difference between being a crazy-famous goaltender and being told to take the crease night-in, night-out, and dealing with third and fourth liners in-and-between games.
And being a “name” coach in the junior – as in, a guy who folks know about for more than their performance coaching at that current level – means you have an easier time recruiting and keeping talent. Guys want to play for them because they know they have connections beyond that level (“Hey, it’s Patrick. You guys should really look at this kid on our team, underrated.“). So often, they end up with uncommonly good rosters. And they have an easier time getting players to listen and buy-in to their plans for the same reason, along with the respect factor of hearing it from someone who’s “been there before.”
In pro hockey, though? Once a name coach gets there, what good is that name? You’re coaching guys who are doing what you did (and therefore less enthralled by your way, given the success of their own), and half of them are out-earning you. That auto-buy-in a name coach has in junior (along with the recruiting ease) isn’t a thing anymore. Do we believe Dale Hunter is an amazing coach, or has been able assemble excellent junior teams?
I do like the idea that Patrick is a fiery, competitive character, and will at the very least breathe some life back into the Avalanche organization, while hopefully representing a fresh start. But I feel like that same fire is the type that could lead him into trouble down the road. It may take some political maneuvering at the top level, where he’s probably largely gotten his way in junior.
I’m not writing this to say that I don’t think Patrick Roy will succeed at the NHL level. I just think that the reasons it seems like he would be hired – ex-Avs player, had success coaching junior – don’t seem like they’ll translate much to success coaching a big league club.