The Colorado Avalanche had one of the most disappointing seasons in the franchise's history this year. After a promising start to the season, the Avalanche quickly began dropping like the proverbial stone in water.
Many things contributed to this outcome, but one thing remained rather consistent all season. The inability of the coaching staff to prepare the team for play every single night.
At the beginning of the season, the Avalanche faithful might not have noticed as much because the Avalanche always managed to claw and scratch their way back into games if they did fall behind, but once Tomas Fleischmann went out for the season things started falling apart at the seams.
Still, can the Avalanche blame their whole season on poor coaching, or does Joe Sacco deserve another opportunity?
After all, we are just one year removed from a season in which Joe Sacco was a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year. A year where the Avalanche didn't just slightly overachieve, they shocked the entire NHL by making the playoffs. At least some of the credit has to go to Sacco for that if we are all so eager to lay blame at his feet for the terrible turn that this season took.
Injuries also have to take a large share of the blame. The Avalanche suffered 464 man games lost to injury this season, a franchise record and the most in the Western Conference. These weren't just small injuries either. The Avalanche lost several major players.
Peter Mueller before the regular season even began. Kyle Quincey, who was one of our top defensemen on the team. Tomas Fleischmann, Chris Stewart, T.J. Galliardi. Even Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, John-Michael Liles, and Erik Johnson suffered injuries towards the end of the season.
A team that has to shuffle in that many players throughout the season will definitely have issues winning because they will have even more trouble trying to find a chemistry. By the time the Avalanche were starting to find some chemistry, it was too late.
Sacco was always very up front about the fact that it stinks to have injuries, but you can't use it as an excuse because no team is going to give you a break as a result of it.
On the other hand, Sacco also had to make the same statement over and over again. "We didn't start the game on time." During the first 10 game losing streak the Avalanche had, it seemed as if Sacco said those exact words after every single game. Yet what was ever done about it? It didn't seem like too much was done. Just saying it over and over again won't do it, the coaching staff needs to do something to make certain the players are ready to play.
That seems to be the most important job of a coach in the NHL, prepare your team. If you can't do that, then you're not going to be winning a lot of games, nor will you be coaching for very long.
In addition, the Avalanche penalty kill was atrocious all year. Yes, some of that is personnel, but isn't the coach supposed to make any adjustments? There were times when the penalty kill seemed to improve, and the players were more aggressive and better positionally. Those times were short lived because the moment a goal was scored against, the team deflated completely and seemed to abandon all hope.
Is that because they are a young team? Possibly. A certain amount of that is a sign of an immature team. The way the team seemed to completely give up is a sign of something else.
Sacco has been especially known for one thing in his time in Colorado, sending messages to players. During the first year, he seemed to send all the right messages. This year, it seems like he relied too much on sending messages and didn't bother doing too much coaching.
Case and point. During his first season, John-Michael Liles was a healthy scratch for several games because Sacco didn't think he was playing well enough. Liles responded when he got back into the line-up and that carried into this season.
This season, Sacco was so inconsistent with it that it seemed to lose its resonance. Duchene got benched during a game in Vancouver early in the season. Liles was benched for the first period of another. T.J. Galliardi was even sent back down to Lake Eerie for a game or two as a message. Before Chris Stewart was traded he was a healthy scratch.
Yet, players like Matt Hunwick, who was an absolute liability to the team just by his mere presence on the ice, was not only continuously in the line-up, but he was given more ice time. Brandon Yip, who was a ghost for almost all but the last three games of the regular season, was dressed pretty much every day even though he couldn't do anything offensively and had a very bad habit of taking really bad penalties in crucial situations. How are the players supposed to respond to this? I think we saw how they responded to it by how often the team just quit.
Then there was the goalie situation. It's hard to describe exactly how poorly Sacco handled the goalies this year. The Valentine's Day Massacre, where the Avalanche were killed by Calgary 9-1, is the best example of this. Budaj started the game, but was pulled half way through the first period for Anderson. Then Budaj was back in net at the start of the second period, only to be pulled in the third again for Anderson. He just couldn't decide, and the constant flip flopping killed Anderson's confidence in himself and the organization.
Then there was just the losing. Coaches have been fired for far less than losing 27 of the last 32 games.
In the end, Sacco is probably going to be given another chance in his last contract year. This will essentially be his "rubber match" for all of us to see which is the norm for him. Was the first year just a lucky coincidence that was really the result of people just underestimating the Avalanche all year? Or were the injuries just too much for anybody to possibly overcome and things will be much better next year?
We'll see, but Sacco can count on one thing for certain. If he doesn't show some kind of improvement for the team before December next year, he won't finish next season.