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Citing Unaligned Vision, Patrick Roy's Resignation Shocks Avalanche Top Brass

Adrian Dater@@adaterNHL National ColumnistAugust 12, 2016

Patrick Roy, who resigned as Avalanche coach Thursday, looking frustrated in a late-season loss to Washington.
Patrick Roy, who resigned as Avalanche coach Thursday, looking frustrated in a late-season loss to Washington.Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

In May 2013, Patrick Roy had just finished a round of golf with Joe Sakic and Josh Kroenke at The Bear's Club in Jupiter, Florida.

After a lunch of turkey burgers and fries, the three men had agreed on charting the new course of the future of the Colorado Avalanche. Sakic would be the team's executive vice president of hockey operations, Kroenke would be the team president and governor and Roy would be the new head coach.

But like Lieutenant Columbo from the old TV series, Roy had "one more thing" he wanted to run by Sakic and Kroenke. He had experience as a team owner and general manager with the major junior Quebec Remparts, Roy reminded them, so what if he had a say in the team's front-office decisions as well? After all, it might be of help to the two other men, who had no previous experience in the jobs they were about to take on.

Sakic and Kroenke hadn't yet gotten Roy's signature on a piece of paper, so it didn't take a genius to infer the deal might still fall through if Roy didn't get some say in personnel matters. Thus, they gave him the add-on title of vice president of hockey operations. Right then, people who knew Roy's headstrong history wondered how long he would be content not having final say. 

A little more than three years, it turned out. 

In a decision that Sakic said caught him "off guard," Roy resigned from the Avalanche on Thursday. Bizarrely, Roy issued a press release that said, in essence, he wasn't on the same page with the rest of management in personnel matters. 

"I have thought long and hard over the course of the summer about how I might improve this team to give it the depth it needs and bring it to a higher level," Roy said. "To achieve this, the vision of the coach and VP-Hockey Operations needs to be perfectly aligned with that of the organization. He must also have a say in the decisions that impact the team's performance. These conditions are not currently met."

In a hastily arranged conference call, Sakic sounded a bit bewildered at how Roy could have thought that.

"I know we were on the same page," Sakic said in the call. "We've never had an issue with not getting along. He was consulted on everything. We were friends then, and we're friends now."

OK, then. That clears that up. Next item of business...

The full truth about why Roy jumped ship a little less than a month before he was set to open training camp will likely take time to emerge

Roy and Avalanche GM Joe Sakic in happier times.
Roy and Avalanche GM Joe Sakic in happier times.Brennan Linsley/Associated Press/Associated Press

But with the benefit of hindsight, there were some clear indications Roy wasn't enjoying himself anymore in Denver—something Sakic said Roy told him in their private call right before the latter's press release.

Toward the end of last season, one in which the Avs were among the top eight in the Western Conference with just three weeks left, the team collapsed, losing eight of their last nine games. Included in that stretch was a humiliating 4-0 loss at home to the Minnesota Wild on March 26, the game that sunk their playoff chances more than any other, as Colorado would finish ninth in the West to Minnesota's eighth. 

After the second period of the game, Roy blew up at his team. A team source told Bleacher Report that Roy's screaming voice could be heard well outside the locker room and down the halls of the Pepsi Center. Roy, the source added, particularly lit into his top players, saying they were playing with no heart and that he might as well just "quit right now" if that's how they were going to play.

Roy composed himself for the media after the game, but he seemingly lost some faith in his players from that point forward. More gruesome home losses followed, including a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at home on April 1, during which the Caps outshot Colorado 47-19.

Two days later, the Avs lost 5-1 to the St. Louis Blues at the Pepsi Center. With 4:14 left in a 4-0 game, young center Matt Duchene, who once publicly blasted previous head coach Joe Sacco for being too unimaginative and said Roy had freed up Colorado's young talent, leaped off his skates in celebration of his 30th goal.

Roy, who had rarely criticized his players publicly—thereby earning himself the label of "too soft" from some critics—laced into Duchene.

Roy's "What is that?" toward Duchene went viral, and by season's end, he looked a broken man. In his first couple of seasons, Roy was always moving on the bench, always signaling line changes with a piercing, natural whistle, always shouting instructions. By the end, Roy often stood motionless on the bench with his hands in his pockets, wearing a thousand-yard stare.

He further criticized his younger, higher-paid core, saying it had a "losing mindset." 

"Our core hasn't proved that they have the leadership to bring this team to another level," Roy said. "Eventually, we have to admit, we need more from these guys. These guys need to prove to us that they're capable of carrying this team."

Many pundits expected seismic personnel changes with the Avalanche over the summer. Trade rumors sprang up, involving Duchene, captain Gabe Landeskog, Tyson Barrie and goalie Semyon Varlamov. But Sakic wound up keeping everyone, including re-signing Barrie to a four-year, $22 million contract.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

The Avs made some free-agent signings, but no big names arrived. Did Roy push for bigger changes only to be rebuffed by Sakic? Until Roy speaks further, that's only speculation, but given the "conditions have not been met" part of his resignation letter, there would seem to be some possible fire with that smoke.

"Patty was always involved, especially early," said Sakic, who said he will look outside of the organization for a new coach. "He was a big help to me. He was aware of all the decisions we were making. But to be honest with you, that's a question you'll have ask Patrick. No, we weren't disagreeing. We always talked.

"His big thing when he talked with me today was that last year was a tough year. He didn't have a lot of fun. And we always said, as long as we're enjoying what we're doing and having a lot of fun, we'll keep doing it. He said the last three or four weeks, he really contemplated not coming back and felt he made the right decision for himself, and I totally respect that."

Sakic asked Roy whether he would consider taking another day or the weekend to think it over, but Roy said he was "comfortable" with his decision.

When the team first hired Roy, people like me, who had spent a lot of time around him in the past, asked him Devil's advocate-type questions such as: "Are you sure you're really going to be OK with having another guy, even a franchise legend, have the final say on personnel with your team?"

Roy, after all, had been offered the head-coaching and GM job before, in 2009, before deciding to stay and coach his sons with the Remparts.

"Joe is my boss," Roy told reporters on the day he was introduced in Colorado in 2013. "To answer a direct question, I would have taken this job if it were only just as coach. Working with Joe every day, coming to this rink and working with him on the decisions on how this team is going to go, I could not have asked for anything better. I don't know how long this ride is going to be, but I can to tell you, my plan is to enjoy every minute, and I want to enjoy it with our fans."

That first season, Roy had the time of his life. Despite poor puck-possession statistics as a team, the Avs won the Central Division and Roy won the Jack Adams Award. With youngsters such as Duchene, Landeskog, Barrie, Varlamov and Nathan MacKinnon, the future seemed even brighter. 

But the Avs had a mediocre follow-up season, and though they were in playoff contention with three weeks to go in his third year, everything flatlined. As the Central Division, already one of the league's toughest, got even stronger over the summer, the Avs largely stood pat.

It seems clear that Roy didn't want to stand pat. 

Just over a month out from opening training camp, the Avs now have no coach. Sakic, though, thanked Roy for resigning when he did, giving him enough time to adequately search for his successor.

"We believe in our core," Sakic said. "We know they've got to take another step, and we believe they will. We think we're heading in the right direction."

The "we" part of the equation no longer involves Patrick Roy.

   

Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report.

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