With less than a month to go in the regular season it becomes that time again to determine who should win the Jack Adams award as the NHL coach of the year. One can postulate nominations for Flyers interim head coach Craig Berube for taking a last place team with zero offense and zero morale and convert them into playoff contenders in the span of a single season; or perhaps Todd Richards who has patiently built the long suffering Columbus Blue Jackets into potential playoff contenders. You could also nominate Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper who took an underachieving Lightning team and gave them a new spark, new energy, and a new passion for the game; or perhaps Lindy Ruff who resurrected the Dallas Stars (and his own coaching career) by inspiring them to become potential playoff contenders once more.
But those nominations fade considerably when you bring Patrick Roy into the mix. By far when it comes to fulfilling the definitions of what earning the Jack Adams award is all about, “the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success” then Patrick Roy is that man and the Jack Adams award should be awarded to him.
Before Saint Patrick’s arrival, Colorado was at a mile-low level: playing inconsistent, mediocre hockey; falling a long way from a decade ago when they dominated the Western Conference. Patrick Roy’s arrival has changed all that. After a dazzling start last autumn, the Avalanche team has regained its mile-high stature; playing with a confident, boyish exuberance. Not bad for a rookie coach (albeit a rookie with an HHOF pedigree).
After their great start the Avalanche slowed back into third place behind Chicago and St. Louis but now going into the closing stretch of the regular season the Avalanche have regained energy. The Avalanche ranks among the top ten in team offense, power-play offence, and power-play percentage (a vast improvement from last season where the team ranked near the bottom in all three categories).
Colorado has shown great depth right down the middle. Center Matt Duchene supplies the offense with his superb playmaking skills while centers Ryan O’Reilly and Nathan Mackinnon pull the trigger on the power play. Duchene, O’Reilly, and Mackinnon have personally and collectively won 17 of the team’s 44 wins with their clutch shooting. Power forward Cody McLeod supplies the muscle when needed.
On defence, goalie Semyon Varlamov is having a career year and as a team Colorado has improved in overall defence and penalty-killing from the previous season but their team defence is not on the same par as Boston’s or St. Louis’ or even the Kings for that matter. It is average at best but will their defence be good enough to win the Stanley Cup? That is the question mark that follows the Avalanche during their stretch run.
The catalyst for all these changes is Saint Patrick himself. Injecting a hands-on passion combined with a paternal openness seasoned with his innate feistiness and eagerness to close with his enemies and spill their blood upon the ice, the Avalanche have found happiness, strength, and synergy; regardless of how far Colorado advances into the playoffs the fact that Patrick Roy has become an instant impact head coach in the NHL is the great coaching story of the 2013-14 in my view.
Although he is 48 Roy remains an emotionally young man leading a physically young squad. The future is theirs (and his) but it is up to them to grasp and hold into it just as Roy adroitly grasped and held onto the pucks launched at him during his glory days as a legendary goal-tender.