After the surprise resignation of Patrick Roy last week, the Colorado Avalanche are suddenly on the hunt for a new head coach. One name that keeps popping up is former Avs bench boss Bob Hartley. Many are even advocating for his return.
They shouldn’t be.
The coaching market may be relatively thin, and Hartley has won a Stanley Cup (with the Avalanche, no less), but he is still the wrong man for the job.
The primary reason for this is that Hartley likes to employ a structure that is far too similar to that of the man he would be replacing. Offensively, a run-and-gun style predicated on creating turnovers might be just fine. He may even get the team to commit more to the forecheck, which would be good. The problem, however, comes in the defensive end.
During the three-season reign of Roy, the Avalanche struggled in their own end. Their spacing was poor, they were easily turned around, they gave up far too many prime opportunities and they couldn’t clear the puck or the front of the net effectively. If you watched the Calgary Flames (who fired Hartley this summer) last year, they struggled with all of the things mentioned above.
Like the Avalanche, the Flames suffered from a lack of defensive structure. There are many stats that will back up this claim, but perhaps the most glaring in the case of the Flames is the most basic. Calgary allowed 3.13 goals per game last season, which was the worst in the NHL.
When Hartley won the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 2001, this issue was masked by pure talent. That team had names like Ray Bourque, Rob Blake and Adam Foote on their blueline (not to mention Roy in net). This brings me to my next point.
Hartley is better suited to coach a veteran team than a young one. Sure, the Flames surprised the hockey world in 2014-2015, coming from behind in seemingly every contest. Remind you of anyone? Like the 2013-2014 Avalanche (Roy’s first season), the 2014-2015 Flames surprised the hockey world to reach the playoffs, only to fall back to Earth the next season, as success with their style of play was simply unsustainable given their roster composition.
The reason that Hartley is not good for a young team is not simply due to his team’s performances in the past; however, it also has to do with his demeanor. Unlike Roy during most of his tenure, Hartley is notoriously hard on his players. Echoes of his screaming “I smell chocolate” (referring to the Avalanche’s old AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears) still haunt the nightmares of many of his former players. Just ask former Avs goon Scott Parker, as tough of a customer as you will ever come across.
“He was always just degrading me. Not to be a [wimp], but he was a bully,” Parker told the Denver Post when asked about Hartley. “And he could be because he was in a position of authority.”
As shown by their late season collapse last spring, the Avalanche are a fragile team. As such, the players would probably not respond well to a total authoritarian like Hartley. You think when Roy flipped the script and started calling out his players late last year was harsh? Imagine if that occurred all of the time.
The Avalanche need to find a coach, and fast. That being said, it would behoove them to find the right one. Sakic has shown, at times, that he likes to go with things he is familiar with. In this instance, with this particular coach, that is something he should avoid at all costs.