Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy face a pivotal year at the helm

Jun 30, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy (right) talks with executive of hockey operations Joe Sakic (left) during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Three years ago, the Avalanche finished with the second-worst record in the NHL. Things were not good at the Pepsi Center. Head coach Joe Sacco was fired and Avalanche great Joe Sakic was handed the job of executive vice president and general manager to right the ship. He immediately hired Patrick Roy to be his right-hand man and head coach.

Two years ago, the Avalanche were one of the most exciting teams in the NHL on their way to finishing third in the Western Conference and winning the Central Division. The rookie head coach could do no wrong and No. 1 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon was having a fantastic year, winning the Calder trophy. Things were good at the Pepsi Center.

Last year, the Avalanche were never able to find their stride. The defense struggled all season long and Roy’s ability to push the right button at the right time seemed to disappear. Colorado finished last in the Central. Things were not good at the Pepsi Center.

The Colorado Avalanche have been on quite the roller coaster ride the last three years. The organization has experienced its fair share of highs and lows. They’ve gone from worst to first and first to worst in their division. Who are the Avalanche? Are they the cardiac kids from 2013-14 or are they the underachieving bunch from last year? Tonight the puck drops on the preseason of a year that will be pivotal for Roy and Sakic to prove that they’ve built a team that can compete annually.

Going into his third year at the helm, Roy has a lot to prove as a coach. Last season Colorado was outshot on a nightly basis. It was a problem that stemmed from multiple problems. First, the defense was mediocre (at best). They failed to get the puck out of their zone and allowed way too many second opportunities. Second, the offense was never able to sustain pressure. Turnovers were an issue all season long.

In the eyes of those at the Pepsi Center, these were personnel issues (specifically, when it comes to the defense), not systematic problems. No question that the Avalanche lack depth on the blue line but to attribute all of their defensive woes to personnel is shortsighted. And, if personnel were the issue, how do you explain the offensive struggles (systematic shortcomings, that’s how)?

This is where Roy needs to prove his worth. It’s one thing to knock over a partition, pull your goalie whenever you feel like it and have fiery press conferences. It’s another to develop and run a system that puts your best players in a position to succeed. Good coaches have the ability to make the most of their players. They make good players great and great players superstars. It’s time for Roy to establish himself as one of those coaches.

After making the biggest trade of his tenure, Sakic is also under pressure. For the second straight offseason he moved on from a known, homegrown commodity and replaced him with an aging veteran. Let’s be clear; Carl Soderberg is not Ryan O’Reilly. So, the question becomes, “Can Colorado develop Nikita Zadorov (the best prospect Colorado got in return for ROR) into a top NHL blue liner?” The 6-foot-5 bruising defensemen has all of the potential in the world, but that’s yet to translate when it matters.

If Zadorov’s production on the ice finally begins to meet his potential, the best player in the O’Reilly trade will be on Colorado’s roster and Sakic will look like a genius. If the 20-year-old Russian continues to disappoint, Colorado’s EVP will have given away a 60-point-a-year, two-way forward (a rare combination) for nothing.

Moving O’Reilly was also a financial decision. Next offseason Sakic will need to work out deals for Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson. Had O’Reilly been handed $60 million, you could’ve kissed both of those guys goodbye.

Sakic has had three years to mold the Avalanche into a team he considers a contender. He’s invested in the players he believes in, drafted and traded for the young talent he wants and is saving money for the free agents he thinks he must re-sign.

This is the team Sakic wanted, being led by the coach he handpicked. If the Avalanche don’t turn a corner this season, there wont be anyone left to blame. Roy and Sakic will be in the crosshairs.

This season is pivotal for the Colorado Avalanche. If this year is a repeat of last, you can bet that next offseason things at the Pepsi Center won’t be good and the “bring back the band” philosophy will start to come under fire.