Colorado’s Coaching Problem


Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s face it: the Colorado Avalanche need a coaching change. I think that I’ve personally been more than patient with Sacco, defending him even when the team lost 25 of the final 30 games in the 2010-2011 season. At this point though, I think his increasingly erratic decisions, and the inconsistent efforts from the team, point to a coaching situation that is no longer working in the slightest. Management has put together a pretty good group of guys, even if there are some holes on the backend. I’m not Greg Sherman’s biggest fan, and I wouldn’t object to some changes in the front office, but I think the first step is to fire Sacco, and then hire a new head coach (and for the love of Joe Sakic, hire someone outside of the organization).Below are my top five problems with Sacco and his coaching, especially this season.

-Sacco’s been the coach of this team for four seasons now. His winning percentage is a rather mediocre .500, and his team has made the playoffs once (with a very tiny chance of landing in the top 8 this season.)

-Timeouts. I have never seen a coach use his timeouts as poorly as Sacco does. He likes to save them, preferring to let his team drown, rather than calling one and reinvigorating the players. (On the rare occasion when he does call a timeout to try and adjust the team attitude, he seems to wait until the team is down by three or four goals, instead of stopping things after a quick two goals against.) When he does use a timeout in the final minute or two, it’s usually when the team has earned a power play and has a chance to play six on four. Call me crazy, but if you can’t trust the six guys you put out there to know what they’re doing on a power play, with a two man advantage, should they really be on the ice at that point? The only thing calling a timeout at the point accomplishes is allowing the opposing team to rest their best penalty killers, and give them last minute coaching advice. In that situation, you get your best players out on the ice as fast as possible, get a quick faceoff, and take advantage while the penalty killers are trying to get themselves sorted.I understand the desire to save a timeout for when the team has a tired group who just iced the puck out, but at the same time, there are other strategies to delay the faceoff. A timeout is more than a resting period. (Also, other coaches often talk to their teams during TV timeouts…when I’ve been at games, Sacco appears to stare out into space during 99% of those timeouts. Why wouldn’t you take advantage, especially when your team is losing or playing beneath their capabilities?)

-Decisions to pull the goaltender. How many games this season has Semyon Varlamov been left to dry in the net, as the team fails around him? I know that Varls is a competitive player, and that there is a fine line between pulling a goaltender because it’s time, and allowing a goalie the chance to redeem himself. However, most nights, Varlamov has not been the problem. Pulling him would signal to the entire team that they need to wake up, and it would preserve Varlamov’s confidence. He’s only 24, a baby in goalie years, but he’s never going to develop to his full potential if he keeps being left in the net, forced to face about 40 shots a night. Sacco has only pulled the goaltender three times this season, and twice, he waited until the intermission, when an earlier pull could have turned things around with more time left for the team.

-The inconsistent efforts this season, have been especially noticeable. A good coach is able to motivate his team, and get everyone on the same page. If you’ve watched the Avs this season, and think they’ve been a consistently motivated team working as a single unit…well you’re wearing rose-colored glasses. Too many times the team has come out lethargic, and then players have started to panic and squeeze their sticks. I just think that everyone is receiving mixed signals, and they start trying to take things into their own hands too much.

-Lineup decisions. Shane O’Brien, Greg Zanon, and David Jones are going to be my three primary examples here.

  1. Shane O’Brien-O’Brien was in the doghouse to start the season (something that not only bewildered fans, but reporters and team analysts as well). He’s still been in and out of the lineup too much for my liking. Last season, I think O’Brien really established himself as a leader on the team, and as a player who could be partnered with nearly anyone, and still have a pretty good game. While he doesn’t earn a lot of points, he’s really strong at taking the puck into the offensive zone and creating opportunities. He’s also a good partner for young defensemen, because he is so chatty on the ice and on the bench. Why then, has he sat? He’s a better player than Zanon, and O’Byrne has been having a pretty rough year.
  2. Greg Zanon-I am not a Greg Zanon fan. When the team announced they signed him, I was confused and unhappy. Those feelings have not changed with Zanon’s play. I don’t like disliking an Av, but he is just a brutal player. Zanon is a terrible skater (so of course, let’s put him on a roster with players who share skating as a strength), his puckhandling is shaky at best, and he is out of position more often than he is in position. While he has built his career as a shot blocker, and he leads the team in shots blocked, the puck has ended up in the back of the Avs net as a result of something he has done (either directly or indirectly) just as many times as he’s blocked shots. Sacco has scratched him a few times lately, but it is mind boggling to me that he has played in more games than O’Brien and Barrie (more games than Wilson and Johnson as well, but they’ve both been injured).
  3. David Jones. I love the guy. I’m glad he signed for four years with the team, even if the price was a bit steep. That being said, he has been awful this season. He has seven points in 27 games-and those are not the numbers of a top six forward. He seems to float around the ice confusedly, and he really hasn’t looked like himself. Instead of benching him, scratching him, or simply putting him on the fourth line until he works his way out of this slump, Sacco has kept him in the lineup, with Paul Stastny, skated him an average of 17 minutes a night. I don’t see how Jones has helped the team this year, and I think in a lot of ways, he’s proved more of a hindrance than a non-factor.

It doesn’t seem as if Joe Sacco is going anywhere. And that’s perhaps this biggest mistakes the Avs have and will make this season.