Colorado Avalanche: What will the Team Culture Be?

Apr 5, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Colorado Avalanche players celebrate after a goal by left winger Mikkel Boedker (89) during the first period against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 5, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Colorado Avalanche players celebrate after a goal by left winger Mikkel Boedker (89) during the first period against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

The team culture of the Colorado Avalanche is likely to be driven largely by Joe Sakic, making it enigmatic.

When Colorado Avalanche legend Patrick Roy was an integral part of the organization, I understood perfectly what the culture of the team was — winning at all costs. This is what Roy called the Stanley Cup attitude.

Now that Roy is gone from the organization, I have no idea what the culture of the team is going to be.

Joe Sakic is the general manager and executive vice president and alternate governor of the Colorado Avalanche. He has more and higher titles than Roy ever had, and he showed pretty distinctively how he can use them. It’s a pretty good bet the culture of the team is going to be driven largely by him.

Even though Sakic is an Avalanche legend, I don’t know much about his thinking process. In his playing days, he was known as Quoteless Joe because he could talk but say nothing. Now that he’s an executive, that hasn’t exactly improved. Indeed, I remember thinking around the time of the Ryan O’Reilly situation that Sakic would make a good politician.

You could argue that Sakic will foster a winning culture, and you’d make very valid points. He has plenty of awards to his name from his playing days, including playoff MVP (Conn Smythe Trophy) and two Stanley Cups.

Additionally, Sakic won the Lady Byng in 2001 for gentlemanly conduct. He’s also renowned as one of the best captains in NHL history because of his leadership.

Those two aspects of Sakic speak to a gentle winning culture. Is that enough to win the Stanley Cup? I can’t imagine, but Joe has done it twice.

Plus, in ousting Roy, who definitely won that first Cup for him (Remember the promise of “No more rats,” which Roy followed up with insane goal tending in the Finals), Sakic has shown some ruthlessness. Is that good? For Avalanche history, no. For winning a Stanley Cup, yes.

Will the Colorado Avalanche culture be able to blend winning with gentility and ruthlessness in the right balance? I don’t know. Thinking across the core, I see winning and gentility in all of them. I don’t see that killer instinct.

I’m going to be perfectly honest in saying I also don’t understand Sakic’s off-season moves. Pretty much from the final buzzer in the last game of the season to the Tyson Barrie arbitration, my response has been, “Huh?”

I’m keen on the kid now, but I was so puzzled by the Tyson Jost selection at the NHL Draft that I almost thought Sakic was having a stroke rather than saying, “Penticton Vees.” I was that sure the Avalanche were going to select Logan Brown, who clearly fit the then-model for Colorado of big, speedy, skilled and gritty.

I understood the need to get goalie Reto Berra’s contract off the books, but in doing so, the Colorado Avalanche severely hobbled its goal tending depth. Quick, when Semyon Varlamov’s groin inevitably goes out and Calvin Pickard is in net, who’s the backup going to be? Yeah, I don’t know either.

Why the hell did Sakic wait until July 8th to sign center Nathan MacKinnon to a contract? He even seemed ready to wait until September. The resulting contract — though it broke the Duchene ceiling — isn’t in any way onerous. He knew he was going to sign the kid — why wait until after free agency starts? That meant he couldn’t know how much cap space they’d have to go after big-name free agents.

I have a pretty good inkling of why Sakic waited and took Barrie all the way through the arbitration process just to give him the contract he probably wanted all along. I’m pretty sure he wanted to show Newport Sports Management, who were at the center of the Ryan O’Reilly contractual disputes, that his, well, winning spirit is bigger.

As for the free agency signings, well… I don’t know. They’re ok. But, as I noted earlier, over the course of Sakic’s tenure the Colorado Avalanche have lost more than they’ve gained.

Which brings me to my ultimate point. At the beginning of the summer, when I thought Roy was still a major factor in the decision-making process, I understood the path of the team. Like I said — big, gritty, skilled and fast.

Now I have no idea. Drafting Jost and picking up Patrick Wiercioch, coupled with the hiring of Chris McFarland, make me think the team is going to move toward analytics. I don’t understand the rest of the culture.

Next: Patrick Roy Exit Interview

Naturally, the players will have a lot of influence on the team culture. Unfortunately, the Colorado Avalanche’s main problem has long been identified as young and lacking in understanding. The players are older, but they’ve also just gone through a major cultural upheaval with the exit of Roy.

As with any elite athletes, the change will rejuvenate them at first. Look for the team to have a very solid start — maybe even record-breaking. Around November, though, we’ll get a better idea of what this team under this leadership is capable of.

Spoiler alert: Frankly, they’re still a bubble team.

For sure, whomever the new head coach is going to be, he’ll have some determination in the team culture. His will cannot be as great as Patrick Roy’s, though, so I think it’s going to be mostly Joe in the Colorado Avalanche driver’s seat.