My thoughts on the Colorado Avalanche likely bringing back head coach Joe Sacco next season.

Yesterday the Denver Post reported that the Colorado Avalanche will likely retain general manager Greg Sherman and head coach Joe Sacco.

I’ll start with a positive, since this column will be filled with plenty of negatives. I like Greg Sherman. If nothing else, he’s willing to pull the trigger on deals that he feels are good for the team. Looking back at his trades, I don’t think they’ve been all that bad. Sure the St. Louis Blues are the best team in the league right now, but that’s because they’re a well coached team that has gotten strong goaltending all year. While Kevin Shattenkirk has turned into the offensive defenseman that many thought he would be, Chris Stewart hasn’t been all that effective. Erik Johnson on the other hand has emerged as the Avs number one defenseman, Jay McClement is great at a fourth line center, and Duncan Siemens is still a highly rated prospects. Steve Downie has been a great addition, although he hasn’t quite been the same since a slight shoulder injury and it was time to part ways with Kyle Quincey anyway. Jamie McGinn has also been a great addition, helping fill out the line with Paul Stastny and David Jones while Daniel Winnik and TJ Galiardi haven’t done too much to improve the Sharks. The Avs also got Mike Connolly and Michael Sgarbossa in that deal, both of whom are highly rated prospects. Semyon Varlamov has proven to be a number one goaltender, and while a first and second round pick seemed high, that pick won’t be a top 5 pick like so many thought it could be.

Sherman has built a young club that can grow together and hopefully make plenty of runs at the Stanley Cup in the near future.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a chance in hell this team ever makes it out of the first round as long as Joe Sacco is behind the bench.

He never should have been hired in the first place considering his track record in the AHL wasn’t that good. If the guy couldn’t get it done in the minors, what made management think he could get it done in the majors? The team made the playoffs in his first year, but struggled down the stretch and lost in the first round despite playing better hockey than the Sharks for the most part. Last year was a dreadful season, especially the second half. Then this year things have been up and down, but, barring a miracle, the team will once again fail down the stretch and miss the playoffs.

It’s not that the team is bad. Despite being young, it’s a strong and well-rounded team on paper. The guys play hard and are tough to play against, but the coach has no idea what he’s doing behind the bench. He constantly makes stupid line up changes, like benching Peter Mueller or David Jones in favor of Chuck Kobasew or giving Matt Duchene less playing time than Cody McLeod the game after he asked Duchene to step up. The Avs can win 10 straight games, lose one game by a goal or two, and then he’ll change the line up. Why would he change the line up after going 10-1? Because he’s Joe Sacco, that’s why.

The team also has constantly failed to win big games with Sacco as the bench boss. The Avs record against their division this year was abysmal, which is a huge reason why they’re not a playoff team. Only one team from the Northwest division is getting in, so it’s not like this was a great division this year, yet the Avs failure to beat the Flames, Canucks, Oilers, and Wild for the majority of the season cost them a playoff spot. Aside from failing to secure division wins, the team just couldn’t win “must-win” games against any opponent. They’d either blow a lead or stage a “too little too late” comeback and fall short.

Let me be fair to Sacco. It’s not ALL his fault. Matt Duchene had a down year thanks in large part to injuries (and Sacco playing him at wing/giving him new line mates every game), Paul Stastny is getting paid like a franchise player but isn’t producing like a franchise player, and Milan Hejduk is in the twilight of his career and not scoring like Milan Hejduk. But a good coach knows how to get the most out of guys like Duchene and Stastny.

I know sports fans have suffered plenty more than Avs fans and myself. But the Avs have the most fixable problem in all of sports. When things are going wrong for a franchise, the easiest thing to do is to fire the head coach. It’s tough to get rid of players with a bad contract, it’s tough to predict whether or not your draft picks will pan out, it’s tough to sign players if they don’t want to sign. There’s nothing tough about firing a head coach who isn’t getting the job done. It happens 10 games into seasons, with 10 games left in seasons, and every game in between during seasons.

Now I’m not serious about switching teams. I’ve invested too much time and money into the Avalanche since 1996 to just give up on them because they’re rewarding an incompetent head coach with a contract extension. Chances our, if the Avs get off to a slow start next year, he’ll be gone anyway. But he should have been gone after last season, he should have been gone multiple times this season, and he should be gone right now.

Unfortunately, we’re stuck with mediocrity until management comes to their senses and brings in someone who can make better decisions and motivate his players better.

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