Spector: Roy, Sakic will make Avs relevant again

May 24, 2013, 1:53 PM

They were the leading men on Stanley Cup winning teams in 1996 and 2001, and today both have plaques in the Hockey Hall of Fame. That is where the similarities end, however, when comparing a pair of hockey personalities named Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic.

Roy ran hot as an all-star goalie, with a wink from behind his mask at a thwarted shooter, or a hotdog move gone badly one night against Detroit. He’d meet the other ‘tender at centre ice in a line brawl, or blow off Jeremy Roenick with a reminder of how many Cups he has won, and how many Roenick had not.

In our experience, Roy was that rare netminder who was unafraid to publicly demand more from the skaters in front of him — an emotional goalie and a damned good one, who always delivered the goods and expected the same from every teammate.

You knew when Patrick Roy was in the rink, simply by his aura.

And Joe?

Well, it was a good thing that Sakic’s ample game was able to do his talking. If it hadn’t, we’d barely remember his name today, so silent and adverse to blowing his own horn was the man reporters called “Quoteless Joe.”

Roy was the source of passion in that Avalanche dressing room. An overt, vocal leader who kept his fist on the throttle of those championship Avalanche teams.

Sakic was the quiet heartbeat. That captain and first-line centre with the clinical wrist shot, whose effort level for 82 games per season and another 20-some in the playoffs was as consistent as any player of his generation.

As players, they comprised the spine of two Stanley Cup winning teams. Now, they are the guts of the Avalanche front office.

Sakic is the executive vice president of hockey operations, a de facto GM in charge of all hockey decisions — including the Roy hiring.

But Roy has more to his title than just head coach. He is the vice president of hockey operations and coach, which could be a bit tricky.

What happens when Sakic provides a player for Roy’s roster who does not meet the coach’s eye? It happens in every town — See: Vancouver, Keith Ballard; or Toronto, Mike Komisarek — but how will the Roy-Sakic relationship weather that kind of disagreement in Denver?

“All along, Patrick was our top candidate,” Sakic said in a news release issued upon the hiring of Roy. “Patrick has a great hockey mind. There is no one more passionate about this game. He will bring that winning attitude to our dressing room.”

The role of Pierre Lacroix — Roy’s old agent and the GM of those Cup-winning Avalanche teams — has been mitigated in Denver. Finally.

Son Eric Lacroix was ousted in the palace coup that also saw head coach Joe Sacco fired. Sakic has been moved into position, and now with Roy at is right hand there is an entirely new and modern leadership group atop a franchise that has slipped into irrelevancy in Denver.

Avalanche governor Josh Kroenke — son to team owner Stan Kroenke and Wal-Mart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke — has played the history card at perhaps the perfect moment. This Avs team is poised to take the next step, with a rebuild that stalled last season.

There are good young players here, and excellent assets to fuel trades for the veteran components required to find the next level. Gabriel Landeskog, a 20-year-old who was foolishly made captain by the former regime, can learn a ton from Roy and Sakic.

And likely No. 1 pick Seth Jones is coming from a level that Roy has mastered over the past eight seasons as coach and GM of the Quebec Remparts. So perhaps this is the ideal roster to hand over to an experienced man out of Canadian junior hockey.

“The special part about Roy is, he’s ready,” former Avs defenceman Adam Foote told Denver sports radio station KKFN 104.3. “He’s spent almost a decade with his family in Quebec. It’s such good timing for Patrick, and Joe made the right call.”

Roy and Sakic should work flawlessly together, Sakic providing the cooler management head to Roy’s tangible, outspoken expectations for a young Avalanche roster. There’s a good cop, bad cop act dying to be played here.

As long as there is respect.

The chain of command is clear: Sakic is the boss. Roy is the employee.

Patrick forgot about that in the heat of the moment one night in Montreal, assailing Canadiens president Ronald Corey behind the Habs’ bench. The Red Wings had sifted nine goals past Roy, and it was ultimatum time for Roy, who reportedly told Corey, “It’s my last game in Montreal.”

It’s a cap system now, and there is no place for “get this guy outta here” ultimatums from the head coach. Patience wins in 2013, and that appears to be Joe’s strong suit, not necessarily Patrick’s.

So perhaps the odd brush fire is to be expected in Denver again, as the Sakic and Roy show opens for a second run. Which is just fine with us.

At least we’ll know Colorado is in the league again.

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