August 12 2016 01:00PM
The Colorado Avalanche are in need of a new coach, and may be on the verge on turning a new leaf. Patrick Roy resigned his post yesterday as head coach and vice president of hockey operations due to disagreements with general manager Joe Sakic. In a statement, Roy said "I have thought long and hard over the course of the summer about how I might improve this team to give it the depth it needs and bring it to a higher level.
To achieve this, the vision of the coach and VP-Hockey Operations needs to be perfectly aligned with that of the organization. He must also have a say in the decisions that impact the team's performance. These conditions are not currently met.” Sakic, for his part, described being caught off guard by Roy’s resignation, saying that he believed the two of them were on the same page as far as decision-making went. In any event, a new era is about to begin in Colorado, so let's take a look at what that might mean.
Roy’ tenure as head coach of the Colorado Avalanche began seemingly auspiciously, with the head coach going 52-22-8 in his first season, winning the Central Division, and capturing the Jack Adams award for the league’s best coach. Informed fans knew better however, noting that the team’s 46.85 CF% and 101.75 PDO meant their performance was unsustainable, and unsurprisingly the team bowed out the first chance they got in the playoffs, losing their first round series 4-3 to the Minnesota Wild. The following season the Avalanche went 39-31-12, and last year they went 39-39-4, good for 7th and 6th in the Central Division respectively but not good enough to make the playoffs either year.
Patrick Roy’s unorthodox style is fairly well documented: he brings a pugnacious attitude and willingness to pull the goalie earlier than most, but also a dismissive attitude towards hockey analytics, not surprising given what they say about his time behind the bench in Colorado. All of this had us wondering over at NHL Numbers what the Avalanche would look like if they were simply an average puck possession team. To do this, our very own Ian Fleming crunched some numbers and found out exactly what this would look like by taking the Avalanche’s CF% for last season as a percent of the league average CF% and then adjusting each player’s numbers by the percent difference, which was about 9%.
What the results demonstrate should be unsurprising: the Colorado Avalanche would be a much better team if they had just average possession numbers, let alone above average. The team picks up 13 goals and 22 assists total by Ian’s count, for an average of .4 goals and .69 assists per player. Most players pick up only a goal or a couple of assists, but Colorado’s top end players are the real winner here, with Gabe Landeskog picking moving up from 13 goals and 18 assists to 14 and 20, Matt Duchene going from 21 and 19 to 23 and 21, and Nathan Mackinnon rising from 10 and 18 to 11 and 20. This seems to indicate that Roy’s system was not just a detriment to the team in general, but to the team’s blue chip talent in particular.
The more interesting results are found perhaps at the team level, where Ian took both the teams CF% and CA% as percentages of league average in order to adjust their goals for and against for the season. While Colorado’s CF% was about 9% lower than the league average their CA% was about 15% higher, meaning there was significant influence on their goal differential when adjusting to league average. Following Ian’s model the team’s goals for went from 138 to 151, their goals against from 151 down to 131, and their GF% from 47.8% to 53.6%, a pretty substantial increase.
All of this takes the team’s goal differential from -13 to +20, and while this model doesn’t regress each individual’s shooting percentage or account for changes in goaltending suffice to say that the jump in goal differential would still be significant even if it did. While we can’t say for sure that the team would make the playoffs if they performed as such, in the Central Division both Nashville and Minnesota secured wildcard spots in the playoffs with goal differentials of +13 and +10 respectively, and in the Eastern Conference Detroit made the playoffs with a goal differential of -13 while Philadelphia’s was -4. It doesn’t require too much of an imagination then to see that if the Colorado Avalanche had the kind of coaching that would bring them to league average in possession instead of Patrick Roy, they would very well have a chance at the playoffs.
Will the Avalanche have a bounce back season? It’s hard to say, as the lineup still maintains serious deficiencies, despite the true talent that is there. Whether the team makes the playoffs or not is equally hard to determine, and perhaps the improvement under a new coach is not as dramatic as our model would suggest. Still, playing around with the underlying numbers a bit seems to suggest that Patrick Roy hurt rather than helped the team during his time there, all while winning a Jack Adams award. For fans of the Colorado Avalanche, this could be an exciting time to turn a new leaf.