(This Woody Paige column originally appeared in The Gazette and on gazette.com)
Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic, linked together as teammates, colleagues and friends for 10½ half seasons with the Avalanche, were split apart Thursday, causing a gaping gash.
It’s an unpleasant, ugly breakup between the hot-blooded, impulsive Roy and the even-tempered, halcyon Sakic.
Perhaps the separation of the pair, like oil and water, was inevitable with Sakic as Avs’ executive vice president/general manager and Roy as vice president of hockey operations/head coach. Until John Elway with the Broncos, neither Roy nor Sakic had total control. And, ultimately, they couldn’t share the reign and the reins.
Therein lies the tale of the Patty melt.
In April Sakic announced Roy would return for a fourth season because “”we’re in this thing together.’’ On Thursday Roy announced that he was separating from the franchise because he was supposed “”to have a say in the decisions that impact the team’s performance. The conditions are not currently met.’’
The thing didn’t work out.
Shakespeare aside, this parting is sorrowful, without sweetness. Hall of Famers Sakic and Roy are Colorado sports icons and were the leaders as captain and goalie when the Avalanche brought the first championship of the four major professional sports leagues to Denver, then another. Sakic was the quiet, stable force out on the ice, and Roy was the raucous, impacting force in the nets.
I’ve known each for 20 years, and I truly like both, respect them as athletes, executives and, especially, men, and loved to watch them play world-class hockey. Joe took me to his home outside Vancouver, British Columbia, and introduced me to his immigrant parents. I’ve spent hours talking to Patrick, the greatest goalie in the game, and one of the most interesting characters in the history of sports.
We and they will miss their longtime partnership at and beyond the rink.
This is sadder than the finish of Elway and Dan Reeves, the Nuggets and George Karl, Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets. The estrangement is as cheerless as the firing of Mike Shanahan by Pat Bowlen. We become attached to our coaches and our athletes/
Obviously, based on the Roy’s statement Thursday, he and Joe had not agreed on the Avalanche’s off-season transactions, the draft, the free-agent signings (or lack thereof) and the direction of a team that had missed the playoffs the past two years after its mercurial rise in Roy’s debut in 2014-15, when the Avs were the No. 1 seed in the NHL’s Western Conference and Roy was named coach of the year.
“”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, “”Roy offered in a written good-bye. He likely didn’t want to address the matter publicly because Pat can be, uh, emotional, excitable and honest. Remember that in his first game as Avalanche coach he broke a glass barrier trying to get to the opposing coach. Remember that as a goaltender he skated to mid-ice and pleaded for the opposing goalie to come fight him.
“”I remain forever loyal to the Avalanche with which I played 478 games, coached another 253, and won two Stanley Cups.”
He thanked the players and the fans. Roy did not thank Sakic.
Could the final dispute have occurred when the Avalanche resigned defenseman Tyson Berrie to a four-year contract? Maybe Roy was discouraged when 21 players – blackjack – became free agents on July 1? Roy possibly became irate when Sakic made deals over his head or without his approval. Roy probably believed he should help determine the trades and the shape of the roster. Goalies Semyon Varmlamov and Calvin Pickard would have been prominent names in the discourse and the future course of the Avs.
Two proud, accomplished men had clashes, conflicts and challenges, and there was a lasting falling out. Roy went. Sakic stayed.
Sakic stated succinctly in a statement: “”Patrick informed me of his decision today. We appreciate all he has done for our organization and wish him the best of luck in the future.’’
No love expressed on either side.
Who’s got next? Sakic must choose quickly. Joel Quenneville would be the best selection, but he’s not leaving Chicago. How about his top assistant, Kevin Dineen, the former Florida Panthers coach? Or Bob Hartley, another ex-Avalanche Stanley Cup champion coach? Or Tim Army, an Avs assistant who would be the easy transition coach?
Too bad the Sakic-Roy combination couldn’t hold up high another Stanley Cup. Wah-wah.