Joe Sacco's Colorado Avalanche lost a nasty 6-0 game on Tuesday night to the Vancouver Canucks. They actually didn't play nearly as poorly as the score indicates, but a third period meltdown led to the lopsided number and, well, a lot of embarrassment.
That's kind of a microcosm of Sacco's job status with the Avs right now. You know, he's really not doing that bad a job... but well, the results are kind of embarrassing. And when embarrassing things happen to people, they tend to want them to stop happening. That's when people lose their jobs.
Yes, Joe Sacco could very well be the next coaching scapegoat, and sure, some of it is definitely his fault.
"I personally think he's just an okay coach," said David Driscoll-Carignan of Avalanche blog Mile High Hockey. "Not much of a system to speak of. I think a better coach would get more out of this team. But the bottom line is he doesn't have much to work with."
That, certainly, is not Sacco's fault. The coach doesn't put the players in the uniform. He just decides what happens with them once they're there. The reality is that since Sacco took over as head coach in October 2009, the Avalanche have been one of the cheapest teams in the NHL.
Mile High Hockey ran those numbers a few weeks back. Since Greg Sherman took over as general manager, also in 2009, the Avalanche have only been under-spent by just two teams in the NHL. One team, the Winnipeg Jets, were just sold and relocated from Atlanta due to money issues, and the other, the New York Islanders, have been awful for years and also might be on the relocation block if they can't figure out a tenuous arena situation on Long Island.
This is not good company.
On the other side of the coin, teams like the Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes have spent just ahead of the Avalanche over the last three years (including the current season), but they've had plenty of success. They've made the playoffs each of the last two years, and both are on pace to qualify again this season. They're each the most successful teams in the NHL when it comes to dollars spent per each point in the standings, according to Mile High Hockey's numbers.
So why can't the Avalanche be more like them? What's the issue?
Spending limits are an ownership issue. That's something that can't really be altered without a change all the way at the top, and that doesn't happen unless the owner wants out. Or, I suppose, if the team starts winning lots of hockey games and lots of Stanley Cups, thus making more money.
Acquiring players is a management issue, and it's clear Sherman has screwed up in that department more than once. The most glaring mistake he's made was the acquisition of goaltender Seymon Varlamov from the Washington Capitals this past summer.
Sherman thought his team was going to be competitive this season -- he really did. And in giving up his first round pick for a relatively unproven goalie, he was saying as much. After all, a lottery pick for Varlamov would be more of an over-payment than anything we saw this past offseason, but a late first-round pick? Eh, not so bad.
The fact that it's looking more and more like that pick will be a very high one in the 2012 NHL Draft is an indictment on the general manager. The egg has hit him right in the nose.
These are tricky things to figure out: Who's to blame? In reality, it's probably a mixture of both the coach and the general manager, but Driscoll-Carignan thinks the same squad could do a better job with a different man behind the bench.
"We've got one of the biggest defensive squads in the league, but they aren't really considered super physical other than Ryan Wilson," he told us. "I would like to see [a coach] who could make our defense seem more intimidating, and one who could get our young guys to turn the corner a bit more than they have."
When things go poorly, you start at the bottom of the totem pole, whether that's the root of the problem or not. Ultimately, it might not be Sacco's fault that the Colorado Avalanche are a team that's languishing, well on their way to missing the playoffs yet again. He might not be that bad of a head coach. He might not have much to work with.
But with the Avalanche falling further and that egg starting to encrust in the pores of his boss' face, it wouldn't be shocking if Joe Sacco lost his job sooner than later.