“Last year we went up to Quebec City to do a piece for the Heritage Classic, and we interviewed (Patrick) Roy. And I asked him off-camera about going to the NHL, and he told just a hilarious story . . . he said, ‘Last summer, I was out golfing in July and I said to myself, ‘Is the owner happy with me here?’ and I said, ‘Yes, because I am the owner.’ And he says, ‘Is the GM happy with me here?’ and I thought, ‘Yes, because I am the GM.’ Is the coach happy with me here? Well, yes, because I am the coach. I won’t get that in the NHL.” – Elliotte Friedman on the March 23, 2012 episode of Prime Time Sports (FAN590) recalling an anecdote about Quebec Remparts owner, general manager and head coach Patrick Roy.
It’s not so much an elephant in the room as it is the Coyotes in the desert for the NHL.
Along with all the whispers and rumours about a new locale for the Desert Dogs is the presumed done-deal that is Patrick Roy taking over bench duties if the team heads from Quebec City.
Roy has been, and always will be, an icon in the game. A big personality and with a clear mind for the game — he’s done wonders with the Remparts while filling all the major roles — it’s been said that, much like Dale Hunter and the work he’d done with the London Knights, Roy’s presence as a bench boss or GM in the NHL was just a matter of time.
Immediately after the firing of Jacques Martins in Montreal, the whispers began in earnest. The Canadiens and their long-storied affection for french speaking players and coaches seemed like the perfect fit. After all, Roy was once the Montreal’s favourite son before his unceremonious exit. When interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth was barraged with stories that the organization was just hiring him as a stop-gap until they could find something better, it seemed the only person that “something better” could be was Roy. With the season nearly complete, Cunneyworth is still patrolling the Habs bench.
So when it seemed Cunneyworth was there to stay, at least for the remainder of the season, the search began for the next logical fit for Roy. After a mid-game trade of Mike Cammalleri, and a season that looked lost from the outset, fans were calling for the head of GM Pierre Gauthier. Gauthier, as of today, still has his job. While many are referring to him as a lame duck GM, just waiting to be shown the door (much like his appointed head coach), it doesn’t seem very likely that Gauthier will be gone before the summer.
The story only gained an added layer when, earlier this month, stories began to flood out of Quebec that Roy and the Canadiens had reached a mutual agreement that Roy would take over as either the GM, coach or both. Roy has since denied that the reports are true, as have both the Remparts and Canadiens organizations, but it sent the hockey world — especially the french speaking communities — into a tizzy.
With the Canadiens denial came new reports, this time that Roy would still be leaving the Remparts but for the rebirth of the Quebec City franchise if (or as some believe, when) it becomes a reality. The news of a new building in Quebec City that would be built to accommodate an NHL franchise added to the speculation that it is only a matter of time before a team finds it’s way to Quebec’s capital.
Presumably, the franchise that would end up in Quebec City would be the Coyotes. The NHL has announced that it will start looking for a backup plan should the ownership situation in Phoenix fail to be be cleared up, and with that, the speculation increased tenfold.
If the team did land in Quebec City, and Patrick Roy were hired, that would result in the reins being handed from Dave Tippett to Roy. Something about that just isn’t right.
You’ll remember that just this past summer, the Atlanta Thrashers were purchased from the Atlanta Spirit Group by True North Sports and Entertainment. True North, with its new ownership, relieved the much of the front office of its duties, including the power position of GM and the entire coaching staff. Now, the Thrashers front office wasn’t exactly that bad, but the team was mired in futility for years (one playoff appearance in the team’s history is not exactly a portrait of success).
Craig Ramsay, the former Thrashers head coach, was fired and True North hired Claude Noel, the head coach of the AHL team they had once owned and precursor to Jets 2.0, the Manitoba Moose. General Manager Rick Dudley, who had gotten the team immersed in the race for the playoffs before they fell flat in the second half, was also given the boot in favour of former Chicago Blackhawks assistant GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and former Moose GM Craig Heisinger.
In the case of the Jets/Thrashers and the changes post-relocation, it can be defended: the team was failing, they fell flat in the second half, and what happened behind the scenes no one quite knows. While Dudley’s contract as GM was bought out shortly after the sale to True North, Ramsay was interviewed for the coaching job with the Jets before he was replaced — though some believe it was merely True North keeping up appearances.
However, when it comes to the Coyotes/Nordiques, what sense would there be in hiring Roy?
Right now, the Coyotes have one of the best GM/coach tandems in the entire NHL. With a lack of funds and constant distractions, the Coyotes have only continued to perform above expectations.
Many had them placing out of the playoffs when Wayne Gretzky stepped down as coach of the team, but Dave Tippett turned the team around. Tippett took over the team in late September, 2009, and didn’t look back. That season, the Coyotes bested their 36-win season in 2008-09 in just 61 games, winning 37. The Coyotes would go on to 50 victories that campaign, their first 50 win season.
While his coaching style has been explained as dry and defensive, you cannot deny that its effectiveness. Tippet hasn’t had a single season where the team has finished outside of the post-season and, while they continue to battle for a playoff spot as of this writing, have remained one of the most competitive teams in an ultra-competitive Pacific Division and Western Conference.
Tippett’s system has turned goaltender Mike Smith into one of the best stories in the NHL this season, and his style of play lead to Ilya Bryzgalov landing a contract with the Philadelphia Flyers worth so much you could compare it to the universe. Sure, Bryzgalov’s talent may merit the deal, but one would be a fool to declare Tippett’s game management didn’t aid in some of the best seasons the Russian netminder has seen in the NHL.
As for the GM, Don Maloney, he has brought together a team that can play the style that Tippett prefers. Captained by franchise cornerstone Shane Doan, a roster that consists of burgeoning star defenseman Keith Yandle and cost-effective players like Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata.
The working relationship the two men have has created a winning environment and atmosphere in Phoenix and though it could be said that the uncertainty of where the team will be in the future may scare off some free agents — not to mention the lack of ownership — it hasn’t been a glaring issue in Phoenix.
Money or not, Tippett and Maloney have found a way to win. So that begs the question, does the need for french speaking management, coaching and supplemental personnel outweigh winning? Understandably, it would make communication with the media difficult, but surely a translator couldn’t price themselves out of a job for 82 games plus practices.
The fact of the matter is Roy has never had a taste of the NHL. He doesn’t know the management structure, he doesn’t have complete control and with a personality like his, how long would it be before he and a coach clash? And if he were the coach, how long would it be before it happened with one of the players?
In the QMJHL with the Remparts, Roy is managing a group of young men that are looking to make the move to the NHL and playing time is at a premium. Play well, do what you’re told and you can make an impact. It’ll help the player’s stock, it’ll help their chances of moving on and it’s exactly what they want.
In the NHL, he’d be dealing with players that may not want to listen to him. Whether its said or not, it’d be hard to believe that there aren’t teams in the league right now that are having difficulties with their players relationship with the coach. It happens. There are egos, pride and dollars on the line. A mix of any of those three can lead to clashes, it’s just the nature of things.
As a GM, he’s never dealt with the money. He’s not a capologist — he’s never dealt with paying players more than a stipend — and he’s never even spent time as an assistant. Additionally, he has yet to even have a taste at the international level, something that most prospective GMs have tried their hand at. In a roundabout way, the only NHL player he has ever really traded is himself.
No experience over a proven tandem. It just wouldn’t make sense; not for the franchise and not for the fans. When we see the Nordiques, soon or if ever again, they’ll have decisions to make. But who really knows?
Because Patrick Roy? We might not even get that in the NHL.