This season there aren't just new challenges on the ice for the Colorado Avalanche players, but also off it for several team executives.
This past May, governor Josh Kroenke added team president to his title and named former Avs captain and hall of famer Joe Sakic as the club's executive vice president of hockey operations.
Sakic's first order of business was to find a coach, and he only had one person in mind—his former teammate and hall of fame goalie Patrick Roy.
"When I took this job—and I knew I had to find a coach—Patrick was always my top candidate," Sakic said at the May 28 news conference introducing Roy as the new Colorado coach. "Patrick has a great hockey mind, he is a tremendous coach, and there is no one more passionate about this game. He’ll bring a winning attitude and help this young team grow, and I know he’ll get the best out of each player."
Roy spent the past eight seasons as head coach and general manager of the Quebec Remparts and won the Memorial Cup as Canadian Hockey League champions in 2006. With his background in player personnel with Quebec, Roy offered to take on a bigger role than just head coach with Colorado. After some discussion, Kroenke and Sakic agreed it would be best for the organization if Roy helped in the decision-making process and added vice president of hockey operations to his new role.
"We both felt that not only did he want to coach but also be involved in player personnel decisions, which we were excited to hear," Sakic said. "I’ve known Patrick for a long time and we were fortunate to be a part of some great teams, and I know he will lead this team in the right direction."
Each executive is facing their own set of challenges in their new positions, but they are all looking forward to facing those challenges and having success for the betterment of the franchise.
In Sakic's case, he was four years out of retirement and had spent the previous two seasons as an executive advisor for the club, learning under the tutelage of Pierre Lacroix.
In his new position, Sakic recognizes the pressure of making critical decisions that could alter the team's future. That pressure of having the club on his shoulders, however, is something he enjoyed as a player and is enjoying as an executive.
"It was pretty easy, I didn’t have any pressure the last couple of years," Sakic said. "Obviously, there’s pressure coming with this title (as executive president of hockey operations), but I’m ready for it, and I really believe together we can achieve this."
Sakic was also an alternate governor for the club the last two years, and that duty transferred over to his new position. Since 2011, he has attended and represented the organization at many of the league's board of governors meetings.
Roy's challenge will be to bring his expertise as a coach, manager and part owner at the major junior level to the NHL ranks.
While many elements of the two leagues correlate, Roy said he knows the two are not one in the same.
"I understand that there are some adjustments to make, junior is junior and the NHL is the NHL, but at the end of the day you prepare yourself pretty much the same, and then the game is just a bit faster than it is in junior compared to the NHL," Roy said last summer. "All my years in junior, I’ve been using my NHL experience. The NHL experience I’ve been using is the one that I had with Montreal and Colorado and the different types of coaches I have had, they've been a model for myself. I hope that my passion will help our players to do the same."
Roy was offered the Avalanche's head coaching job in 2009 but turned it down because he didn't feel he was ready as a coach and wanted to continue to spend time with his family. Four years later, though, he was ready give the NHL a try.
"The Avalanche means a lot to me, and if there’s an organization I wanted to work with, it's this one," he said. "I have it at heart. The eight years that I was in Denver (as a player) had been fantastic ones. Our fans are extremely important to me. The people in Denver from the first day I arrived here in '96, they were simply fantastic, unbelievable to me, and I feel to be a part of that again is something that I expect to enjoy a lot."
Kroenke's route to the Avalanche's president and governor came via basketball. He played college basketball at the University of Missouri, interned in the NBA offices and has been part of the Denver Nuggets' front office since 2007.
However don't be mistaken, Kroenke also has a passion for hockey, but in order to gain a better understanding of the business side of the sport he used a similar approach as Sakic. Since 2010, he learned under Lacroix in preparation for his position as Colorado's team president.
"Pierre was instrumental in the Avalanche’s unprecedented success, and he felt it was time for him to be more of an outside resource for the organization," Kroenke said. "Obviously, we felt at that time Pierre should keep the title of president while I continued to gain experience in hockey operations at the team and league level. Having had the privilege of learning under a mentor like Pierre and then spending the past few seasons as governor, I feel ready to become much more involved on a daily basis."
Also the team president and governor of the Nuggets, Kroenke is the only executive in professional sports to own both titles for two separate franchises.
Being team president and governor for one professional sports team is a lot of pressure, let alone two, but Kroenke said he's confident he will be able to have success at the position with both clubs.
"As far as both jobs, I don’t sleep a lot—I'm like my dad that way. … I’m constantly thinking of ways to improve," Kroenke said. "I’m not afraid to steal best practices from other leagues, other teams and incorporate that into what I do. I think I can do that across both teams just as well as I’ve done with the Nuggets over the last several years, and I’m really excited about the opportunity to do it (with the Avalanche)."
While Kroenke, Roy and Sakic face challenges that are unique to their circumstances and their new positions, they all have one goal in mind: to get the Avalanche back to championship form and bring multiple Stanley Cups to the Mile High City.
"This is a proud franchise, and one we fully expect to be back in the playoffs competing for a Stanley Cup in the coming years," Kroenke said. "I was here in Pepsi Center for Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals … it was the most memorable sporting experience of my life and one that I want to experience again and again. We will get back there and it starts now."