It was no secret that one of the main reasons for former Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy’s surprising departure this summer was that he did not see eye-to-eye with GM Joe Sakic on the direction of the team. Roy did not hide the fact that he disagreed with several of Sakic’s personnel decisions, especially when it came to the defense. An old-school, conservative hockey mind, Roy wanted to stick to a strong, defensive unit on the back end. The highly publicized negotiations with and eventual expensive extension for Tyson Barrie was thought to be a top reason why Roy decided to move on. He did not see Barrie as anything more than a bottom-pair defenseman and hated seeing the Avalanche use such a large portion of of their cap space on a defensively-deficient blue liner.
Now, a New York Post article has added yet another issue on the back end in Colorado that likely added to Roy’s exit. It describes how New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault received a phone call from Roy in June after the team had traded for former Avs defenseman Nick Holden. In it, Roy described Holden as “one of my better defensemen”. He also said that Holden was “safe, dependable, and not very flashy”. That perfectly describes Roy’s perfect defenseman, a guy who works hard, doesn’t make mistakes, and plays well in the defensive zone. While some may view this description as dull and lacking upside, and Holden’s career offensive numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, analyzing both the basic defensive stats and more analytic possession stats for Holden over the past couple seasons actually reveals a very strong player. In fact, Roy is surely not the only one who would value Holden’s ability and he is not wrong to have been upset about losing such a player for a measly fourth-round pick. Holden may be one of the most under-rated defensemen in the NHL.
Less than two months after the trade, Roy said goodbye to the place he called home as a player and coach. While the more prevalent issue at the time had been Barrie, it seems likely after the New York Post report that it was likely a combination of keeping Barrie at the expense of Holden that frustrated Roy. The Hall of Fame goalie wanted as a coach what he wanted as a player: a solid defense in front of him. While Roy has yet to find another job behind an NHL bench yet, his next GM should be careful not to trade the best defensive defenseman on the team. Meanwhile, Holden is playing alongside Ryan McDonagh and logging big minutes on the top pair in New York while the Colorado defense is having a hard time stopping goals. Maybe Roy was right all along.