Sports fans set their lives upon a cast and accept the hazard of not being able to impact a team’s outcome in any way. It’s where the heroism of figures like Messier comes from—what they do to make things happen that we can’t do from atop the silver spiraled springs of our favorite recliner. It’s reasonable enough to love them for that, and anyway we’re not likely to stop. But it is, generally speaking, a good idea to leave the past to the past.
It’s practical, too. The last head coach to win a Stanley Cup for a team he once played for? Tom Johnson, the bench boss of the 1971-72 Boston Bruins. He played just over 100 games for the Bruins; he was not exactly a franchise great. But he did something that none of the great players to take their shot at coaching have done in four decades since.
More to the point, NHL owners that insist on returning to franchise icons as coaches are doing an unkindness to some treasured memories. These memories matter, and too important to risk supplanting the still-immediate good ones—a great bravely hobbling towards a shooter after blocking three shots to block another, or racing down the ice past a defense to slide the puck underneath the goaltender—with the image of a stuttering, answerless head coach running out of even the most clichéd rhetoric.
This is the chance that the Colorado Avalanche—who have hired Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy in hopes of recapturing the best times in franchise history—will prove that a team can win games, and maybe the NHL’s ultimate prize, on the residual strength of memories. It’s a nice idea, but it represents choosing those sweet memories over all that dull, excised history—the rather large sample size that suggests hockey games are more readily won by hitting a piece of black rubber past a contortionist on skates, over and over again.
Currently, Craig Berube and Ian Laperriere stroll behind the bench for The Orange and The Black. Paul Holmgren is the GM and Ron Hextall is his assistant. Derian Hatcher and Kjell Samuelsson do player development. Dave Brown is the head of pro scouting.