The Contrarian – Out With a Bang

by Demetri Fragopoulos on August 14, 2016

Applying lateral thinking to the Patrick Roy resignation

There is a lateral thinking problem that you may have come across in the past. The story goes something like this: A person is taking a summer jog through a rural area and discovers a dead body. What makes it more surprising is that the body is dressed in full winter hunting gear, including a rifle. The jogger does a quick inspection and cannot determine how the person died, but you should be able to.

Technically, you are only supposed to ask the teller of the story questions that can be answered only by yes, no or irrelevant. As you ask your questions, you should be able to deduce the cause of death.

Sometimes, we get stuck in a way of thinking and make certain presumptions, which make it difficult for us to find the solution.

This leads me to the Patrick Roy statement. Everyone wants to analyze and come up with a reason why he suddenly quit being the coach and vice-president of hockey operations for the Colorado Avalanche.

Some outlets, like Sports Illustrated and TSN, look at the lag between Roy’s statement and the one issued by the club. Whether there was a 90-minute or two-hour delay between announcements, something must have been terribly wrong between Roy and the Avalanche for this to have occurred the way it did.

There have been a few other pieces written speculating that Roy could be hired as the coach of the Montreal Canadiens if they do not have a great start this year. Or he could possibly be hired as part of the management team if/when Quebec is awarded an expansion franchise. But this is all pie in the sky for now.

Another article by Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post was more critical. He describes Roy as, “A hockey man who demands nothing less than excellence ran out of patience with a once-dominant NHL team’s manby-pamby approach to restoring its lost luster” and “he felt his input in personnel decisions met with deaf ears”. The last part was in reference to the portion of Roy’s statement that his vision with the club had to have been “perfectly aligned” and that “[these] conditions are not currently met”.

People have taken that and concluded that Roy wanted to trade certain players away, go out and sign others as free agents, and generally run the club as if it were his to run. It all could be true.

But Kiszla goes further by writing “Nothing lasts forever, and patience might be a virtue, but it also puts you a step closer to the grave,” and “waiting in line is for losers.”

That Roy is opinionated, fiery, energetic, passionate and determined is not at issue or at question. He has been like that throughout his whole career, but that does not mean that his way is the only way to win.

Former teammate and boss Joe Sakic has also won two Stanley Cups, and he is more mellow and calm. Another player/executive, Steve Yzerman, won three Cups and he was recently praised for how he handled the Jonathan Drouin and Steve Stamkos dilemmas with patience. Both Sakic and Yzerman are just a handful of players that skated for one club their whole NHL career and they waited in line for their teams to get better before became champions.

Were things so out of whack between Roy and Sakic? Let us go back to June 17, 2016. In another Denver Post article by Mike Chambers, Sakic clearly stated, “On July 1, don’t expect us to go after and big long-term deals. Within our own, we’re going to discuss what we have within, but outside on July 1 we’re not going to go after a big splash.”

Sakic and the Avalanche did exactly what he said they would do. They resigned Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Duncan Siemens. That was it. Nothing else.

As per Sakic’s comments, “Patty was always involved”, “He was always involved. He was aware of all the decisions we were making,” and “I know we were on the same page… We were all on the same page.”

Roy knew the plan back in June, but now some eight weeks later he decided to quit. Sorry, there has to be more to this story than wanting to go out and get some free agents this summer. A better time for that might be next season.

As it currently stands the Avalanche will have ten players becoming free agents next summer (seven restricted and three unrestricted). One of the players that will be unrestricted is Jarome Iginla, whose contract alone will free up slightly more than $5.3 million in cap space.

By doing what he did the way he did, as Kiszla put it, “Patrick Roy told the Avs to take their coaching job and shove it.” (Bang)

Back to the lead-in of this article. You may have heard the lateral thinking problem phrased a little differently. A hunter aimed his gun carefully and fired. Seconds later, he realized his mistake. Minutes later, he was dead. You are to figure out why the hunter knew he was going to die and in doing so, how the hunter ends up dying.

Normally you would be able to ask questions. But in this case if you take what you know from both problems I think you should be able to figure it out.

(If not, Google the last lateral thinking puzzle.)