It marked a milestone for a number of Colorado Avalanche players as the team seeks to chase the third Stanley Cup in franchise history. But it’s also been a pretty good year for the guy who pulled the strings.
If Colorado goes back on hold, Jared Bednar will have coached more games than any other coach in Avalanche history. Already the most successful head coach in Colorado this season, he is determined to make his mark on the franchise by becoming the third head coach in team history to win the Stanley Cup.
Rocky start in Colorado
Bednar’s tenure didn’t start out too well, but he was thrown into the fire pretty quickly.
His first season with the Avalanche was the 2016-17 campaign – one of the worst in franchise history. It was definitely the worst since the team moved to Colorado.
Blaming Bednar for this season, however, is like accusing a new bank manager of being robbed. Former coach Patrick Roy abandoned the team and resigned on August 11, 2016. Bednar was substituted on exactly two weeks later, meaning the coaching change came less than two months before the puck dropped on opening night. Not much time to clean up Roy’s mess.
Head Coach Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin / NHLI via Getty Images)
The Avalanche actually won three of their first four games that season, but ended up 22-56-4 – the team’s worst record in Colorado and the franchise’s lowest score (48) in an 82-game season. It was also the lowest score in the league by a mile. The Vancouver Canucks had the second worst record of the season at 30-43-9 for 69 points.
After that miserable first season, Bednar and the Avalanche suffered another loss during the draft lottery. Colorado got the fourth pick, the lowest pick they could, when the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars won the first three picks. All three teams had less than a nine percent chance of overtaking Colorado.
As usual, however, General Manager Joe Sakic made the best of the situation. The avalanche took defenseman Cale Makar with that choice and things immediately started to look brighter.
Build a competitor
Not every Avalanche coach had the difficult start Bednar endured. Marc Crawford coached the team to a Stanley Cup in 1995-96, his first full season in which he led the team. Bob Hartley took over in 1998-99 and won a Stanley Cup in his third season after winning his first two division titles.
Bednar is actually the first coach since the team moved to Colorado not to make playoffs in their first season, with the exception of Joel Quenneville, who never made the playoffs in three seasons. But all went well for Quenneville, who won three trophies with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Bednar had to be a little more patient, and the franchise is rewarded for being patient with him. Makar’s draft helped after that dark, swirling first season, but another Avalanche player became a superstar under Bednar’s watch.
Nathan Mackinnon has grown into a superstar under Jared Bednar. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Nathan MacKinnon was the first overall winner in the 2013 NHL Draft and had a good rookie season in 2013-14. On the way to winning the Calder Trophy, he scored 24 goals and 63 points in that first campaign but didn’t come within 10 points in his next three seasons.
In his second season with Bednar, MacKinnon started. Having scored 75 goals in his first four seasons, MacKinnon has scored 132 goals in the four seasons since then. He has scored 90 points north in each of the last three seasons, and his 53 points in just 39 games this season are fifth in the NHL.
MacKinnon’s rise has also helped make Mikko Rantanen one of the league’s most dangerous scorers. Rantanen has scored at least 20 goals in all of his five seasons, with one exception – last year’s COVID-shortened campaign in which he scored 19 goals in just 42 games.
Chasing a cup
Bednar is popular in Colorado and has some team records, but he needs more to cement his place in the elite of the Crawford and Hartley franchises. That means winning a Stanley Cup.
The team this season seems capable of that. With less than a quarter of the season remaining, this Avalanche squad has the best record in the NHL at 30-9-4 – a respectable percentage of 0.744 points. They lead the NHL in goals per game (3.58) and have allowed the second smallest goals per game (2.35).
This story should sound familiar to Avalanche fans. In 1995-96, Colorado was the second highest team in the NHL and allowed the third highest goals. When Colorado won its second cup in 2000-2001, the Avalanche were the team with the second highest score and allowed the second smallest goals.
There are other similarities as well. The down scoring leads the way behind a dangerous top line centered by a real superstar in MacKinnon. Philipp Grubauer scored a goal in the Vezina Trophy to set the tone in the background.
Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar (Photo by Norm Hall / NHLI via Getty Images)
Bednar had to weave through the troubles of a season shortened by COVID, dealing with injuries and mistakes in chemistry. But just like Crawford and Hartley before him, he got the team into the home stretch of the campaign.
Teams coached by Bednar didn’t make it through the second round but winning anything but the Stanley Cup this season would likely be a disappointment. But in a season where the avalanche has been postponed multiple times due to COVID, they know anything can happen.
But don’t expect Bednar to get mixed up. He’d had to juggle chainsaws since his first day at work while surrounded by the fires of uncertainty. The ever-changing world of the NHL during a pandemic seems like a breeze for one of the best coaches in franchise history.
Lifelong storyteller and seasoned hockey reporter who has covered everything from great juniors to the NHL. Worked for various newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota, now reporting on the Colorado Avalanche for THW.