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Jared Bednar: Off to a Good Start

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Two weeks ago yesterday we were floored with the news that Patrick Roy was resigning as Head Coach of the Avalanche. Joe Sakic’s words at the time showed his surprise and he left expectations low saying the staff would try to get someone new in place “hopefully by training camp”. I didn’t buy that, as daunting a task as it seemed the biggest hurdle was finding people willing and able to take the position and once that happened it sailed along quickly. Early last week the Avs contacted the Blue Jackets about talking to their AHL coach and by Friday they had a nice long interview with Jared Bednar. Others were considered and interviewed but by Monday the decision was mostly made and after Joe took a few days for reflection and confirmation from friends around the league we got the announcement yesterday.

Before we discuss our new coach, I think it’s an important point that the Avs got to talk extensively with some smart folks that didn’t end up getting the position. That also goes for the search they conducted for our new AHL coach back in June & July. One of the biggest criticisms of the org over it’s 20 year history is being insular and far from early adopters of new thinking, technology and strategies in the NHL. Spending several hours with someone outside the org is a great way to gain perspective of where the franchise is lacking and ways to improve. It’s basically free consultation work and I hope that what they learned from others does even more to improve the club beyond the hiring of smart guys like Veilleux, Pratt and Bednar. Sakic mentioned several times yesterday that he learned a lot and that can only be a major positive going forward.

Much if this has been thrown out in the threads yesterday but just to get it down in a central place, here’s a short history of our new coach:

As a player, Bednar was a big defenseman and a bit of a brawler. After several years in the WHL he turned pro and spent much of his career in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingrays, winning the Kelly Cup in 1997 and 2001. After the 2002 season he hung up the skates and immediately became an assistant coach for the Stingrays.

After 5 years as an assistant in SC, Bednar was offered the head coaching job and ended up taking the Stingrays to their 3rd Kelly Cup in 2009. The Flames saw potential and gave him an assistant coach position with the Abbotsford Heat then the next season the Blues gave him the head coaching job with the Peoria Rivermen. They parted ways 2 seasons later and Bednar ended up behind the bench with the Jackets’ affiliate in Springfield where he became head coach two seasons later. Last year, the team moved to Lake Erie and won the Calder Cup after many fruitless seasons as the Avs affiliate. He and Bruce Boudreau are the only coaches with both a Kelly Cup and a Calder Cup on their mantles.

Avs fans were introduced to Jared Bednar yesterday and although it was only by phone he came across as steady, confident & focused. We’ll get more in the coming weeks but a few themes were clear from his presser and interviews.

  • He describes himself as demanding but fair. The old rule of thumb is that when a players coach moves on you follow that up with a strict disciplinarian. I’m not sure that’s exactly what Bednar is but with the waning effectiveness of Patrick’s egalitarian “partnership” with the players, I think a coach that can explain exactly what he expects, demonstrate/teach that and then implement the same will be much appreciated.
  • Even though I’ve watched a little of Bednar’s Monsters from last year, I’m not sure I can describe a “system” in any coherent way. Yesterday we kept hearing descriptors like “uptempo”, “fast”, “aggressive” and “support” for how he likes to have his teams play and I can agree with that. From what I’ve seen he likes to use an aggressive forecheck to gain the puck in the o-zone. If that doesn’t work then make the opponents miserable in the neutral zone. If they do manage to gain the zone then viciously go after the puck and get it moving forward again. Above all, always support the puck. The Avs have a good group to execute a strategy like this, they just need to be taught how.
  • He’s down with using analytics to improve the team’s performance. Not that I think Patrick eschewed them completely, I just don’t think he used them effectively. That’s kind of important these days, however and however much you incorporate them into the team strategies and tactics. With rumors that the Avs have been searching for a staff member to concentrate on analytics this summer, it’s useful to have a coach that knows what to do with them.

So far, in his 1 day on the job, he’s said all the right things and appears to have a rudimentary plan already for integrating with the current staff and players. There’s a lot of work to do before the rookies report in 3 weeks but not an overwhelming amount. Whether the current staff will remain got vague answers from Joe Sakic, I’m pretty sure Nolan Pratt remains for obvious reasons but Army and Farrish may or may not.

After the disappointments of the past 2 seasons, this is both exciting and interesting on many levels. Before the coaching change, many took a superficial view of what has gone on with the org this summer and dismissed it as standing around doing nothing. I didn’t, maybe the changes were subtle but they weren’t insignificant. Now a new head coach has been brought in and can implement changes that we all knew needed to happen for the Avs players to get closer to their potential. Discipline, accountability and a clearer vision might be all that was needed to bridge the gap from where the Avs ended up this Spring and where they ended up two years earlier.