In an effort to defame me, Managing Editor Tom asked me to look at Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar season and if he deserves the Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year. This is less of a “will he win” because the odds the fellow from P.E.I. losses is very long indeed. However, this is a look at the work Bednar has put into this team and how he stacks up to the other nominees.
First, let’s look at the criteria for the Jack Adams. From NHL.com,
“The Jack Adams Award is an annual award presented by the National Hockey League Broadcasters’ Association to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success. The winner is selected in a poll among members of the NHL Broadcasters’ Association at the end of the regular season.”
So the award is given to the coach who contributed the most to his team’s success. Naturally, the inclination would be to find teams that out-performed peoples expectations on the ice. But a lot of people seem to neglect the off-ice coaching, deployment, or even teaching coaches have to do as part of their job.
Coach Bednar was given the worst team in Salary Cap Era history. He was given a team who had no confidence in themselves. A team whose top center (not named Nathan MacKinnon) was checked out of the state, minus his contract. The sophomore coach took the youngest team in the league and coached them back into a (hopefully) sustainable playoff team.
In terms of how tough of a job each coach this year had, I would put Coach Bednar at the top of the list. Looking at his two fellow nominees, Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant, and Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, the adversity Bednar faced surpassed what was felt in Vegas and Boston.
Cassidy might have taken over for a highly regarded coach in Claude Julien after a disappointing season, but the Bruins have always been near the playoffs and carry two of the most respected players in the game in Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara. I do give credit to Cassidy for some of the new tactics he brought to the roster, as well as the implementation of young talented players in the bottom-six, but it’s arguable Bednar did a better job in both situations.
Bednar’s use of players like Alex Kerfoot, Tyson Jost, Nail Yakupov, and J.T. Compher to augment an ineffective bottom-six featuring Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau from the year before really helped that group grow and improve. In addition to having one of the youngest teams in the league, it was captained by Gabriel Landeskog, the youngest captain at the time of his appointment. Gabe is a great player and leader, but he’s no Bergeron. As a result, Bednar’s motivation to get the most out of his players was a key aspect in the team getting to the playoffs.
“He wants the team to be able to stick up for each other. He wants us to be a tight-knit group of guys who want to play for each other, who want to go into battle with each other, who have each other’s backs,” Avalanche forward Alexander Kerfoot said. “If you look at us, that’s what we are.” - Matt L. Stephens, Denver Post
But I think everyone assumes Cassidy is the clear third place finisher this year. The real competition comes with kicked to the curb (literally), but reborn as a Stanley Cup finalist with an expansion team Gerard Gallant. His story really is incredible, I will not deny that, but being the lucky recipent of dumb decisions made by the Florida Panthers does not a Jack Adams winner make.
The leadership group Vegas brought together, including Marc-Andre Fleury, Derrick Engellend, James Neal, and David Perron, contains a wealth of experience in a wide breadth of backgrounds in the game (Cup winners, local players, journeymen, proven and accomplished forwards). Led by Engellend, they, along with the front office, were able to handle adversity brought by the October 1st shootings in Vegas right at the start of the season. But from that moment onward, the team never lost. They never had to deal with losing 60 games in one year and the shattered confidence that came with it. Sure, it must’ve taken a few games to get over the fact that some of the players were left unprotected, but winning eight of their first nine together probably helped put that in the past.
At the end of the day, coach Bednar never found himself in the national news, or with a top-10 roster that had come off a down year. He worked hard to bring hope and respect back to the Colorado Avalanche and he accomplished that. Even if he loses the Coach of the Year award this season, he will have earned the respect and trust of the fanbase, and set up his club for what could be one day be a championship water fountain bath.
With the help of Jack Hughes, of course.