When Jared Bednar was named as the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche in late August of 2016, many looked at him as little more than a place holder. Put in the unenviable position of taking over an NHL team without the benefit of an offseason, Bednar was put into a position to fail that first season - and he did so spectacularly. The Avalanche went on to lose 56 games in the 2016-17 season as they set a new standard for the worst record in modern NHL history.
Thanks to the horrendous season, many assumed that Bednar was one-and-done with the Avs, but team general manager Joe Sakic stuck by him and the decision has paid off in a huge way.
As Sakic spent the last few years re-working the roster, Bednar worked with the team’s core to turn them into one of the most exciting and successful clubs in the NHL. Since the futility of his debut season, Bednar has grown with his the young lineup and has been a big reason why they’ve turned into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. In recent years, Bednar put Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen in a position to succeed and they have taken the opportunity to turn into some of the best offensive players in the NHL.
Bednar’s is a system built around speed and puck possession and he’s been able to adapt to the roster Sakic has given him.
This season, the Avalanche turned into a true Stanley Cup contender. When the league was put on pause, they were second in the Western Conference with a game in hand. The Avs trailed only the Boston Bruins with 34 regulation wins and led the West in both goals for and goal differential. No team scored more 5v5 goals than Colorado’s 162 and their 58.48 GF% made them the best even-strength team in the NHL.
The Avalanche accomplished all this while struggling through an incredibly bad string of injuries.
Not that it matters, but...NHL injury summary at the point of suspension pic.twitter.com/JyseiYxDM3— NHLInjuryViz (@NHLInjuryViz) March 13, 2020
For nearly the entire season, the Avalanche were playing with at least one — most of the time multiple — key players out of the lineup. Super rookie Cale Makar missed 13 games after the new year while Landeskog, Kadri and Rantanen were out of the lineup for two months of the season. At times, the Avalanche were playing without two-thirds of their normal forward group — but that didn’t stop them from continuing to play as one of the best teams in the league.
The way the team performed through the rash of injuries points to two things: Nathan MacKinnon as a favorite for the Hart Trophy and Jared Bednar as the coach of the year.
It was rare for the Avalanche to have the same lineup from one game to next and Bednar did an incredible job of juggling lines on a day-to-day basis. He spent all year shuffling players — including a number of AHL call-ups — through the lineup, and was seemingly able to find chemistry every time. Oftentimes, guys would be playing but not practicing, making things even more difficult on the coaching staff.
It wasn’t only the skaters. As the old adage goes: “show me a great goalie and I’ll show you a great coach” (or something to that effect). More often than not, the Jack Adams winner is the coach of a team that also happens to have a Vezina-caliber goalie in net all season. That doesn’t apply here. Not only did Bednar lose his starting goalie for a large chunk of the season, the Avalanche had five different netminders start games between the pipes this season.
Pavel Francouz was really good for the Avs when Grubauer was hurt, but a lot of that has to do with the way the team started playing in front of him. Grubauer got hurt on February 15th, before that time, the Avalanche were giving up an average of 31.17 shots against per 60 minutes. In order to protect against the loss of their starter, Bednar made adjustments to be more mindful of team defense. With Grubauer out of the lineup, the team gave up only 26.86 shot per 60 — the third-fewest in the NHL over that stretch.
It’s adjustments like these that show a team’s worth. Bednar pulled back from the team’s high-even style in order to emphasize team defense and it worked. The Avalanche went 9-2-2 in the time without Grubauer and were playing some of their best hockey of the season.
This was the stretch where Bednar went from being an impressive coach to being one of the favorites to win the Jack Adams Award as the coach of the year.
No team in the conference suffered the kind of injuries the Avalanche did and yet they were still the best team in the West. Their head coach is a big reason why. Even through the worst season in franchise history, the Avalanche front office knew they had one of the brightest up-and-coming coaches in the NHL. Sakic knew that Jared Bednar had the potential to grow into one of the best in the league. Now he’s there and it’s time to recognize him for it.
And if his performance behind the bench wasn’t enough to warrant the Jack Adams, that glorious camo blazer he wore back in February should seal the deal.