It’s been a milestone year for a number of Colorado Avalanche players as the team tries to chase down the third Stanley Cup in franchise history. But it’s also been a pretty good year for the guy pulling the strings.
When Colorado takes the ice again, Jared Bednar will have coached more games than any other coach in Avalanche history. He’s already become the winningest head coach in Colorado this season and he’s looking to put his stamp on the franchise for good by becoming the third head coach in team history to lift the Stanley Cup.
Rocky Start in Colorado
Bednar’s tenure didn’t start out the greatest, but he was thrown into the fire pretty quickly.
His first season with the Avalanche was the 2016-17 campaign — which was one of the worst in franchise history. It was easily the worst since the team moved to Colorado.
However, blaming Bednar for that season is like blaming a new bank manager for getting robbed. Previous coach Patrick Roy left the team in the lurch, resigning on Aug. 11, 2016. Bednar was brought in exactly two weeks later, meaning the coaching switch happened less than two months before the puck was to drop on opening night. Not a lot of time to clean up Roy’s mess.
The Avalanche actually won three of their first four games that season, but wound up 22-56-4 — the team’s worst record in Colorado, and the franchise’s lowest points total (48) in an 82-game season. It was also the lowest points total in the league by a mile. The Vancouver Canucks had the second-worst record that season at 30-43-9 for 69 points.
After that abysmal first season, Bednar and the Avalanche took what looked like another loss during the draft lottery. Colorado got the fourth pick, the lowest selection possible for them, when the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars won the first three picks, respectively. All three teams had less than a nine percent chance to move past Colorado.
Building a Contender
Not every Avalanche coach had the rough start Bednar had to endure. Marc Crawford coached the team to a Stanley Cup in 1995-96, his first full season leading the team. Bob Hartley took over in 1998-99, and won a Stanley Cup in his third season, after winning division titles his first two.
Bednar is actually the first coach since the team moved to Colorado not to make the playoffs in his first season, except for Joel Quenneville — who never made the playoffs in three seasons. But things turned out all right for Quenneville, who famously won three Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Bednar has had to be a bit more patient, and the franchise is being rewarded for being patient with him. The drafting of Makar helped after that dismal, whirlwind first season, but another Avalanche player became a superstar under Bednar’s watch.
Nathan MacKinnon was the first-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, and had a fine rookie season in 2013-14. He scored 24 goals and 63 points in that initial campaign on the way to winning the Calder Trophy, but didn’t come within 10 points of that his next three seasons.
In his second season with Bednar, MacKinnon took off. After scoring 75 goals in his first four seasons, MacKinnon has racked up 132 in the four seasons since. He’s tallied north of 90 points in each of the last three seasons, and his 53 points in just 39 games this season are fifth in the NHL.
MacKinnon’s emergence has also helped turn Mikko Rantanen into one of the most dangerous goal scorers in the league. Rantanen has scored at least 20 goals in all of his five seasons except one — last year’s COVID-shortened campaign where he scored 19 in just 42 games.
Chasing a Cup
Bednar is popular in Colorado, and has some team records, but he still needs more to cement his place among the franchise’s elite of Crawford and Hartley. That means winning a Stanley Cup.
This season’s team looks capable of it. With less than a quarter of the season remaining, this Avalanche squad boasts the best record in the NHL at 30-9-4 — a tidy .744 points percentage. They lead the NHL in goals per game (3.58), and have allowed the second-fewest goals per game (2.35).
This story should sound familiar to Avalanche fans. In 1995-96, Colorado was the second-highest scoring team in the NHL, and allowed the third-most goals. When Colorado won its second Cup in 2000-2001, the Avalanche were the second-highest scoring team, and allowed the second-fewest goals.
There are other similarities, too. Depth scoring leads the way behind a dangerous top line centered by a bona fide superstar in MacKinnon. Philipp Grubauer has delivered Vezina Trophy-level goaltending to set the tone at the back.
Bednar has had to weave his way through the difficulties of a season abbreviated by COVID, and dealt with injuries and lapses in chemistry. But just like Crawford and Hartley before him, he has the team clicking going into the homestretch of the campaign.
Bednar-coached teams haven’t made it past the second round, but anything short of winning the Stanley Cup this season would likely be a disappointment. But in a season where the Avalanche have faced multiple postponements due to COVID, they know anything can happen.
But don’t expect Bednar to get rattled. He’s had to juggle chainsaws while surrounded by the fires of uncertainty since his first day on the job. The ever-changing world of the NHL during a pandemic probably seems like a breeze for one of the best coaches in franchise history.
Lifelong storyteller and experienced hockey reporter that has covered everything from major juniors to the NHL. Worked for various newspapers across Minnesota and North Dakota, and now covering the Colorado Avalanche for THW.