Since they joined the NHL in 1979-80, the Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques franchise has employed 15 head coaches, 9 in Quebec and 7 in Denver. Accomplishments, achievements and statistics were considered when choosing the top five. The team as a whole improved after it moved to Denver in the 1995-96 season, which is a reflection of their leaders.
No. 5: Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy coached one of the most amazing turnaround seasons in Avalanche franchise history. The team earned a dismal 48 points in 2012-13 under head coach Joe Sacco. Roy took over for the 2013-14 season, and led them to 112 points and their first playoff run since the 2009-10 season. His record was 130-92-24 with one appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during his three years at the helm.
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His time behind the bench was also controversial. He resigned on Aug. 11, 2016 and said, “It was more like the type of players and stuff like this that [we] didn’t necessarily agree on, and it goes upon that. It was people working for the team and stuff like this that we were a little different, but no more than that.”
Roy claimed he didn’t have enough say in the decision-making process: “To achieve this, the vision of the coach and VP-Hockey Operations needs to be perfectly aligned with that of the organization… He must also have a say in the decisions that impact the team’s performance. These conditions are not currently met.”
His time guiding the Avs may be statistically impressive, but his departure was abrupt and unexpected. He left the team without a leader less than two months before the 2016-17 season started.
No. 4: Joel Quenneville
Quenneville won a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche as an assistant coach in 1996. The following season, he took over the bench for the St. Louis Blues where he earned a Presidents’ Trophy and seven straight playoff appearances during his reign. The Blues lost to the Avalanche with him behind the bench in the 2001 Western Conference Final.
He was fired by the Blues then hired by the Avalanche in June 2004. The 2004-05 lockout canceled the season, so his tenure as head coach of the Avalanche began in the 2005-06 season.
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He led his players to three 95-point seasons for a total of 285 points. He earned two postseason berths but lost in the conference semifinal both times.
Quenneville resigned after the Avalanche was swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 conference semifinal. It was a mutual split, according to ESPN.com.
“Whatever happens going forward, my memories are all going to be positive here,” Quenneville said.
The team was heading in a direction that did not fit Quenneville’s style of coaching. “We’ve always been an organization that’s been a puck possession, upbeat, high tempo, high energy, attacking [team],” executive vice president and general manager François Giguère said. “That’s the way the Avalanche have always played and I think that’s the way I foresee this team continuing to play.”
No. 3: Jared Bednar
Bednar came into the 2016-17 season following Roy’s resignation. Due to the circumstances of Roy’s departure, the team was in a state of flux and he didn’t have much time to prepare before the season started. His first go at it was not pretty.
The Avalanche landed dead last in the league with 48 points. The following season, communication, chemistry, and planning helped the team finish with 95 points and in the playoffs. Although they lost in the first round of the 2018 playoffs, the team improved immensely under Bednar. They earned 90 points in 2018-19 and again made it to the playoffs.
After a heart-breaking Game 7 loss to the San Jose Sharks in the second round, it was clear the Avalanche had improved and were continuing to do so. Bednar signed a two-year extension following the loss, proving that management had faith in his abilities.
The Avalanche were fighting for the top spot in the Western Conference and possibly the league before the 2019-20 season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If and when the season resumes, the Avalanche should prove worthy of a spot in the postseason under Bednar.
No. 2: Bob Hartley
Hartley was hired on June 2, 1998, following the sudden resignation of Marc Crawford. He spent five seasons with the Avalanche earning a 193-108-48-10 record for 444 points. His 193 wins are a franchise record and he is the only coach in franchise history to record 40 or more wins during his first four seasons as head coach.
He coached the team to a Presidents’ Trophy and to their second Stanley Cup Championship in 2001. Following the Cup-winning season, the team continued their success into the Western Conference Final. They lost to the Red Wings who won the Cup in 2002.
Hartley spent the next 31 games behind the Avalanche bench before being fired on Dec. 17, 2002, after a 10-8-9-4 start to the 2002-03 season.
“Today I decided to make a decision in order to move forward with a situation where I felt the team was not performing at the level it should,″ general manager Pierre Lacroix said. “And I asked Bob (Hartley). I told Bob Hartley he would no longer be a part of the organization.″
Assistant coach Tony Granato replaced Hartley for the remainder of the season, and they lost in the first round of the playoffs.
No. 1: Marc Crawford
Crawford was the only coach to call the shots behind the bench of the Quebec Nordiques and the Colorado Avalanche. With a 165-88-41 record and 371 career points, he is the second winningest head coach in franchise history.
The lockout shortened 1994-95 season was his first NHL post as head coach of the Nordiques. He won the Jack Adams Award that season and is the youngest head coach to do so in NHL history. He led the franchise to their first Stanley Cup in 1996 after sweeping the Florida Panthers in four games, and an epic triple overtime in Game 4.
Crawford was successful the next season but lost in the Western Conference Final to the Red Wings, who swept the Philadelphia Flyers to win the Cup.
After an early exit in the first round of the 1998 Playoffs, he resigned on May 27, 1998. Another controversy brewed after Lacroix was asked if Crawford quit or was fired. “That’s a legal matter we have to address,” he replied. (from ‘Avalanche Says That Crawford Quit Job,’ LA Times, 05/28/1998)
When the reporter followed up asking (again) if Crawford quit, he replied, “That’s the way I perceive it” and said he was “stunned” at the development.”
Despite reportedly being offered a one-year contract extension, Crawford declined and did not move into another coaching position until midway through the 1998-99 season with the Vancouver Canucks.
Colorado Beats Quebec
With Crawford as the only coach of the top five to have spent time behind the bench in Quebec, it’s clear the franchise has strengthened since it’s move to Colorado.
Bednar is a young coach working with a young team and they continue to get better. If this season resumes where it stopped, the Avalanche will be in the playoffs. No doubt it will be an exciting battle for the Cup.
With a Mass Communications and Journalism degree from Florida International University, I completed internships with the Florida Panthers Hockey Club and Sports Illustrated. I’ve published several articles for various outlets, including one in ESPN Magazine and one on espn.com.