The way the Colorado Avalanche players are playing shows that Jared Bednar has likely lost the locker room.
The Colorado Avalanche players are just going through the motions in games. They show some heart here and there, but overall they’re a very dispirited group.
Indeed, longtime Avs insider Adrian Dater described the team this way:
"“I’ve been in a lot of Avalanche locker rooms, but this is just the saddest, most forlorn one of the bunch I’ve ever seen… this is one beaten-down bunch.”"
The reason for their depression is obvious — they’re called the worst team in the salary cap era because of their dismal (20-52-3) record. There have been very few bright moments this season, and the majority of them have been related to players who’ve just joined the team. (And Mikko Rantanen.)
I am not saying this is Jared Bednar’s fault. He walked into a hot mess. The team is not of his making.
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That said, he does bear some responsibility. He’s been very inconsistent in lines and defensive pairings. He’s also been ineffective in disciplining players. (Nathan MacKinnon sits out a period for yapping at his own players, but Francois Beauchemin enjoys peak ice time no matter how many own goals he makes.)
And the coach does have some influence on team morale.
Players will say that it’s fellow players not coaches that make the big locker room speeches. Even if that weren’t true, you still wouldn’t expect the hokey Bednar to be a great speaker. Nonetheless, he’s got to have some influence over team culture.
But I believe he has lost the locker room.
The signs are there. Typically players take on all the blame for bad seasons. Indeed, for both Joe Sacco (here) and Patrick Roy (here), defenseman Erik Johnson used the same phrase: “The onus is on the players.”
That’s noteworthy because in a recent interview with the Denver Post, Erik Johnson did not use that phrase when asked why the team was bad. He did not deflect blame from the coach. Indeed, when Terry Frei asked specifically if Johnson still believed in Bednar, here’s his response:
"“If you look at the way our season’s gone, something has to change. Whether that’s players, or systems, or whatever. I don’t think you can point the finger at one particular area and say that’s the reason why this season has happened. Otherwise, it would be fixed. There obviously needs to be changes somewhere, and I’m sure Joe will do that because he’s not oblivious to what’s gone on here.”"
Johnson did go on to add “We’re the worst team in 20 years and that falls on, first and foremost, the top players on this team.” That’s as close as he got to deflecting blame from Jared Bednar.
Mind you, for both Joe Sacco and Patrick Roy, Johnson immediately focused on the players’ responsibility over the coach’s. Yet with Bednar, Erik hedged first. This is a man who already had the answer — the onus is on the players. Yet he chose not to use it with Jared Bednar. In fact, he came mighty close to blaming Bednar by suggesting “systems” might be one of the necessary changes.
Even if you discount that as oversight, consider this: The Colorado Avalanche are a mental team. This is a group that will take a loss in the first game of the season and cite it as a reason for playing badly at the end of the season. More than one player did so the last two seasons.
If a team can’t even get over a single bad loss, how are they going to get over a humiliating season if they have to be under the same coach?
They won’t be able to. If Jared Bednar returns as head coach next season, the Colorado Avalanche will tank again. And it won’t be because of his systems or even his coaching style.
It will be because he doesn’t have the players’ confidence. These are players who are notorious for trying to take on too much when they feel the pressure. Imagine how much worse it will be if they don’t believe in the system from Day 1.
I’m going to reiterate that I don’t think Bednar is a bad coach. I just don’t think he’s the right coach for this Colorado Avalanche team.
If I had my druthers, I’d like to see Bednar join the coaching staff of the San Antonio Rampage. There’s certainly no arguing that he had significant success developing young players at that level.
It’s just a whole other ball game — or ice rink — when you’re trying to coach players who range in age from 18 to 38 and ability level from All Star to AHL call-up, not to mention multi-millionaires.
Maybe after some time as an assistant coach at the NHL level Jared Bednar would make a capable NHL head coach. He’s just not one right now. He’s a coach who’s lost the Colorado Avalanche locker room.