“The one missing piece of the puzzle for the Colorado Avalanche might just be wearing a suit”
The timeless names of Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg still elicit a smile and a story from every Colorado Avalanche fan you meet. We all remember Ray Bourque raising the Cup in 2001, the magical Game 82 in 2018, The Red Wings Rivalry of the late ’90s and early 2000s and the fever dream of a season in 2003 where Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya donned burgundy and blue to chase the cup but ultimately fell short of the cup. The silver anniversary for the Avalanche will be kicking off with the 2020-2021 NHL season and it is sure to be a season-long caravan of nostalgia and reflection of the players of days gone by.
The previously mentioned Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, who once was the captain of this organization, is now the General Manager of the team and his direction and vision for this team have them rising to the dominance they once held over 20 years ago. General Manager Joe Sakic has made a name for himself in his talent evaluation and philosophy of building from within and growing talent through his minor league affiliates and not making the knee jerk reactions often found in free agency or the trade market. After examining the 2019-2020 Colorado Avalanche team and Mr. Sakic’s vision for the future with the organization from top to bottom, I think we have missed on his best acquisition yet, the 48-year-old, Saskatchewan native, Jared Bednar.
On July 9th of 2019, Bednar signed a two-year contract extension which keeps him on the bench through the 2021-22 season. Which would give him the longest tenure as a head coach in Avalanche history with 6 years. Crazy to think about I know, especially after all the history we talked about earlier. But in order for us to take that statement about the importance of Sakic and Bednar, we need to look at the vast ups and downs of coaching in the past.
In 1994-95 the Nordiques signed Mark Crawford as head coach and he quickly rewarded the organization by winning the Jack Adams Award in a lockout-shortened 48-game season for Quebec. The next year Crawford’s Nordiques moved out of Quebec and rebranded as the Colorado Avalanche. Crawford then followed up his Jack Adams campaign with bringing the Stanley Cup Championship to Colorado, in their first year in Denver, by defeating Florida Panthers. Crawford eventually left after the 97-98 season giving way to the only other Stanley Cup-winning coach for the Avalanche in Bob Hartley.
Bob Hartley brought the Avalanche back to the promised land in the 2000-01 season and won the organization’s 2nd Stanley Cup against the New Jersey Devils. Hartley is to-date the longest-tenured Head Coach for the Avalanche with 5 seasons (Although from 1981-89 Michel Bergeron served 8 seasons with the Nordiques). Even with Hartley did winning the Cup in 2001 he didn’t make it through the 2002-03 season after being let go in December after a disappointing start.
Following Bob Hartley, the Avs went through 4 other coaches in Tony Granato (2002-04 and 2008-09) , Joel Quenneville (2005-08), Joe Sacco (2009-13), and Patrick Roy (2013-16). To which none of those following Hartley could seem to achieve that dominance and consistency that Avs fans got in the initial season in Denver. The Avalanche made the playoffs every year from their relocation in 1995-96 through the 2006-2007 season where they would miss the playoffs with 95 points. After becoming a biennial playoff team the Avalanche hired Joe Sakic to the role of executive advisor and alternate governor in the 2010-11 season and eventually promoted him to the role of Executive Vice President of hockey operations in May of 2013 along with his old teammate and new head coach Patrick Roy.
The 2013 season saw Sakic and Roy sharing EVP duties and rekindled a fire in the fan base that two names that meant so much to the early infancy of the team were now in positions of power and a drive to restore them to a place of strength in the league. With Sakic in the office and Roy behind the bench, the Avs would end up winning the central division in 2013-14, and Roy would end up winning the Jack Adams award for the best coach that year. Even after such a promising season, Colorado ended up losing in a heartbreaking game 7 to Minnesota thus ending the firey hot campaign. The next two seasons did not follow suit and ended up putting a strain on the relationship between the two Executives which ended with Roy stepping down before the 2016-17 season.
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This brings us to the infamous 2016-2017 year, yes that year, the first year for our current head coach Jared Bednar. Bednar made a name for himself coaching in the AHL for the Lake Erie Monsters and winning a Calder Cup for the monsters and earning any minor league coaches ultimate dream, a head coaching position in the NHL. In Bednar’s first year his Avalanche squad managed to win a mere 22 games in a historically bad season.
After the abysmal first season, Bednar managed to get his Avalanche team to almost double their win total from the year prior and rack up 43 wins and they clinched the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14 in the infamous Game 82. Even after losing in the first round to Nashville in 6 games, the Avs began to garner the attention of the national media and the respect of their peers and putting the ghosts of the 2016 season to bed and firmly in the rearview mirror.
In the 2018-2019 season the Avalanche again with Bednar at the helm put together a very respectable season and shocked the western conference by defeating the 1st Seed Calgary Flames in 5 games and then taking the Sharks to 7 games but ultimately losing in the second round. Bednar had his Avs playing with confidence and swagger again and many in the national media had Colorado picked as a Stanley Cup favorite in 2019-2020 with the debut of Cale Makar and the trading of Tyson Barre and the acquisition of players like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Bellemare.
Jared Bednar has been on a steady trajectory improving the team each year he has been behind the bench. He has managed the talent that Sakic has acquired and has built the lines and play style into an upper echelon of cohesion and drive that has built the Avalanche into a frightening force of talent for many more years to come. He has his star players believing in this team and its direction for the future to where setting the sights on Cup-winning glory is a seemingly achievable goal. He is known to gamble on in-game video challenges because he believes in his team and in turn they believe in him.
If Jared Bednar has these players believing enough in this team to take discounted salaries in efforts to keep the current squad intact for the foreseeable future, I think as fans that we can get behind our coach as well and believe in the future of the Avs as well.