Save By Sakic: Jared Bednar and return of Colorado Avalanche

Jared Bednar
Jared Bednar

As Joe Sakic thanked the Columbus Blue Jackets for the improbable opportunity to hire away their American Hockey League coach, his voice had the timbre of someone whose wealthy relative surprised him by posting his bail.

“It was a time-sensitive matter,” said the Colorado Avalanche general manager, with a virtual exhale.

Yeah, no [expletive]. Patrick Roy quits on Aug. 11, and two weeks later Sakic announces that Jared Bednar is the new coach of the Avalanche. The same Jared Bednar that coached the AHL Lake Erie Monsters to a Calder Cup in June, and the same Jared Bednar that won the Kelly Cup with the South Carolina Stingrays in 2009. He has a 251-158-42 career record in six seasons as an ECHL and AHL head coach.

“You have to be doing something right,” said Sakic.

It’s fairly obvious what Sakic liked about Bednar.

  1. Bednar doesn’t have NHL head coaching experience, much like Marc Crawford and Bob Hartley didn’t when they were hired to coach Sakic with the Avalanche, both leading him to Stanley Cup rings.

  2. Bednar has paid his dues in the bush leagues but has never indicated that an NHL job is somehow owed to him, nor that any significant personnel decision-making power should be afforded him. Which is, let’s say, a nice change from the predecessor.

  3. He was available.

We can’t stress that last point enough: This is a coach many considered to be a top-flight AHL prospect, with the potential to make the leap to the NHL. But he was stuck behind John Tortorella – a John Davidson hire – in Columbus. He was going to have to leave the organization to take the next step. It’s just incredible that the Jackets allowed him to take it with a month before the season.

“He did a great job for us, both in player development and, obviously, in winning games,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said, via Puck Rakers. “I’ve always said it publicly that I’m all about getting people ahead in their careers and their lives. We’re not going to stand in the way of that. This could be the best chance (Bednar) has to get an NHL coaching job, with the timing of winning the Calder Cup.”

That’s doing your guy a hell of a solid.

But beyond why Sakic liked Bednar, there’s the other aspect of this hiring that you have to admire, which is that Bednar, in theory, is an incredible fit for the Avalanche.

The easy analysis is to say that this is addition by subtraction. Roy had diminishing returns, showed an inability to adapt defensively (with a stubborn luddite approach to analytics) and it was obvious in the post-resignation fallout that some of the team’s young core felt his selective discipline as head coach was unfair. (The vets loved him; the rest of the team, less enamored.)

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But what matters isn’t what you subtract; what matters is what you add.

Bednar gets it when it comes to how you have to play in today’s NHL. It’s not enough to demand speed and aggression – Roy did, quite frankly. Your best use of that speed is going to come from your structure at even strength, which even a fleeting glance at the Pittsburgh Penguins under Mike Sullivan would have revealed.

“The game is getting faster and faster every day,” said Bednar on Altitude 950.

“Get everyone on the same page in the structure, in the system. When everyone knows what they’re doing, you can play fast. Puck support’s a big thing for me. Moving around the ice as a group of five. All the players become faster and better players within the group.”

He says defense is as important as offense, especially in pace and speed: “Defend in numbers and defend quickly.”

The Colorado Avalanche averaged the fourth-most shots against per game at 32.7 during Roy’s three years as head coach. That’s simply unacceptable in today’s game for an alleged contender.

Bednar gets the analytics thing, or at least gives it more lip service than Roy was willing to do.

“The information that’s out there, you have to look at it. It’s information that can help your team build on its strengths, and improve its weaknesses. So I think you have to pay attention to it. It can help decipher some of the areas you can improve on but also build on the strengths of your team. So I like to have that information, and look at it, and apply it to out system and how we play. It helps reinforce what we do on the ice,” he said.

As for his temperament and ability to work with the players, Patrick Williams (who covered Bednar in the AHL) had this take:

Defenseman Erik Johnson said that “90 percent” of the players loved Roy, and that included the team’s veterans. But for that 10 percent, there was some inequity in the way the veterans weren’t called out with the volume that the younger players were.

Which is something that, again, Bednar gets. “You treat everyone similar. Everyone is handled differently, but they’re all held to the same standard,” he said.

So there’s a lot to like here. My favorite thing about Bednar, in learning more about the guy after the initial “wait, whooooooo!?” of his hiring, is that being the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche or any NHL team was never going to come at the cost of his readiness.

“I’ve never been trying to get on a fast track to get into the NHL,” he said. “The goal is to do a good job where you are. Be consistent. Hone your craft.”

I like a guy who kicks around the ECHL for 10 years as a player; who leaves an ECHL head coaching gig to learn from Jim Playfair in the AHL; who latches on with the Springfield Falcons and then heads to Lake Erie when the Blue Jackets take them over; who doesn’t feel the need to toil in the NHL as an assistant coach but instead “hones his craft” as a head-coach-in-waiting.

That’s the kind of career that players can respect. It’s not exactly Bruce Boudreau in terms of work history, but then it’s not a Patrick Roy juniors-to-the-NHL journey either.

“I take this very seriously,” said Bednar. “I’ve been preparing for this my whole career.”

Right place. Right time. Right coach for the Avalanche, or so it appears.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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