NHL Re­port Christ­mas in Colorado won’t be the last for Bed­nar

The Denver Post - - SPORTS -

chicago» irst-year Avalanche coach Jared Bed­nar en­vi­sioned a dif­fer­ent Christ­mas, one that in­cluded cel­e­bra­tion of be­com­ing an NHL head coach. That still might take place around fam­ily in his newly pur­chased Den­ver-area home Sun­day, but the fact that he’s the bench boss of the NHL’s worst team in­evitably sug­gests his fu­ture is in doubt.

The Avalanche is the laugh­ing­stock of the league, al­though Fri­day’s 2-1 over­time win at Chicago was im­pres­sive. Fact re­mains, the team has the fewest points, low­est scor­ing av­er­age and high­est goals-against av­er­age, and on pace to fin­ish with its fewest points in club his­tory. The floor of 68 points was es­tab­lished in 2010-11, when coach Joe Sacco’s se­cond team went 30-44-1-1.

The Avs are 12-20-1 (25 points) af­ter a re­spectable 9-9 start. The roof caved in on Dec. 10 with a 10-1 loss at Mon­treal, and a sim­i­lar night­mare un­folded Thurs­day in Den­ver in a 6-0 de­feat to re­build­ing Toronto. This might be the worst stretch in team his­tory.

But Bed­nar’s job is cur­rently not in jeop­ardy. He didn’t con­struct this mess. His coach­ing isn’t the prob­lem, and it has be­come ob­vi­ous that for­mer coach Pa­trick Roy wasn’t the prob­lem either. The blame is on the play­ers — specif­i­cally the highly paid mid-20s core — and front of­fice led by gen­eral man­ager Joe Sa­kic. The GM can’t build team chem­istry, but clearly that’s the pri­mary prob­lem. This ta­lent-rich team sim­ply doesn’t play well to­gether more times than not.

I sense that Bed­nar knows he’s not the prob­lem, be­cause his first Christ­mas in Colorado won’t be his last. His wife, Su­san, and daugh­ter, Savega, ar­rived in Den­ver on Mon­day, both hav­ing been liv­ing on the East Coast since Bed­nar’s lateAu­gust hir­ing by the Avs. They’ll set­tle in for the hol­i­days and be­yond with son/brother Kruz, who moved to Colorado with his fa­ther and at­tends Valor Chris­tian High School in High­lands Ranch.

Jared Bed­nar’s par­ents from Saskatchewan, along with his sis­ter and brother-in-law, will also spend the hol­i­days in Colorado.

“I have a full house for Christ­mas,” Bed­nar said Fri­day. “Look­ing for­ward to it, and get­ting a lit­tle break. I think it’s a must­needed break for our team. Ob­vi­ously, when you’re go­ing through some­thing like this, to be able to get away from the rink and get around loved ones and the hol­i­days — it lets you en­joy some time away and hope­fully gets your mind off this so they come back fo­cused and ready to go.”

The Avalanche at­tempted (and is fail­ing) to fol­low the Black­hawks’ model of suc­cess: Draft the can’t-miss lot­tery play­ers, add one or two big guns via trade or free agency, and lock them all up longterm while fill­ing the sup­port roles with mod­est con­tracts. Chicago is built around draft picks Jonathan Toews, Pa­trick Kane, Brent Seabrook, Dun­can Keith and Corey Craw­ford — each of whom are three-time Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­ons.

That self-drafted core has flour­ished. Colorado’s drafted core — Matt Duch­ene, Gabe Lan­deskog, Tyson Bar­rie, Nathan MacKin­non — has floun­dered in three-plus years to­gether. Aside from the 112-point sea­son and first-round play­off se­ries against Min­nesota in 2013-14, they have not lived up to ex­pec­ta­tions. But they’re still each mak­ing at least $5.5 mil­lion.

As of Fri­day, among the few things the Avalanche and Black­hawks had in com­mon were their pay­rolls. Ac­cord­ing to CapFriendly.com, Chicago’s pro­jected cap hit was $72,760,336 — sim­i­lar to Colorado’s $72,369,576.

Both were among the league’s top-10 pay­rolls — if you ex­clude the Ari­zona Coy­otes and the $18-plus mil­lion they’re pay­ing re­tired play­ers, partly to reach the cap floor.

Be­yond that Chicago/Colorado fi­nan­cial com­par­i­son, the dif­fer­ences are stark. The Black­hawks en­tered Fri­day among the top 10 in goals-per game (2.83) and goals-against av­er­age (2.37), while the Avs were dead last in both (2.03 and 3.25). Colorado’s mi­nus-39 dif­fer­en­tial is also worst in the league.

The Avs do have a fi­nan­cial prob­lem. They can’t add a mar­quee player with­out giv­ing one up. They have just $630,000 of pro­jected cap space, ac­cord­ing to CapFriendly, so there is will be no ad­di­tion with­out a com­pa­ra­ble sub­trac­tion. If this team con­tin­ues to un­der­achieve, some mem­bers will be spend­ing their last Christ­mas in Colorado.

But it won’t be the head coach. Mike Cham­bers: mcham­bers@den­ver­post.com or @mikecham­bers

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