Bednar planning on returning next season
The other day, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar mentioned some of the tinkering the staff is doing down the stretch of this horrific season. Then he added, “We’re working toward something. It’s not necessarily just this season, it’s beyond that.”
“Beyond that” is next season. With this season behind them.
Bednar is in the first season of a three-year contract. After Thursday night’s loss to Edmonton at the Pepsi Center, the Avalanche is 20-50-3. The fewest wins the Avalanche franchise has had in Denver in a nonlockout single season is 30, in 2010-11. The Avalanche is destined to post the NHL’s worst record since the expansion Atlanta Thrashers went 14-57-7-4, for 39 points, in 1999-2000, when there were fewer three-point NHL games minus the shootout.
Yet Bednar is operating on the assumption that he will be back on the Colorado bench for the start of 2017-18.
The truth is: Bednar probably will be back.
If Joe Sakic remains general manager, and all signs point to that, he probably will give Bednar a second season, an opportunity with a team significantly retooled in the offseason. As the Avalanche struggles mounted, I asked Sakic variations of the question several times, and each time, he was adamant that this season won’t cost Bednar his job.
Sakic made it clear Thursday night that his view hasn’t changed. It would be the fair thing to do. “I don’t think there’s any assurances in this game,” Bednar told me after practice Wednesday. “But in order to make sure that we’re going where we want to go, I have to plan. That’s part of it. We’re evaluating our team every day and trying to move it forward. … But part of planning ahead is offseason conditioning and training camp, all those things we want to address and keep moving in a positive direction.”
Bednar said Sakic hasn’t specifically assured him he will be back next season, but that’s neither alarming nor necessary because all the organizational discussions are continuing with the underlying premise that he will.
“Again, for me, I’m here until further notice,” Bednar said. “That’s the way I approach it. I’m going to try to give it my best every day, just like I’m telling our players to.”
Firing Bednar, 45, after this season would leave the Avs on the hook for the final two years of his contract. Perhaps you wouldn’t think that would be an issue for a team with a $72 million player payroll, but the Kroenkes have been known to draw financial lines in their operations outside of the actual rosters.
More important, Sakic would have to decide and also publicly admit he made a mistake in the hiring.
It is the coach’s responsibility to get the most out of players at every level of the roster, and Bednar has failed at that so far in a cursed season. Yet a firing would imply that with this roster, with the “core” Sakic has placed so much faith in generally underachieving and with the supporting cast flopping, Bednar had a fair shot in the wake of one of the most bizarre coaching transitions in recent NHL history. He hasn’t. Not yet. “There’s lots to learn and you always have to keep learning as a coach,” Bednar said. “You can’t stop. The game’s ever-changing because there’s always people finding better ways to do things. As you go through the course of the season, you learn, you adjust a little bit here and there and try to get better at all the portions of our game.
“For me, it’s been a humbling experience because this is a difficult year. We haven’t done well, and I take that personally. Learning how to work through that and continue to strive to be the best even when things are going bad is important.”