Bed­nar plan­ning on re­turn­ing next sea­son

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Terry Frei Terry Frei: tfrei@ den­ver­ or @TFrei

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.”

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