19 March 2016: Lake Erie Monsters head coach Jared Bednar behind the bench during the second period of the AHL hockey game between the Manitoba Moose and Lake Erie Monsters at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH. Lake Erie defeated Manitoba 5-0. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)
Colorado Avalanche

Column: New coach Bednar must emphasize Avalanche’s strengths

Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

The departure of Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy was a blessing in disguise. The long-time head coach, general manager and franchise owner of the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL decided to take leave from the NHL club after just three seasons, mainly because he felt as though he did not have enough say in player personnel decisions.

His resignation may be a bit tough for die-hard Avalanche fans, who watched him win two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy as their franchise goaltender in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, to accept. Coaching-wise, though, it was the best thing that could have happened to the organization.

Enter Jared Bednar. Having coached four different AHL teams over the past seven years, both as a head coach and as an assistant, as well as seven years of ECHL experience preceding that, he got a lot closer to major-league coaching experience (minor league hockey is technically a professional game) than Roy ever did. He also just so happened to be the head coach of the 2015-16 Calder Cup Champions, the Lake Erie Monsters.

Making the leap from any circuit to the NHL is always a great challenge, but the Avalanche organization seems very high on his ability to make the team a contender.

“We’re very confident and comfortable with Jared leading our group,” Executive Vice President and General Manager Joe Sakic said. “I like the way his teams play. I think it suits and fits with how we play. We have a fast forward group and that up-tempo, pressure game all over the ice is, first of all exciting, and it will suit our team.”

The key to success here will be how trusting Bednar is of his players. Roy never seemed to put enough faith in his players’ abilities, and harshly criticized them for even the slightest mistakes. The new head coach needs to make sure he avoids controversies such as the Duchene goal celebration, angrily calling out his core, and things of the like.

What may have been Roy’s last straw was the Tyson Barrie extension — it seemed as though there was a rift between the player and team for a while, with Barrie right in the middle of trade rumors for the better part of the past year. Bednar needs to make sure he puts his second-highest-paid defender in a position to succeed, and it appears as though the system he intends to implement will be conducive to Barrie’s strengths.

“The league’s getting faster every day, and we have to find a way to put a structure in place that gets these guys playing an up-tempo style and have support all over the ice as well,” Bednar said. “Implementing that style where we’re aggressive in all areas of the arena and organized is very important to me. It’s how I’ve had success in the past and how I see us having success in the future.

“When I look at the pieces and I look at the young core guys, not just up front, but on D as well, it’s going to suit their style of play and only help them improve as individuals and as a team as quickly as possible.”

Judging by his words, Bednar isn’t just talking about Barrie, either. He wants the whole team to succeed, and he wants to bring out the best in each and every player on his roster. Rather than try to control who is on the team, he will instead figure out ways to help them achieve success, together, as a unit — something Roy wasn’t very accustomed to.

Bednar will need to give Nathan MacKinnon a much bigger role this year, and he can start by finally giving the elite forward a shot at first-line center. MacKinnon has been kept on the wing for much of his young career to protect him, but it’s time to let him loose. Bednar should also allow young forwards Mikko Rantanen and Mikhail Grigorenko to make their cases for top-six roster spots.

Meanwhile, some of Roy’s favorites will likely see their ice time cut, like Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau, as well as newcomer Joe Colborne. They will probably play in the bottom-six, where they are best-suited. Plus, Bednar’s system will probably do wonders for the defense, which will see an influx in youth in the form of Chris Bigras and Nikita Zadorov, and will make life for Semyon Varlamov much easier.

Youth needs to be prioritized over veterans, and that’s something that Colorado was clearly lacking last year. Things went south quickly last season, and the Avalanche looked nothing like the team that just two years prior made it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It was a scramble to find a good, NHL-ready head coach so late in the off-season, but it looks like Colorado got a slam-dunk in Bednar. He seems like an unselfish, professional head coach who will do what is best for the team no matter what his personal wishes are, and that’s exactly what the team needs at this point in time.

Column: New coach Bednar must emphasize Avalanche’s strengths

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