In the early weeks of the 2021-22 NHL season, when the Avalanche got
off to a 4-5-1 start, the predictable cry was: Fire Bednar.
Look, I hate it when those of us in the media create strawmen. By that, I mean citing an
isolated (or even non-existent) sentiment, misleadingly portraying it as widespread -- and then shooting it down.
That approach is distressingly common, and becoming even more so in the age of digital
"hot-take" lightweights who haven't any significant journalism credits on their resumes.
Yet I think it's accurate to at least concede the fire-Bednar sentiment was coming
from more than the nutty fringe 14 months ago. It was at least the third time when if Joe Sakic had followed NHL norms and
precedents of overreaction and scapegoating, the Avlanche GM would have said nice things about Bednar as a coach and a man,
thanked him and shoved him out the door.
That's just the way the NHL works -- for good coaches, mediocre
coaches or bad coaches.
And what happened after that? Just a Stanley Cup run and celebration.
On Saturday night in Seattle, the Avalanche's
2-1 shootout victory over the Kraken gave Bednar 265 wins as the franchise's head coach, pulling him into a tie with Michel
Bergeron, who served eight seasons with the Nordiques in two stints. (The Nordiques moved from the WHA to the NHL in 1979-80;
all of Bergeron's wins came in the NHL.)
This is Bednar's seventh season with the Avalanche. He's No. 2 in NHL coaching tenure, behind only Jon Cooper
of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Bednar can take sole possession of the franchise record Tueday night at home against the Washington Capitals.
It's a surprising story, especially
considering his background and the relentless turnover as NHL executives overreact and scapegoat their coaches. Bednar had
never played or coached in the NHL before Joe Sakic selected him over Lane Lambert and Bob Boughner following Patrick Roy's
surprising mid-summer resignation.
Here's the Bednar profile I wrote as his first training camp with the Avalanche opened. Man, you
talk about paying dues? Bednar sure did that ... and then some.
longevity in his first chance defies the league's conventions.
A few years ago, fellow scribe Adrian Dater and I were talking about -- or more accurately, arguing about
-- whether an Avalanche coach should be fired.
Finally, a bit exasperated, Adrian said something along the lines of, "You never think a
coach should be fired."
Generally speaking, I'm the last aboard the fire-the-coach bandwagons.
It's in my DNA as my default position.
Some of it is unapologetically playing the role of the contrarian.
It's just so easy to blame -- and fire -- the coach.
Make no mistake, I don't feel sorry for fired coaches in this era. Not even Bruce Boudreau,
treated abominably by the Canucks over the past week. They know the system. They usually took advantage of it to land a job.
They're in the recycling rotation. They're often buoyed by contract settlements.
Bednar would have landed another job in hockey, of course.
But Sakic firing Bednar would have reminded me of when Pierre Lacroix made a rare misstep,
firing Bob Hartley in December 2002. The Avs were 10-8-9-4 and Lacroix saw the chance to win a league-record ninth consecutive
division championship slipping away. It "worked" in the sense that the Avs rallied and pulled out the division title
under Tony Granato. But they ran out of gas in the playoffs, losing to the Wild in the first round. The point was, and still
is, Hartley's in-season firing was the rare instance when nobody saw a firing coming. Actually, a Bednar firing would have
been less surprising.
the horrific 2016-17 season, about the 17th time I asked Sakic either if Bednar's job was safe for the rest of the season
or the next season, he politely told me to stop asking those questions because the answers wouldn't change.
As noted, there have been several other
points during Bednar's tenure when conventional NHL wisdom, if applied, would have led to his firing.
Sakic wouldn't have shocked anyone by making Bednar a one-and-done
Nathaniel Hackett predecessor in 2016-17 when the Avs had an historically awful 48 points, scraping the salary cap ceiling
in the worst bang-for-the-buck season in NHL history.
stuck with Bednar.
The next obvious decision point was in a 5-16-6 stretch in
2018-19. The Avalanche recovered, made the playoffs and beat Calgary before losing to San Jose in a seventh game.
Of course, that was the first of three
straight second-round flameouts, and the one most held against Bednar by far was the collapse after taking a 2-0 lead on Vegas
Avalanche recovered from that slow start in 2021-22, won the Stanley Cup, made it through the celebration and the salary-cap
attrition, and now have their coach in position to make franchise history.