Joe Sakic and Jared Bednar: From Zeroes to Heroes

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In 2016-17, the Colorado Avalanche had a nightmare season, winning a measly 22 games and only getting 48 points. Losing 56 regulation games and four overtime games, the Avs took a nose dive. It was the low point of the franchise’s tenure in Denver and the fans made their frustrations known. General Manager Joe Sakic was thrown onto the hot seat immediately. Rookie head coach Jared Bednar looked like a dead man walking. Five years later, the Colorado Avalanche are Western Conference champions. The main reasons are Joe Sakic and Jared Bednar.

How Joe Sakic and Jared Bednar Went From Zeroes to Heroes

Joe Sakic’s Drafting Improved

Joe Sakic’s drafting has improved drastically over the years. His first draft pick was Nathan MacKinnon, an easy win. Winning the lottery, Sakic picked the perfect player to become the new face of the franchise. Nathan MacKinnon made an immediate impact on Colorado, winning the Caulder Award in 2013. Two years later, he selected a perfect wingman: Mikko Rantanen. It took Rantanen a little while to come into his own as a pro. But the Finland native has been everything the Avs could want as a sidekick to their top centre. Another home run has been defenceman, Cale Makar. As a result of the nightmare ’16-17 season, the Avs got the fourth overall pick. Despite losing the lottery, Colorado has no regrets about Cale Makar’s tenure so far. He’s solidified the back end and become a superstar from the jump.

NHL free agent frenzy

An underrated pick has been centre Alex Newhook, a first-rounder from 2019. While he hasn’t put up star numbers, Newhook appears to be a major part of Colorado’s future. Even players like Justin Barron or Connor Timmins, who didn’t become core contributors, were used to acquire upgrades for the Avalanche. Connor Timmins was a part of the Darcy Kuemper deal. Justin Barron was one of Colorado’s top defensive prospects. He was a major part of the trade for Atturi Lehkonen, who scored the goal to send Colorado to the Stanley Cup Final.

Colorado still has a lot of premier prospects in waiting. Players like Justus Annunen, Sampo Ranta, Matthew Stienburg, and Oskar Olausson show a lot of upside. Sakic has improved his drafting and it’s paying dividends for the Avs.

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Jared Bednar Has the Buy-in of the Locker Room

A big aspect of a coach’s success is getting buy-in from the team. When a team is sold on the messages and scheme, any coach can have success. Jared Bednar was thrust into a difficult role in his first year. Recent head coach Patrick Roy had resigned the week training camp began in 2016. Due to his success with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, Bednar was chosen to lead the Avs. After a harsh first season, Bednar is cementing himself as a top-tier coach in the NHL. This season, he became Colorado’s all-time leader in wins. He has gotten the team to play as a cohesive whole. He is getting the most out of his lineup. Even when forced to use AHL players due to injuries, Bednar has found ways to win games. It’s the mark of any great coach.

A good example is the development and resurgence of certain players. Valeri Nichushkin had a hard time developing in Dallas. The year before he became an Av, he only scored 10 points, none of which were goals. Due to good coaching and structure in Colorado, Nichushkin has become a key part of Colorado’s offence. This year, he scored a career-high 25 goals, 27 assists, for 52 points. He has blossomed in Bednar’s system. Nazem Kadri has become a core part of Colorado’s playoff runs. He’s been able to avoid his past issues and reignite his all-star flame. He had a career season and was one of their best playoff performers. Jared Bednar and his staff are maximizing their assets. This is a key component of their success.

Both Have Learned From Their Mistakes

Joe Sakic has improved how he structures the team every offseason. The depth of Colorado has gotten stronger year by year. Proper development and the right trades have bolstered the Avs. This past trade deadline is a perfect example. Atturi Lehkonen, Josh Manson, and Andrew Cogliano have done what they were acquired to do. They’ve supplemented a strong core and pulled their weight. The Avalanche can efficiently roll four lines and three pairs. They have the ability to match any team, toe to toe. It’s a significant improvement over Avs teams from years past.

Jared Bednar has improved the way he pairs his players. In their second-round loss to Vegas, Bednar seemed stubbornly committed to their standard lineup. Ryan Graves and Patrik Nemeth were defensive liabilities for the Avalanche. Yet, they remained in the lineup, much to fans’ chagrin.

This time, Bednar has set up his defensive pairings to maximize effectiveness. With the addition of young star Bowen Byram, the Avs’ defence has drastically improved. They’ve suppressed many high-powered offences while also putting up points on their own. The Avalanche have learned from past failures and they’ve become a more complete team. And Joe Sakic and Jared Bednar deserve a lot of applause for steering the ship in the right direction.

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One Big Deal Turned the Tide

In 2017, Joe Sakic made a move that kick-started Colorado’s resurgence. Disgruntled forward Matt Duchene had demanded a trade after the disastrous 2016-17 season. Instead of rushing the deal, Sakic sat on the trade throughout the summer. He wanted a king’s ransom and wouldn’t budge on his demands. Despite heavy criticism, Sakic was willing to play the long-range game. Joe Sakic traded Duchene to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a large package. It was Andrew Hammond, Shane Bowers, a 2019 first-round pick, a 2019 third-round pick, and Kyle Turris. The same day, Sakic flipped Turris to the Nashville Predators for Samuel Girard, a 2018 second-round pick, and Vladislav Kamenev.

Sakic got his king’s ransom and then some. Samuel Girard has blossomed on Colorado’s back end, becoming a key part of the lineup. The 2019 first-round pick became Bowen Byram, a young star in the making. Shane Bowers has taken steps in Colorado’s farm system and looks to make a step in the NHL soon. The 2019 third-rounder became Matthew Stienburg, a talented forward with room to grow. The 2018 second-round pick was traded for a third and fifth-round pick that same year. The Avs selected Justus Annunen with the third-round pick. In the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs, Annunen finished with a 6-4 record and a .921 save percentage. Sakic was able to acquire pieces for now and the future. This is the kind of franchise-altering trade that cements a legacy.

The Colorado Avalanche have turned into a powerhouse over the last five years. And it’s thanks to the two men who once had the ire of the fans. From dead men walking to hometown heroes, Sakic and Bednar’s journey has mirrored that of their team. Colorado should feel lucky to have these men leading the charge. As long as this continues, Colorado will be a contender for years to come. Time to build the statue? Maybe.

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