January 3, 2021
Jared Bednar raising the Kelly
Cup as a player with the South Carolina Stingrays (top)
the Calder Cup as coach of the Lake Erie Monsters.
I'm probably going to keep saying this until I get
My forecast for this season is
the same as it was going into last season.
The Avalanche will win the Stanley Cup.
The issue is: Can there be a parade?
Let's hope so, because of all that would mean.
In fact, let's hope there can be a Stanley Cup parade somewhere, anywhere, because of what that
So much has happened, so much
is different, so much has changed since I tossed out that prediction a year ago. It was a genuine choice, not a clickbait
attempt or pandering. I truly believed it could happen. Even in the Edmonton bubble later, it might have happened if the Avalanche
hadn't been minus seven players by the time they faced the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals and
was down to its third goalie.
I'm the only one thinking this way -- spotting and indulging in irony, in all its definitions -- is one of my, um, strengths.
But as coach Jared Bednar was about to sit down
for his Zoom session with media members Sunday afternoon, signaling a beginning, the Broncos were about to kick off against
the Las Vegas Raiders, signaling the ending of another desultory season. They fell 32-31 to the Raiders -- at least it was
entertaining -- to finish 5-11.
Avalanche reported to training camp Sunday, will be the ice for the first time Monday and open the regular season at home
against St. Louis on January 13.
go farther, the other Ball Arena (there, got it right ... and on the first try) team in the Denver portion of the Kroenke-controlled
sports empire, the Nuggets, got off to a lackluster start. They had the worst record in the Western Conference until they
beat Minnesota Sunday night to get to 2-4. For the most part, they have looked little like the promising, energetic outfit
that reached the Western Conference finals against the Lakers in Orlando.
With the Rockies seemingly destined to be the Rockies, then, at this point the Colorado
standard bearer figures to be the Avalanche. And even more so than last season, the Avs are a common pre-season pick. (No,
it isn't just me.)
think we've earned that as a team," Bednar said Sunday. "I don't think it's something we should shy away from. I
think last year, we had those expectations for ourselves and maybe there wasn't the outside pressure, outside expectations
from around the league until we really got going as the year went on. But now I think that's a good thing. We want the pressure,
we want to be considered one of the favorites. It's still about the process for our team and what we need to do to improve,
to make sure that we get the opportunities we want, come playoff time."
Joe Sakic again made bolstering moves in the
(brief) offseason, not eye-popping changes. The most important were the acquisitions of left wing Brandon Saad, a 21-goal
scorer in 58 games for the Blackhawks last season; and defenseman Devon Toews from the Islanders. Toews, acquired for draft
picks, essentially replaces Nikita Zadorov, sent to Chicago in the Saad deal.
"It's absolutely the deepest team that we've had," Bednar said.
In my far-reaching conversation with Sakic for the 200th issue of Mile High Sports Magazine, he alluded to, among others, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe
Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar.
"We love our core," he said. "We want to build around that and accomplish our goals."
The Avs improved. They didn't regress.
"I have a great staff with my scouts and
(assistant GM) Chris MacFarland and we’re always trying to get better," Sakic told me. "The big thing is the
salary cap. We know what’s coming. We know we have to pay our guys, so we don’t want to handcuff ourselves with
the big long-term signings. We felt we needed another D-man, we needed another scorer, and the best way to accomplish that
for what was out there was to see if we could do it trade-wise rather than go for the splash. And we’re there. We’re
pretty much a cap team this year and especially now with the flat cap, it makes it a lot more difficult."
This is almost weird,
but Bednar is among the most senior coaches in the league, heading into his fifth season with the Avalanche. There were at
least a couple of times when if Sakic had followed NHL scapegoating and overreaction procedure, he would have fired Bednar.
But he didn't, and Bednar still seems to have the right touch for this team. (I'm of the opinion still that Patrick Roy is
a terrific NHL coach, but his impatience and unrelenting perfectionism indeed were going to cause increased friction if the
Avalanche embarked on the rebuild that paid off.)
"I think he’s the right coach for us," Sakic said of Bednar. "I think he’s a super person
who works extremely hard. He’s trying to get better all the time at making adjustments. I just think for our group,
and our core, he’s the right guy. I’ve never believed in hiring and firing coaches just to do it. There are times
you have to make tough decisions. I get that. But for me, I’d rather work through things and try to accomplish things
as a group. That’s coaches and players together."
As you can see above, raising the Stanley Cup would give Bednar a trophy trifecta, with the ECHL's
Kelly Cup, the AHL's Calder Cup and Lord Stanley's lovely parting gift to Canada. He'll be dealing with a 56-game NHL intra-conference
schedule featuring collegiate, minor-league pro or even junior-style back-to-backs. (Those advancing that concept as revolutionary
are ignoring that the NHL is about the only place in North American hockey that it's not common.) The bigger out-of-the-norm
challenge will be to make the transition from the Edmonton bubble to playing under pseudo-bubble conditions in home arenas.
And that will require players and personnel following detailed protocol, both at home and on the road.
In that sense, part of Bednar's job will be to drive
home that trying to skirt the protocols, or to violate them inadvertently or out of ignorance, isn't acceptable. I asked him
about that Sunday.
"We touched on that a little
bit this morning," he said. "I think some of your reaction is you do what you have to do and you still complain
about it a little bit at times as players and coaches. But at the end of the day, the protocols are in place to make sure
everyone stays healthy. We certainly know that if we want to get to where we want to go this season as a team, we're going
to have to be healthy. Injuries and guys getting sick can impact the results that you want in the regular season and playoffs,
"I think that's a little
bit of a sacrifice that you have to make, you have to follow the rules, you have to be careful, you have to be diligent. If
you do that, you're giving your team the best chance to win. So that's how we're approaching that. We can agree with some
of the rules and disagree with others. It's not in our control, We know what the rules are. We've gone over them, we've studied
them as a team, as individuals. We're going to abide by them because it gives us the best chance to succeed as a team, staying
There's much more to it, of course, given the possible disruptions and manpower
shortages that can result from more than individual COVID-19 positive tests, involving such realities as contact tracing and
But at least we're talking about it with 2020 behind us.