It has not been a great year for coaches that were hired from outside the usual network of NHL coaches. David Hakstol in Philadelphia got a pink slip. He took his GM with him. Jim Montgomery in Dallas doesn’t have his team in the playoff picture, and now his owner is airing out the team in public. Jeremy Colliton here in Chicago got off to just about the worst start imaginable, and could see the GM that hired him punted into the wind by season’s end, leaving him in limbo. For new hires, the Oilers went as old boy network as you can get with Ken Hitchcock. Joel Quenneville is rumored to be heading to eastern PA. It’s rough if you’re the new guy.
The success story is Jared Bednar, who has the Avs third in the Central and at least clinging to the heels of the Predators and Jets. We took at his accomplishments at the end of last year. Our conclusion then was that while he was smart/talented enough to not get in the way, he basically was riding along with Nathan MacKinnon‘s MVP-worthy season just like everyone else on the team was.
Has that changed this season?
It’s hard to look at Mikko Rantanen going from a struggling rookie, to 80 points, to the pinball numbers he’s putting up now and say that Bednar has nothing to do with it. Sure, MacKinnon is doing the work but they’re being put in position to do that. Converting Gabriel LaxativeLog back to a skilled winger from the sewer monster that Patrick Roy was intent on making him also can’t have been done without any of Bednar’s influence.
The Avs’ metrics haven’t improved that much, however. And that’s partly process. They’re below water, though just a tick, in CF% and xGF%. But it’s improved slightly from last season. At least things are arching correctly. Bednar seems like he’s ready to hand the starting goalie job to Phillip Grubauer, which can be a tricky thing for a team. It helps that Semyon Varlamov is on his way out after the season anyway.
As far as other young players that the Avs need, Tyson Jost and Alex Kerfoot haven’t really taken off as of yet. Samuel Girard looks like a piece though. J.T. Compher is headed for a career season at 23, though his 23% shooting-percentage might have more to do with it than any player-whispering from Bednar.
The Avs special teams aren’t witness to any great change either. The PK is worse, and the power play is just about the same. That’s usually an indication of coaching as well.
Still, the record is the record, and this could be the second straight season that the Avs surpass expectations. Patrick Roy wasn’t able to produce this kind of season out MacKinnon and SapsuckerFrog consistently, and Bednar has. That’s not to be discounted. Stability is always preferable. Look at the Stars, who have had three coaches in three years in the same division and can’t seem to keep their tires from spinning in the mud. There might be a lesson in there for the Hawks, whether they fire Stan Bowman or not.
Game #41 Preview Suite