The trendy pick for a long playoff run — perhaps a shot at a Stanley Cup — coming many national hockey analysts is the Colorado Avalanche.
On Monday, Avs head coach Jared Bednar told “The Drive,” with DMac and Mike Evans, that his squad intends to face those lofty expectations head-on and take that next step in the club’s evolution.
Here’s that conversation:
“The Drive” co-host DMac: What do you attribute to the way this team has progressed and what you’ve seen in just the first couple of games?
Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar: We’ve added some pieces here in the offseason. We went out and targeted some forwards to help with our depth up front and add some scoring, hopefully. And fill in some space with some key guys, some veteran guys who add some leadership and experience to our young core. We like what our guys have done so far through training camp, exhibitions and the first couple of games, and, hopefully, we continue to gel and keep building some chemistry here. We’ve done a nice job taking a step forward here the past couple of seasons, and, certainly, this year expectations are a little bit higher. Guys are out playing hard, off to a good start here. We’ve got two more at home before we head out on the road.
“Schlereth and Evans” co-host Mike Evans: Coach, let me ask you about those expectations. They’re huge. In and around town, outside Colorado, around the hockey world, there’s a sense that the Avalanche are a team on the rise. There’s talk about being a Stanley Cup contender this year. Do you welcome those expectations, share them with your team? Or do you try to sort of pat them down a little bit?
Bednar: A little bit of both. I think it’s good to have high expectations. We certainly would rather have high expectations than low expectations. I think it’s a tribute to the guys who have been here the past couple of years and the progress that we’ve made as a team. We made the playoffs two years ago and lost to a good Nashville team, and then taking a step forward and winning in the first round against a real tough Calgary team and then going to game seven against San Jose, which was one of the top teams in our conference. You know, I think the league has taken notice that we have some young stars. We’ve got a good group of players here. And now with the addition, we should try to take a step forward. So, we like that. We like that, no question. But we’re a team, we’re going to focus on the process, our habits and the way we play. And we feel like if we do that on a daily basis, then the results will take care of themselves.
DMac: Probably the most remarkable thing, perhaps even for you personally, was your first season, which was, obviously, a nightmare for all concerned. But you guys did stick with it. Can you tell me about the communication you had with your personnel and management in terms of just surviving that to where you are today?
Bednar: So, the first year, as you said, was really tough. I think there was a realization that we needed to get younger and faster and build our team around our young core star players, such as Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, those types of players. We made a conscious decision to hand the leadership over to those guys and let them take control of the team. We filled them with a lot of young guys around them, and lots of those players are still here and some have moved on. And now, we’ve done the job to try to add some pieces around them, some experienced, supporting pieces who can really help us. So, that first year, we talked a lot about the process and the habits that we needed to play with and the type of focus that we needed to have on a daily basis. And we got out to a good start the next year, and it was really fun. There wasn’t a lot of expectations on our group, and we exceeded those and got into the playoffs. So, every year, we’re just trying to take another step forward. I think we’re in a good spot coming into this year. The guys are hungry because they got a good taste of the playoffs and winning that round last year. What we want to get out of the regular season is to put ourselves in the best possible position we can be going into the playoffs. And that’s going to take a lot of consistency, so that’s what we’ve been talking about a lot here recently.
DMac: Well, I would ask then, moving on from Tyson Barrie and you pick up (Nazem) Kadri, for example. Is that an example of what you’re talking about? Nothing against Tyson, but was that just a move that really kind of needed to be made to go along with the philosophy that you’ve been traveling down?
Bednar: Tyson was a real good player for us, a top player for us. I think that goes into the planning of our team over more than this season. Tyson was a guy that would have been entering the last year of his contract, a real good player. We have some young star defensemen in Girard and Makar, guys who have a similar role in the team. If we were going to be unable to sign Tyson back, we wanted to get a really good return and a player who could fill into our lineup and fill an important need for us. And one of the things we were missing was a second-line center. So, we get a guy like Kadri, who’s experienced, who can score, plays a good, solid 200-foot game. He’s good defensively. And then, (he adds) that experience and grit to our lineup that we needed too. And not to mention that he’s under contract for the next couple of years too. So, that’s a big void in our lineup that we’ve had, so I feel like we filled the need with that trade.
Evans: Speaking of Kadri, to say he brings an edge is an understatement, as he’s been suspended in the playoffs the past two years, ironically against the team you play on Thursday — Boston. I know you didn’t get him with the idea that that would happen again come playoff time. But clearly, did you feel that he brings a toughness, an edge, a sandpaper that this team needs if they want to make a long playoff run?
Bednar: I think so. One of the things we identified is we needed some of that grit and competitiveness and could use a little bit of size and physicality in our lineup. So, if you look at some of the additions, Kadri being one. Donskoi is another big, physical guy. We’ve got Val Nichushkin in our lineup right now. He’s a big, strong guy. And all these guys can skate and make plays as well. So, we targeted this specific type of player to try to make our team a little bit harder to play games come playoff time. But we certainly want to keep that element of our speed and our skating to be a big part of our identity. So, those guys kind of fit that role, and that’s one of the reasons I was so excited going into this season.
(BONUS QUESTION) DMac: What are the thoughts with Kadri and the Bruins?
Evans: Are you expecting something to happen Thursday night?
Bednar: No, I’m not. No, I’m not. I think Naz is a real good pro and he’s highly competitive. He toes the line. His temper can run hot a little bit. But I think that’s a positive thing for me. I think you don’t want to have to try to coach the passion out of a player. You’d rather try to tone it down and have his teammates calm him down at times. And not just him, but any player at all. We want our guys to play with a little bit of fire and enthusiasm. And he brings that. So, he wants to win, and that’s what sort of brings that out in him. And I think it makes him a better player, a more intriguing player for us especially.
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