Avalanche Analysis: For Nathan MacKinnon, Jared Bednar, Joe Sakic, winning Stanley Cup caps long journey – The Denver Post

TAMPA, Fla. — One by one, as if it was choreographed weeks ago, all 28 players and each member of the coaching, training and equipment staffs and front office took their turn with the Stanley Cup here late Sunday night.

Gabe Landeskog, per tradition for the winning captain, posed for the photo.

Veterans Erik Johnson, Andrew Cogliano, Nathan MacKinnon, Jack Johnson and Nazem Kadri were next.

An injured Andre Burakovsky handed it to goalie Darcy Kuemper, who preceded winger Mikko Rantanen, center Darren Helm and defenseman Devon Toews. Winger Valeri Nichushkin, goalie Pavel Francouz, defenseman Cale Makar, center J.T. Compher, defenseman Josh Manson, winger Artturi Lehkonen and center Nico Sturm completed the group of regular playoff participants.

Coach Jared Bednar was the first non-player to get the Cup.

“It takes a moment or two to sink in, even when you’re on the ice,” Bednar said. “I’m so proud of the guys and what they put into this season. It will become a little more real as we spend the next couple days together.”

Over the next couple days the Avs will share so many stories, about the worst-to-first journey, about the 102 regular season/playoff games this season. So many stories and memories, personalities and relationships.

As the Avs celebrated with friends and family on the ice deep into the night, much of the talk turned toward MacKinnon, Bednar and Joe Sakic. The superstar. The coach. And the general manager.

The franchise player

Last June, following the playoff collapse against Vegas, MacKinnon accurately said he hadn’t won “(bleep)” during his time with the Avalanche.

The frustration was used as the fuel to break through and not only did the Avs get over the second-round playoff hump, they won the Cup. It was similar to what Washington did in 2018. Alex Ovechkin had previously failed to advance to the conference final, but the Capitals stormed to the title.

MacKinnon’s 13 goals were tied for the NHL lead and his 24 points were tied for sixth-most. He scored at least once in all four games of the Nashville series, nearly clinched the St. Louis series in Game 5 (hat trick in overtime loss) and had a six-game points streak bridging the Edmonton and Tampa Bay series.

In Game 6 against the Lightning, MacKinnon’s one-timer from the circle made it 1-1 and he assisted on the winner.

“It’s unbelievable,” MacKinnon said. “I’m forever grateful to go through this with these warriors and the guys we got at the (trade) deadline and the young guys we brought in. It was a perfect mix.”

MacKinnon joined top overall picks Ovechkin, Patrick Kane (Chicago), Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay) and fellow Nova Scotia native Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh) to win Cups with their original clubs.

“He’s one of the best players in the world and he wanted this more than anyone and you could tell,” Sakic said of No. 29. “He’s open about it, how much he wants to win and I’m really proud of him. He’s been tremendous since he was a rookie and got better and better every year. To see him rewarded … it is everything for him and I’m happy for him.”

The coach

Much like the core of players had to learn on the job in 2016-17, so did Bednar, who wasn’t a player or assistant coach in the NHL before getting hired by Sakic.

Five years later, Bednar became the first coach to win championships in the ECHL (Kelly Cup with South Carolina in 2009), the AHL (Calder Cup with Lake Erie in ’16) and the NHL.

“I still can’t believe it, honestly,” Bednar said about an hour after the game. “I’ve been fortunate to be in some great organizations and surrounded by great people and hockey people, and Colorado is the icing on the cake for me.

“I got the best advice as a coach early on in my career — ‘Don’t be in a rush to climb the ladder and go somewhere else.’ It was about honing your craft. When you find a fit, there is nothing like that in life and professionally. It just makes your life easier and so rewarding.”

Having elite talent in front of him on the bench is one thing, but pushing the right buttons and making the right adjustments tactically are still required. Just like the players learned from the heartbreak of the previous two years, maybe the coaching staff learned, too.

“I felt we had some really good teams over the last couple of years and just came up short (in the second round) and that was getting tougher and tougher for me as a coach because we had such high expectations,” Bednar said. “The maturity and growing of our players and feeling that heartbreak made a difference this year in our resiliency and focus.

“I used to laugh when people said, ‘Well, you have to lose before you win.’ But in this case, for our team, I think those were important lessons learned and helped our team mature.”

The general manager

Sakic was the Avalanche’s captain during the championship seasons of 1995-96 and 2000-01 and after taking over the team’s personnel decisions in 2013, he acquired all but two players on the Cup-winning roster (Landeskog and Erik Johnson).

Sakic drafted MacKinnon first overall in ’13, Rantanen 10th in ’15 and Makar fourth in ’17.

“You don’t get the Cale Makars of the world and some of these other great players by drafting late,” owner Stan Kroenke said. “And Joe obviously made a great trade in (the Matt) Duchene (deal).”

Said Sakic: “As hard as it is to go through those times, that’s how you get those players. You always try and win, but sometimes, you need to go through tough times to eventually have this. It was well worth it.”

Sakic joins Denver sports contemporary John Elway as two-time winning players who won titles as lead executives. Sakic was clear after Game 6 which role was easier.

“We were probably more stressed than the players and coaching staff because we have no control, right?” he said. “We’re just watching and trying to help in any way we can.”

Sakic helped at the trade deadline when he acquired Manson, Sturm, Cogliano and Lehkonen to bolster the Avs’ depth. It paid off.

“There are no words to describe this team and the job they did,” Manson said. “They were hungry when I came in and they wanted to win and expected to win and we got the job done.”

The task now facing Sakic is significant — several players have likely priced themselves out of the Avs’ plans, but beats the alternative — a player’s salary only goes up after winning a Cup.

Nine players from the regular playoff lineup are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 13 at 10 a.m.: Manson, Sturm, Cogliano, Kuemper, Kadri, Helm, Nichushkin, Burakovsky and Jack Johnson. MacKinnon’s contract is up after next season.

The Avalanche want to be like Tampa Bay (sustained excellence) and not like Washington (no series wins since its Cup). The work will start after Thursday’s parade.

“(Tampa Bay) has been the benchmark we’ve been eyeing as a team we want to emulate,” Bednar said. “They’ve done a phenomenal job. Hopefully, we can do the same.”

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