John Tortorella and Bruce Boudreau are the frontrunners for the Jack Adams Award, but the race is far from over with several others in the mix for coach of the year honors.
In past seasons, the races for individual awards are usually somewhat clear at this point. This season, though, there seems to be more competition for top honors than ever before. Outside of the Norris Trophy, which is all but certain to go to the San Jose Sharks’ Brent Burns, it’s hard to point to any one individual as the clearcut winner.
The Hart Trophy is a multiple-horse race, with the likes of Burns, Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby chasing the crown, and those three are also in the thick of things when it comes to the Art Ross as the league’s top scorer. The Calder Trophy is muddied up by the point-for-point battle between Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, the Vezina Trophy has a number of top contenders and even the Richard Trophy, which goes to the league’s top goal scorer, is far from decided with roughly five weeks left in the season.
But with all the potential for tight awards races this season, it’s hard to point to any trophy picture that’s as murky as that of the Jack Adams Award. There are several coaches who have solid cases for the hardware this season, and it’d be tough to complain about any of those bench bosses earning the award. From win streaks to snapping playoff droughts, these are the six coaches at the forefront of the race and their respective cases for and against winning the Jack Adams:
John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets
The case for: Tortorella seemed an odd choice by the Blue Jackets when he was brought in by the club early in 2015-16, but it was hard to argue much with Columbus’ choice much after he produced an above .500 record in the final 75 games of the campaign. Then came this season and the remarkable 16-game win streak that Tortorella led the Blue Jackets on. That alone could be enough to earn Tortorella the nod as the coach of the year. Columbus is in line for their first playoff berth since 2013-14, set to surpass the franchise-best point total, 93, set that same season and are on pace for the largest points increase from the past season. In THN’s mid-season awards, Tortorella was voted as the runaway winner.
The case against: Since our mid-season awards, the Blue Jackets have gone 15-12-2. And though Columbus is in second in the Metropolitan Division, finishing in the top three isn’t a given. The Pittsburgh Penguins are two points back with a game in hand and the Rangers, who’ve played two more games, sit only two points back, as well. The Blue Jackets are at risk of falling into a wild-card spot by the time the season ends. Can Tortorella win the Jack Adams if Columbus happens to turn a season that had a 16-game win streak into a mere wild-card berth?
Bruce Boudreau, Minnesota Wild
The case for: The Wild fired Mike Yeo, hired John Torchetti, made the post-season and exited early in 2015-16, which led to Boudreau coming aboard. In his first season, he’s turned the Wild from pretender into contender, and he’s done so without a single superstar player. Minnesota is as solid a club, from top to bottom, as any in the league, and Boudreau’s ability to get great seasons from just about everyone on his squad can’t be overlooked. With 18 games remaining, the Wild have already surpassed their point total from 2015-16 and are on pace to blow by their franchise best 104-point mark out of the water. First year coaches have an edge sometimes, too. Their impact is more obvious if they quickly put a franchise in the Cup conversation.
The case against: Show me a good goaltender and I’ll show you a good coach, right? Well, Devan Dubnyk is the frontrunner in a tight Vezina Trophy race, and the season he’s having could have some pointing to Minnesota as a team that has been driven more by the all-world play between the pipes than the man behind the bench. That’s a case some will make, to be sure. There’s also the perception that Boudreau can’t get his teams to beat the league’s best. Against the league’s toughest division, the Metro, the Wild are 4-5-1 this season. And in a heated battle for the top spot in the West with the Blackhawks, Minnesota has dropped two straight to Chicago. That’s not a great look.
Mike Babcock, Toronto Maple Leafs
The case for: The playoffs. That’s the case, plain and simple. If the Maple Leafs make the post-season, then Babcock immediately shoots into contention for the Jack Adams. Toronto wasn’t supposed to be in contention quite yet, but Babcock’s ability to coach up his stable of youngsters has the Maple Leafs right in the thick of things. One could also make the case that the work Babcock has done with individual players should have him in the conversation. Take Nazem Kadri, for example. Under Babcock’s guidance, Kadri has turned into one of the league’s better two-way pivots and a player who has excelled at shutting down other team’s top lines.
The case against: Missing the playoffs kills Babcock’s chances and there’s a very real possibility that happens. As of Wednesday, THN’s Playoff Chances give the Maple Leafs a 43 percent shot at earning themselves a berth. And even if Toronto does sneak into the second wild-card spot, Babcock’s Jack Adams win — and it sure feels like one is in the offing — is probably more likely to come when he guides this Maple Leafs team into true contention. Simply put, it might not be his year. His year isn’t far off, though.
Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals
The case for: In the more than four decades the Jack Adams has been awarded, Jacques Demers is the only coach to win in consecutive years. He took home the 1986-87 and 1987-88 trophies. Trotz’s case for back-to-back wins is that in a league where it’s hard to have consistent success, he’s on pace to lead the Capitals to two-straight 120-point seasons, consecutive Presidents’ Trophies and has Washington looking like real, honest-to-goodness Cup contenders. The Jack Adams is usually reserved for coaches who guide a team to a turnaround, but he only improved Washington’s point total by nine in 2015-16. Staying put at 120 might be enough to get him back in the winner’s circle.
The case against: He won in 2015-16 because the Capitals dominated the competition, but it’s not as if they added anything to the playbook. Rather, Washington has stayed the same, dominant team that they were last season under Trotz. With no big swing in points, something that’s near impossible given the 120 points last season, it’s hard to pinpoint where the progress has been made. All the individual performances have been much the same, too. Braden Holtby has been his same, steady self, Alex Ovechkin is still Alex Ovechkin and even the bit players are continuing to produce at a similar rate.
Todd McLellan, Edmonton Oilers
The case for: Any other year and McLellan would be a frontrunner. The Oilers have gone 10 years without seeing the post-season, and the last time they were in the playoffs, Edmonton was losing the first post-lockout Stanley Cup final. It’s going to take a run at the end of the year to put him at the top of the conversation, but with the Oilers at least in the mix to capture the Pacific Division’s top seed, McLellan has to be given some consideration. Edmonton’s improvement stands to be one of the best in the league this year, too. Their current 97-point pace would mark an improvement of 27 points from the 70 points the team put up in 2015-16.
The case against: The 27-point improvement happens to be the third-best in the league behind that of the Wild (28) and Blue Jackets (37), so McLellan doesn’t hold the edge there. Columbus also is making the post-season after two-straight misses, so McLellan doesn’t really beat out Tortorella in that regard. And when it comes to a catalyst for a turnaround, you’ll find no shortage of pundits more willing to crown Connor McDavid as the king of the Oilers’ resurgence over the coaching of McLellan. That’s not to say McLellan hasn’t had his impact, but it’s tough to say how much is on the coach and how much credit can be given Edmonton’s phenom.
Glen Gulutzan, Calgary Flames
The case for: Gulutzan has put the Flames back on track after they took a sizeable step backwards in 2015-16. At their current points pace, the Flames would end up with the sixth-best improvement in the league and the run Calgary is on to end the season could have Gulutzan standing out as the campaign closes. The Flames have won seven straight, are only a hair back of the Anaheim Ducks for the third spot in the Pacific Division and could realistically jump all the way up to second in the division if they keep this run going. Goaltending woes hurt the Flames early, but the team has played well enough under Gulutzan to outlast those issues.
The case against: Sitting in a wild-card spot won’t be enough to land Gulutzan the Jack Adams and there’s potential for Calgary to earn a post-season berth with the worst goal differential of any playoff team. Their minus-three differential is better than only that of the wild-card Los Angeles Kings. That’s not a great look and speaks more to the strength, or lack thereof, of the West this season. If the West isn’t abnormally weak, are the Flames fighting for the post-season right now or are they engaged in conversations about what went wrong in 2016-17?
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