The regular season is over and award votes are in. We’re looking ahead to who should take home the award for coach of the year from a crowded field.
Glen Gulutzan, Flames
I’m surprised Calgary’s Glen Gulutzan hasn’t received more Jack Adams buzz throughout the season. He won’t beat out the big contenders such as John Tortorella and Mike Babcock, but Gulutzan deserves consideration. Under previous coach Bob Hartley, the Flames were heavily criticized for being a lucky team that played a terrible possession game. The Corsi numbers didn’t support their success in 2014-15, when they reached the playoffs and Hartley took home the Jack Adams. Sure enough, the Flames bombed in 2015-16. Under Gulutzan, they’ve changed the way they play. The Flames finished 22nd, 27th, 28th and 24th in the NHL in score, zone and venue adjusted Corsi over Hartley’s four seasons. They were regularly pelted with shot attempts. Under Gulutzan, the Flames improved to seventh. That’s a massive jump, and it helped the Flames gain 17 points in the standings. The Flames have also gotten nice contributions from rookie Matthew Tkachuk, who has altered this team’s personality, but Gulutzan’s influence is the main reason Calgary’s fate has changed this season. (Matt Larkin)
Mike Babcock, Maple Leafs
Shocking as it may be, Mike Babcock doesn’t yet have a Jack Adams to his name. Yes, he’s won three conference championships, one Stanley Cup, two Olympic golds and is the only coach in the Triple Gold Club, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s never been named the league’s best coach. That deserves to change this year.
Babcock isn’t the out-and-out favorite — that honor goes to the Blue Jackets’ John Tortorella — but few coaches orchestrated a single-season turnaround quite like Toronto’s bench boss this campaign. Beyond the fact the Maple Leafs earned a post-season berth well ahead of schedule, Babcock’s mind for the game helped Toronto increase their point total by 26 over the past campaign. The only teams who had a greater increase were Columbus and the Edmonton Oilers.
A big part of Babcock’s Maple Leafs rising up the standings has been his ability to get the most out of his roster. He turned a once dire possession team into one of the more capable play-controlling clubs in the league. There are some young, talented players, but Babcock pushed the right buttons and turned three rookies — Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner — into 60-point players. He nurtured freshman Nikita Zaitsev into a top-pairing defenseman, and combined with the play of Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner on the back end, Toronto had a defense that was much more solid than expected.
Babcock might not have the hardware yet, and he might not get it this year, but there’s a reason he’s the highest-paid coach in the league. He’s the best at what he does. (Jared Clinton)
John Tortorella, Blue Jackets
I like John Tortorella for this award because you could literally see his plan of action take effect in Columbus. When he took over the Blue Jackets during the 2015-16 campaign, he did so too late to put his players through the notoriously hard training camps he is known for. But this season, he put his plan back in place and the Blue Jackets were one of the best conditioned teams in the NHL, frequently outscoring their opponents in the first period and running teams out of the building. Tortorella took a roster that was at rock bottom (by their own admission) and built them back up in a season. Sure, Zach Werenski and a reborn Sergei Bobrovsky played big roles, but ‘Torts’ had the master design and it ended with a return to the playoffs, not to mention a franchise-record win streak (16 games) during the regular season. (Ryan Kennedy)