Fun fact: Before becoming the remarkably mediocre sportswriter I am now, I was intent on becoming a lawyer.
I have a political science degree and barely-opened LSAT study books to prove it.
Obviously, that did not happen. But one of the main reasons that placed me hot on the path to law school is that my parents always told me, through gritted teeth, that I was very good at arguing.
So, that's what I'm going to do today.
With you lovely readers as the jury, I'm going to select the four leading candidates for the Jack Adams Award this season and present a case -- pro bono, of course -- for why each should take home the hardware.
Let's do this, shall we? Court is now in session.
Darryl Sutter - Calgary Flames
Record: 43-19-9, 95 points, First in Pacific Division
Did you know that Darryl Sutter grew up on a farm? Well, Darryl Sutter grew up on a farm. It's very important that you know this.
And if what he's done with the Calgary Flames this year is any indication, he's a darn good farmer, too.
Honestly, I thought the Flames were done heading into this season. The writing at least appeared to be on the wall, with the Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan pairing having taken the team as far as they could go, Matthew Tkachuk being rumored to have one foot out the door, and the Flames' veteran-laden roster only getting another year older.
Turns out, I am very dumb. Who could've guessed?
Calgary is a force to be reckoned with in 2021-22, cruising to a division lead after posting year-to-year improvements across the board in special teams, goals-for-per-game, goals-against-per-game, and team save percentage.
A couple of key midseason additions from the front office have certainly helped the cause. But Sutter has taken a roster that was otherwise listless and frayed in 2021 and squeezed every last drop of positive value out of it, extending the Flames' contention window in the process despite dealing with an injured/ineffective Monahan since game one.
The Jack Adams, despite supposedly honoring the league's best coach, usually ends up going to the skipper whose team best defied expectations.
If that's the case, Sutter should be the front runner.
Mike Sullivan - Pittsburgh Penguins
Record: 41-21-10, 92 points, Third in Metropolitan Division
I don't know who the Penguins angered in a previous life, but the curse responsible for the eternity of horrible injury luck they've endured is not pulling any punches this year.
A third-place divisional finish might not scream "Coach of the Year" right off the bat. But the job Mike Sullivan has done to keep this train on the rails while his key contributors have dropped like flies all around him is truly remarkable.
The Penguins have had literally every member of their top-six miss at least 10 games due to injury this year. The team began the season with both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the shelf, getting the former back after a month while the latter didn't return to the lineup until January.
It doesn't just stop with the stars, either. Jason Zucker, who is actually currently injured, has only played 32 games. Bryan Rust has missed over 20. The list goes on.
Sullivan, however, has kept the Penguins in the playoff hunt while coaxing out a better penalty kill, decreasing the team's goals-against total, and improving the roster's ability to drive possession at even-strength.
If they get healthy, Pittsburgh might just surprise a few people come playoff time. And that wouldn't be possible were it not for the hard work of their coach.
Jared Bednar - Colorado Avalanche
Record: 51-14-6, 108 points, First in Central Division
Jared Bednar benefits from both Jack Adams' criteria -- earning votes for coaching the league's best team, while also gaining sympathy for enduring the rash of injuries he's faced while doing it.
Nathan MacKinnon has missed 16 games. Gabriel Landeskog underwent knee surgery in early March. Nazem Kadri was ruled out for the season a little over a week ago. Devon Toews is back in the lineup at the moment but missed 11 games throughout the season with ailments of his own.
Bednar's case is basically Sullivan's on steroids.
Despite losing top-line players for extended periods at each position group scattered all throughout the year, Bednar has not only managed to keep the Avalanche afloat, but make them as dominant as ever, icing a team that is the odds-on favorite to take home the President's Trophy at season's end.
No matter how many blows this roster has been dealt, Colorado has remained the class of the league. Bednar has had a huge hand in making that happen.
Rod Brind'Amour - Carolina Hurricanes
Record: 46-18-8, 100 points, First in Metropolitan Division
If the Jack Adams award was instead given to the coach that I, personally, would want to play for the most, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. I'd stamp Rod Brind'Amour's name on my ballot after the first puck-drop of the eason, mail it to the NHL offices, and call it a day.
Alas, a little more critical thinking is required here. But that doesn't mean Brind'Amour's standing as the consensus favorite is in jeopardy, either.
Brind'Amour benefits from being in the perfect coaching situation, overseeing a roster of worker bees with notable skill sets that has seems to have been meticulously constructed to fit his coaching strengths.
Every single Hurricanes player knows exactly what role they are meant to play. And, for the most part, they end up playing that role exceedingly well. It's a remarkably well-functioning ecosystem out there in Carolina, and the environment responsible for fostering such a collective buy-in is Brind'Amour's doing.
His players love him. He loves them back. And together they've evolved into a perennial contender.
Looking at the raw numbers, and it's hard to discount Brind'Amour's case for back-to-back wins. The Hurricanes are currently chugging along at practically the exact same winning percentage as last year, albeit in a far larger sample size this time around, all while scoring more and surrendering fewer goals on a per-game basis.
This is the award for "best coach", right? Well, when it comes to picking the guy that does the best job coaching his team, Brind'Amour's name can't be ignored.