Three bench bosses who led their teams to first place divisional finishes have a shot at taking home coach of the year honors. Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz and Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff have been named finalists for the Jack Adams Award.
Realistically, though, it’s a two-horse race between Gallant and Trotz. Both coaches, neither of whom has won the award before, had remarkable seasons behind the bench.
In his second season as Panthers coach, Gallant took a team that missed the post-season by seven points the year prior and led them to an Atlantic Division title with a 12-point improvement over 2014-15's 91-point performance. Florida was picked by some to miss the post-season once again while the young team continued to grow and improve, but the Cats bucked all projections by locking up the divisional crown by six points over the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are only one season removed from a Stanley Cup final berth.
Gallant’s ability to get the most out of his young players — notably pivots Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and winger Jonathan Hubereau — helped the Panthers offense excel in his second year behind the bench. Florida’s goal output increased by 34 from the season prior, and the play of netminders Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya saw the Panthers finish the season with a plus-32 goal differential.
By season’s end, the Panthers had captured their first post-season berth since 2011-12, but Gallant was unable to get the Cats through the first round. Florida was ousted from the playoffs in six games by the New York Islanders in the first round. This is his first nomination for the award.
Unlike Gallant’s Panthers, Trotz’s Capitals are still alive in the post-season, but sit in the precarious position of trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in their second-round series. And while that could mean Washington’s campaign has a disappointing finish, the performance of Trotz’s club during the regular season was outstanding.
Under Trotz this season, the Capitals captured their second Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history and they did so with seven games remaining in the season. Washington finished the season with 11 more points than the second-place team, Ruff’s Stars, and their play in the regular season was convincing. Underlying numbers may have shown some holes in the Capitals’ puck possession game, but Washington was a force to be reckoned with, posting a league-best plus-59 goal differential. The Capitals boasted the league’s second-best offense with 252 goals for, second-best defense with 193 goals against and finished top-five in the league on both the power play and penalty kill.
This is the third time in his 17-season NHL coaching career that Trotz has been named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, previously finishing as a runner-up to Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett in 2009-10. He finished third in voting in 2010-11.
None of this is to say that Ruff doesn’t have his own case for the award — he certainly does — but what Gallant and Trotz did will likely outshine Ruff’s success in Dallas this season. That said, Ruff’s Stars were one of the more impressive teams in the league, finishing second with 109 points and boasting the league’s third-best goal differential at plus-37. Dallas had the league’s best offense by a significant margin — they outscored the Capitals by 15 goals — and even with subpar goaltending for much of the season, Ruff was able to lead the team to a Central Division title one season after the club finished second-last in the Central.
Ruff is the only finalist who has previously won the award, capturing the honors in 2005-06 as coach of the Buffalo Sabres.