Sean McIndoe (aka Down Goes Brown) will be contributing to sportsnet.ca on a regular basis. Follow him @DownGoesBrown
On the surface, the Jack Adams Award is straightforward enough. Voted on by broadcasters, the honour goes to the league’s best coach, or more specifically the one “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success”. Pretty simple, right?
But over the years, it’s become clear that the Jack Adams is given out based on a very different set of standards than the ones applied to virtually every other league award.
Voters rarely honour guys like Mike Babcock or Joel Quenneville who are consistently good year in and year out, instead preferring candidates who’ve seen their teams make unexpected jumps in the standings. While other award voters tend to like to see winners who’ve “paid their dues” before being honoured, the Jack Adams often goes to coaches who have just stepped into new jobs, even including rookies making their NHL debuts.
And while other awards can be dominated by the same guys year in and year out (see Wayne Gretzky, Nicklas Lidstrom or Martin Brodeur), the Jack Adams almost never goes to a repeat winner – just one coach has won multiple times for the same team, and only one has won more than twice overall.
None of that is to say that the criteria used to select the Jack Adams is wrong. It’s just very different. Which leads to a fun thought experiment: What if we voted for the other awards the way the broadcasters vote for the Jack Adams?
Let’s find out. We’re going to go back over the last 25 years of Hart Trophy winners as league MVP and re-award them based on that weird Jack Adams criteria. That means:
– We’ll give a strong preference to guys who have recently joined teams (including rookies)
– We’ll almost always insist on rewarding candidates whose team made a major leap in the standings
– We’ll try really hard to avoid repeat winners, especially for the same team
Will this tell us anything useful? Honestly, no, not a thing. But will it give us something to argue about for a day or two? Only one way to find out. Going back 25 seasons takes us to 1990-91, so let’s start there.
Real winner: Brett Hull, who scored 86 goals for the Blues.
Our winner: Hull’s a strong candidate, pushing the Blues to a 22-point jump in the standings in his third full season with the club. But in our Jack Adams-inspired universe, he loses out in a close vote to a newcomer: rookie Eddie Belfour, whose first season in Chicago sees the Blackhawks make a big jump of their own.
Real winner: Mark Messier, winning his second Hart in three years.
Our winner: In real life, Messier won handily. But our Jack Adams-inspired voters probably would have made him even more of a landslide, after he joined the Rangers days into the season and immediately helped turn them into a Presidents’ Trophy winner. Even with one previous win under his belt (for the Oilers in 1990), voters would make him a shoo-in.
Real winner: Mario Lemieux, who ran away with the scoring title despite missing a chunk of the season battling cancer.
Our winner: Man, it’s awfully tough to take the trophy from Lemieux, whose comeback was one of the most inspiring stories in sports history. But he’d already won the award, and his Penguins were back-to-back Cup champions at this point, so our voters are going to look elsewhere. It’s a tough vote, with Boston’s Adam Oates and Winnipeg super-rookie Teemu Selanne making for a stacked field. But our winner is Doug Gilmour, who turned the Leafs from utter laughingstock to Cup contender in his first full season in Toronto.
Real winner: Detroit’s Sergei Fedorov, whose superior two-way game earned him his first and only Hart.
Our winner: As good as he was, Fedorov was already in his fourth year in Detroit, and the team actually took a step back from 92-93, so he’s out. Instead, the trophy goes to a relative newcomer: Dominik Hasek, who made the leap from obscure backup to stake his claim as the best starting goaltender in the league. He wins a close vote over another goaltender, fresh-faced Devils rookie Martin Brodeur.
Real winner: Eric Lindros, with what we all assumed was the first of many Harts.
Our winner: As a relatively new face (this was his third season) on a team that jumped from sixth in their division to first, Lindros holds onto our alternative universe MVP honours. But it’s a narrow victory, as he barely beats out rookie sensation Peter Forsberg.
Real winner: Lemieux won his third (and final) Hart, beating out Messier and Lindros.
Our winner: Lemieux has a strong case, and even gets a newcomer’s boost because he was returning after missing the entire 1994-95 season, so he’ll keep the award. And yes, I know, you’re expecting Patrick Roy here. But the Avalanche were already very good when he arrived in December, and we’re not counting the playoffs here, so he finishes second in a battle between players who were born on the same day.
Real winner: Hasek, who became the first goalie to win the award in 35 years.
Our winner: Hasek’s sustained excellence with the same team over multiple seasons makes him a great example of the type of candidate that Hart voters love but Adams voters rarely seem to appreciate. So instead, we’ll recognize a legend who never did earn a real-world Hart: Teemu Selanne, whose first full season in Anaheim saw him come in second in the scoring race while leading the team to their first playoff appearance in franchise history.
Real winner: Hasek again. For the record, there’s been only one back-to-back winner of the Jack Adams (Jacques Demers in 1987 and 1988).
Our winner: This is a tough one. There aren’t any obvious candidates, or even many halfway decent ones. Just about all the league’s top players were settled into long stints with their teams. Wayne Gretzky was an exception, putting up 90 points in his second year in New York, but the team plummeted in the standings, so he’s out.
And so we have to go off the board a bit. Well, a lot. Your 1998 alternate universe Hart Trophy winner, as selected by Jack Adams voters, is… Boston’s Jason Allison? Don’t laugh. In his first full year with the Bruins, Allison led the team in scoring by almost 20 points while helping the Bruins make a 30-point jump from dead last overall to the playoffs. It feels like a weird pick, and Maple Leafs fans are no doubt making jokes about how long it would take Allison to get to the podium to accept the award, but remember: Jack Adams voters have made some picks of their own that haven’t exactly held up all that well over the years.
Real winner: Jaromir Jagr, with his first and only win. Well, so far at least. He’s probably still got five or six more years to earn another one.
Our winner: Another tough year for our Adams-inspired voters. Jagr is out – he’d been in Pittsburgh for almost a decade, and the team wasn’t any better than they’d always been. It’s tempting to pick the real-life runner up, Alexei Yashin of the improved Senators, if only to infuriate Ottawa fans. But instead we’ll go with the fourth-place finisher: Curtis Joseph, whose arrival in Toronto saw the Leafs jump from 69 points to 97.
Real winner: Chris Pronger, who edged out Jagr by one point to become the first defenceman to win the award since Bobby Orr (and as of today, the last).
Our winner: At the risk of taking an elbow to the temple, we’re going to ask Pronger to hand over his trophy and re-award it to a candidate who better fits the Jack Adams mold: Panthers’ winger Pavel Bure. In his first full season in Florida, he led the league in goals scored while leading the Panthers back to the playoffs and a franchise-record 98 points. Also, Pavel Bure was awesome and should have won a Hart during his career, so there’s that.
Real winner: Joe Sakic, who cruised to his only Hart.
Our winner: Sakic’s another one of those guys who gets penalized by our Adams voters because he stuck with one consistently good franchise for his entire career. That’s not fair, but we haven’t come this far to start getting sympathetic now, so he’s out. Instead, we’ll go with a feel-good choice – Sakic’s teammate Ray Bourque, who was excellent in his first and only full season in Colorado.
Real winner: Jose Theodore, who tied Jarome Iginla but had more first place votes to win what’s still considered one of the most controversial Hart decisions of all-time.
Our winner: This one kind of feels like the real-world Hart voters really did go all Jack Adams on us. Theodore was in his first year as a full-time starter, and helped boost the Habs into the playoffs after an awful 2000-01 season. He keeps the award in our alternate universe – and unlike in real life, this time he even deserves it.
Real winner: Peter Forsberg, who beat out Markus Naslund for his only Hart.
Our winner: The Ducks made a big leap, so Jean-Sebastien Giguere could make a case here. But let’s keep the trophy with Forsberg, who’d sat out the previous season and therefore gets the same newcomer boost we allowed Lemieux back in 1996.
Real winner: Martin St. Louis of the Lightning, who won in a landslide.
Our winner: While he didn’t play as many games we we’d like, voters wouldn’t be able to resist a guy who arrived on a new team and helped them become an instant Cup contender, so Miikka Kiprusoff gets the nod. Huh. The Flames stealing a trophy away from the Lightning? This really is an alternate universe.
Real winner: Joe Thornton, who remains the only MVP to ever be traded mid-season.
Our winner: This might be the toughest call of them all, since the missing 2004-05 season and remade NHL landscape mean all sorts of player movement and plenty of teams making major moves up and down the standings. Adams voters have been known to love their mid-season hires, so Thornton would certainly get some love. Eric Staal’s work as a sophomore in Carolina would too. Rookies Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin both had great years, although their teams didn’t get much of a boost. Fellow rookie Henrik Lundqvist’s team did, and he’d make for a strong candidate. And then there’s Pronger, whose arrival in Edmonton transformed the Oilers (although it didn’t really move them up the regular season standings).
But we’re going to give the award to the real-life runner-up: Jaromir Jagr, who nearly beat out Thornton for the scoring title while helping the Rangers to a 31-point boost in his first full season in New York.
Real winner: Sidney Crosby, who earned the honours in his second year in the league while becoming the youngest player to ever win the scoring title.
Our winner: Pronger would get some votes again, as would Roberto Luongo. But after leading his team to a 47-point jump up the standings, Crosby’s only real competition here might come from rookie teammate Evgeni Malkin. He keeps the trophy.
Real winner: Alex Ovechkin of the Caps.
Our winner: The Flyers enjoyed a massive rebound after bottoming out the previous season, which makes free agent addition Danny Briere a tempting choice. But after leading his team to a 24-point jump up the standings, Ovechkin’s only real competition here might come from rookie teammate Nicklas Backstrom. He keeps the trophy. Wait, that sounded familiar.
Real winner: Ovechkin again.
Our winner: After two straight years of peace between the real-world Hart voters and their alternate universe Adams brethren, we have to shake things up this year. So let’s go with the standout rookie who almost single-handedly lifted his team go from Western also-rans to a playoff spot. That’s right: our voters just gave the MVP award to Blue Jackets’ goalie Steve Mason. Look, I told you the Jack Adams criteria was strange. We’re almost home, don’t go bailing on me now.
Real winner: Henrik Sedin, who narrowly ended Ovechkin’s reign.
Our winner: Sedin was already a longtime Canuck and Vancouver wasn’t all that much better than the year before, so he’s out. Ilya Bryzgalov helped the Coyotes make a big leap forward, Marian Hossa did the same in Chicago, and Steven Stamkos had a breakout year in just his second season in Tampa. But we’re going to go with a guy who’s no stranger to award voting controversy: Kings defenceman Drew Doughty, whose excellent sophomore season boosted Los Angeles from sub-.500 status to a 101-point team.
Real winner: Corey Perry of the Ducks. It’s OK, everyone else has forgotten he once won the Hart this year too.
Our winner: This is another one of those years without an obvious candidate. So we’ll turn to the Lightning, who made a 23-point jump. Plenty of real Hart voters punched their ballots for Martin St. Louis, who came in third, but our Jack Adams brigade will prefer a fresher face: Stamkos gets the nod.
Real winner: Evgeni Malkin, a nearly unanimous pick.
Our winner: The Blues made a big jump up the standings, which would make newly acquired Brian Elliott a tempting pick if he’d ever been the undisputed starter. The Rangers moved up as well, partly on the strength of the Brad Richards signing. But instead, let’s go with a first-team all-star who led his team from a playoff miss to a 102-point season in his second full season there. Ilya Kovalchuk, come on down.
Real winner: Ovechkin again, winning his third Hart by edging out Crosby in a lockout-shortened season.
Our winner: This is a tough year to pick, because lockouts ruin everything. Without a slam dunk candidate, it comes down to a pair of young stars from teams that made big strides forward: John Tavares and P.K. Subban. The Habs made the bigger leap up the standings and Subban had one fewer season under his belt, so he gets the nod.
Real winner: Crosby, with his second.
Our winner: Our Jack Adams voters can’t resist a rebound story, and two teams made the leap from the league’s basement to 100+ point status: the Lightning and Avalanche. Semyon Varlamov got some real-world Hart love, finishing fourth, but he’ll drop this one to a guy who posted similar numbers in his first full year in Tampa. Ben Bishop takes the honours.
Real winner: Carey Price, the first goalie winner in 13 years.
Our winner: Price won the real award in a landslide, but as a well-established star he’d have a tough time with our voters. Jack Adams voters love their rookies, which threatens to turn this into a showdown between Johnny Gaudreau and Filip Forsberg, both of whom helped their teams to unexpectedly strong years. But instead, we’ll focus on another team that made big strides, in the New York Islanders. Newcomer Jaroslav Halak is a tempting pick, but we’ll go with a more traditional choice (and real-life finalist) in Tavares.
Real winner: And that bring us to this year. We don’t know yet who’ll earn the honours in June, although Patrick Kane has been the heavy favourite for most of the season.
Our winner: The Hawks have been good forever, so Kane is out. So is his main real-world competition, Sidney Crosby. Braden Holtby would get a good look, thanks to the Caps’ leap from fringe playoff team to runaway Presidents’ Trophy winner. But let’s end with another feel-good pick, and honour a veteran who helped turn a team from playoff outsiders to (potential) division winners in his first full season: After 25 years of Jack Adams-inspired revisionist history, Jaromir Jagr becomes our only repeat winner.