Last year, New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz took a team few thought would be playoff-bound and led them to within a point of the division crown. One year prior, Gerard Gallant guided a team of misfits all the way to the the Stanley Cup Final in their very first year. In 2017, it was John Tortorella who took home the title of top coach after achieving franchise history with the Columbus Blue Jackets as they hit 100 points for the first time ever.
Looking through the list of past Jack Adams Award winners, given to the best coach each season as voted by the NHL Broadcasters’ Association, you’ll see some pretty impressive coaching performances.
Who might take home the award this year? Here’s a look at some of the top coaching performances of 2019-20, with a focus on who we believe should have the best odds to claim the honour.
Bruce Cassidy, John Tortorella, Mike Sullivan
If you’re the coach of the team with the best regular-season record, you should always be in contention.
When you look at the success of the Bruins since he took over Boston’s bench in 2017, you could argue Bruce Cassidy should be a perennial Jack Adams finalist. The 2019-20 campaign might just be his best yet.
Sure, the team’s talent can speak for itself and make Cassidy’s job look easy, but that he’s been able to rally a club that was one win away from winning the Stanley Cup and guide them to an even better season as the best team in the league one year later takes one heck of a coaching performance. Cassidy’s ability to juggle the lineup, bring in fresh faces, and roll out four deep lines should have him in consideration for the award this year.
After watching three stars walk out the door in free agency, including franchise cornerstones Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, Tortorella and the Blue Jackets were not supposed to be contenders. Their odds continued to plummet with every injury endured — Josh Anderson, Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Brandon Dubinsky, Nathan Gerbe, Alexandre Texier, Seth Jones Joonas Korpisalo — and yet, Tortorella’s crew is currently in the second wild-card spot with the suspended season now at a standstill.
“You know, we were supposed to be a lottery team when we were a healthy team — according to the pundits — and then when we had the injuries, it’s been fun to see guys and the team itself just stand together and try to find ways,” Tortorella said last month during an appearance on Hockey Central. “We’ve had to play differently and I think they’ve bought into that. So it’s been a pretty cool year that way, in just trying to survive here, and I think that’s been very rewarding in the locker room.”
Tortorella was named coach of the year in 2016-17 after guiding the Blue Jackets to the best season in franchise history, which included a remarkable 16-game win streak, just one victory away from setting a new league record. That was his second Jack Adams win, having won it with the Lightning in 2004. Should he win the award again this year, he’d tie the legendary Pat Burns for most wins in league history.
You can’t talk about injury-plagued teams without bringing up the Penguins. Like their Metropolitan Division foes, it’s not just about how many players have been forced out of the lineup, but who has been sidelined. Stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have both missed significant time, with guys like Jake Guentzel and Kris Letang also being bitten by the injury bug and prompting Sullivan to change things up on the fly. Despite the adversity on the injury front, Pittsburgh has maintained its standing amid playoff-bound teams and currently sits third in the division.
Had A Shot
Craig Berube, Jared Bednar
Craig Berube was a Jack Adams Award finalist last season after taking over the St. Louis Blues as interim in November 2018 and leading the club from the bottom of the standings all the way to the title of Stanley Cup champions. His ability to rally the team to run it back, claiming (and maintaining) the top spot in the Western Conference, should not go overlooked — though, considering the hurdles other coaches have coached through this year, it might.
Like Tortorella and Sullivan, Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar has had his hands full juggling lineups early and often as injuries struck. Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Philipp Grubauer, to name a few, have all missed time this year yet the Avalanche already have more points this year than they managed last season, with 12 fewer games played.
The Long Shots
Paul Maurice, Travis Green, Alain Vigneault
Paul Maurice had his work cut out for him this year on the blue line, but managed to piece together a defence corps despite dealing with a rotation of injuries and the ongoing uncertainty that was Dustin Byfuglien’s status with the team. Goaltender Connor Hellebyuck is the biggest reason the Jets are still in contention, but Maurice deserves a nod for his ability to adapt to a season that brought much change in Winnipeg.
Though currently sitting just outside the playoff picture, the Vancouver Canucks’ success this year has been one of the best stories of the season. Head coach Travis Green has proven he’s the perfect leader for this young team, and his ability to match players up to maximize performance (did anyone see J.T. Miller barrelling towards an 80-plus-point season?) has made this club really fun to watch.
A late surge in the standings after a less-than-stellar first half has seen Philadelphia Flyers coach Alain Vigneault’s name bandied about in Jack Adams talk, though perhaps his success behind Philly’s bench can serve more as a sign of good things to come next season as opposed to a trophy-worthy campaign this year. Still he deserves a place in the conversation.