At the start of every NHL season, we are asked to make predictions about what may lie ahead in the coming year, a source of much amusement for readers after the fact when the reality of a 1,230-game season sets in. My inclination is always to play the percentages when it comes to looking ahead into a nebulous and unpredictable season, which is why I anointed Patrick Roy as the future winner of the 2014 Jack Adams award back in September before he had ever coached an NHL game.
There were two good reasons to like Roy’s chances. One, he’d put in the time learning the coaching craft in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, something players of his stature are rarely prepared to do. Accordingly, it wasn’t much of reach to think Roy could make a difference on a young but talented Avalanche team that needed better focus from its emerging nucleus and far more consistent goaltending from Semyon Varlamov. But there was also a good secondary reason.
The Avalanche finished 15th out of 15 teams in the NHL's Western Conference last season, which meant there was nowhere for them to go but up.
And NHL broadcasters, who vote for the Jack Adams, love to reward coaches who preside over teams that make giant season-over-season gains.
The Jack Adams trophy was introduced in the 1973-74 season and in that time, 34 different coaches have won it in the 39 times it has been awarded. Pat Burns is the only three-time winner – Scotty Bowman, Pat Quinn, Jacques Demers and Jacques Lemaire each won it twice, while enormously successful coaches such as Al Arbour and Joel Quenneville, among others, have only ever won it once each.
There is something about supporting consistent year-over-year coaching success that the voters tend to dismiss.
So, for example, the Detroit Red Wings’ Mike Babcock is finally getting some notice for the Jack Adams trophy this year because Babcock has his injury-gutted team in contention for a playoff spot. Last Friday, Babcock earned his 413th win with the Red Wings, tying him with none other than Jack Adams for the most in franchise history. And yet he has never won the Jack Adams trophy. Some believe this may be Babcock’s finest coaching effort, but it still might not be enough to get him a coach-of-the-year award.
Detroit is remarkable because it has made the playoffs in 22 consecutive years. Next on the list is the San Jose Sharks, who have had Todd McLellan behind the bench since the 2008-09 season. McLellan’s Sharks are also a model of consistency, and currently chasing the Anaheim Ducks for top spot in the Pacific.
Ducks’ coach Bruce Boudreau is another legitimate candidate that frequently gets overlooked. Boudreau has one Jack Adams on his resume, dating back to his NHL season when he took over the Washington Capitals mid-season from Glen Hanlon and got them unexpectedly to the playoffs. He has had a remarkable winning percentage ever since but like Babcock and McLellan, his accomplishments have been easy to overlook because the Ducks are considered to be an elite NHL team. But Anaheim has had its injury issues this year – mostly on defence – which have forced them to play a number of youngsters, all of whom have developed nicely and seem to gotten the job done.
Once you get past Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the Ducks’ elite level talent drops way off. And yet over the past two seasons, they have posted one of the best cumulative records in the league.
Every one of the above, along with the Boston Bruins’ Claude Julien, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Jon Cooper and even the Philadelphia Flyers’ Craig Berube, have done remarkable work with their respective teams.
But Colorado has been unexpectedly good and is currently red hot, even playing without Matt Duchene, their leading scorer. The Avs had won six in a row going into Sunday’s date with the Pittsburgh Penguins and following Saturday’s big win over the St. Louis Blues, Roy became just the fifth first-year coach in NHL history to record 50 wins. (The others: Tom Johnson with Boston; Mike Keenan with Philadelphia, Burns with Montreal and McLellan with San Jose). In that same game, Varlamov became the first goalie to get to 40 wins this season, which tied him with Roy for the Avalanche record for goalie wins in a season, established by St. Patrick in 2000-01.