The Jack Adams award, given by the NHL Broadcasters Association, is always one of the most difficult to judge. It’s handed to the coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success” per the official terminology, but often coaching impact is conflated with a star player having a career season.
Jen Lute-Costello did some digging on the history of the Jack Adams, and found that usually, the coach that won had a remarkable improvement in save percentage in their winning year from the year. Of anything, that’s the metric usually least linked to a head coach, yet seems to be the best predictor.
Knowing the biases inherent in the award, here is who I’d like to see nominated for the Jack Adams.
3. John Hynes, New Jersey Devils
Yes, even though I literally just said this award was biased towards coaches who have the fortune of managing a bench that includes phenomenal goaltenders like Cory Schneider, who might be a Vezina candidate, I think Hynes deserves a nomination.
But it’s not because of his starting goaltender. Or rather, it’s because Hynes saw Schneider as part of a holistic strategy. How is this different than when Patrick Roy won for Seymon Varlamov’s career numbers in 2013-14?
Because Hynes relied on strategy, not luck, to give his team the best possible chance of winning.
In the preseason, most people had this Devils’ roster in the Auston Matthews race. Their leading scorer is Kyle Palmieri, a guy acquired in a trade with the Anahiem Ducks who, prior to this season, posted a career high 31 points in 2013-14. But for much of the season, he was trailing Mike Cammalleri, a 33-year-old, who was plagued by injuries.
Of their top-five scorers, three players are over the age of 30. The Devils are one of the slowest, oldest teams in the NHL, and lack the kind of star power that their Metropolitan Division peers have in the likes of John Tavares, Claude Giroux, Rick Nash, Sidney Crosby, and Alex Ovechkin.
And yet, the Devils posted a winning record so far this season, at 36-32-8, and have continued to win even after Schneider went down with injury. They have one of the league’s stingiest defenses, allowing just 23.3 scoring chances against per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. League average is around 26.
That’s defense by design, not defense by goaltender.
Up until the trade deadline, the Devils were in contention for that final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and even now are still just five points back of the field, with the same number of wins as the Philadelphia Flyers.
For a first year coach, there’s a lot to like about what Hynes has done in New Jersey.
2. Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals
If I’m being honest, I fully expect Trotz to run away with this award. The Capitals are having an amazing season, and while being cognizant of the fact that Trotz is working with a few insanely talented players, I still think he deserves to be considered one of the best coaches this year.
After all, this Capitals team doesn’t look like any other Capitals team in recent memory.
Yes, Alex Ovechkin is going to take home the Rocket Richard Trophy…again. Braden Holtby is likely to take home the Vezina, and might break the single-season goaltender wins record. Evgeny Kuznetsov is having a breakout season and might sneak into Hart voting.
But the difference is that it’s all happening at the same time.
Trotz’s personnel management this year has been fantastic, unafraid to mix things up when the team needs a spark, but also confident enough to let players work through their own issues. Even losing key power play quarterback Mike Green in the offseason didn’t slow the Capitals down on the man advantage – they sit second in the league with a power play percentage of 22.8. And he’s slotted T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams into the lineup with ease, breathing much-needed life into Washington’s forward depth.
Unlike Hynes, it’s difficult to pick out the specifics of why Trotz is on this list, but one thing is clear: he knows his players, he knows what they need from him, and he knows what a winning culture looks like.
1. Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks
Two months ago, Bruce Boudreau’s name was nowhere near the top of this list. While everyone knew the Ducks would recover from their out-of-the-blue drastically bad start to the season, the fact that they turned the season around enough to challenge not just for a playoff spot, but for the top of the Pacific Division is still remarkable.
And a lot, if not all, of the credit should go to Boudreau, who went from “guy most likely to be fired before Thanksgiving” to “smartest man in the room”.
While most people understand that bad bounces happen, Boudreau wasn’t content to sit around and wait for the ship to right itself. Instead, he changed the team’s system, giving them the ability to win the low-scoring games that had become the norm. He told NHL.com:
“’Hey, you know what? We might not average more than a goal and a half a game.’ But if we want to win, that means we have to limit the teams to one goal a game and not using the crutch of bad luck or puck luck or whatever you want to call it, because that might never end”
Now the Ducks are 41-23-10, which is a points percentage of 62.2 percent – just one percent back of the Los Angeles Kings’ 63.3 percent.
While it remains to be seen if the Ducks can rely solely on their defensive prowess to get through what’s sure to be a gauntlet in the Pacific Division playoffs, it’s pretty clear that during the regular season, there’s no one coach who has had a greater impact on his teams’ success than Bruce Boudreau.