The Jack Adams Award is presented annually to the NHL coach who has “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success”, as determined by the NHLBA (National Hockey League Broadcaster’s Association).
The award is named after the legendary Jack Adams, who played in the NHL during the 1920’s, and found great success as a coach and general manager in Detroit after his playing days ended. The Jack Adams Award has been presented since 1974 and has been won by the best of the best in the coaching world, including inaugural winner Fred Shero, Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour and Pat Burns, who won the award three times with three different teams, an NHL record.
This season, the battle for the Adams is particularly tough. Often when a team has a fantastic turnaround or exceeds expectations, the credit is given to the coach. This year is no different, and there are a number of deserving candidates for coach of the year, so let’s take a look at the top three contenders.
3. Craig Berube – Philadelphia Flyers (40-29-9):
Some might be surprised to see Berube so high on this list, especially considering his coaching pedigree, which included exactly zero NHL games as a head coach before this season. True, he played 17 years in the NHL, largely in an enforcement type role, but as far as coaching in the big leagues, he was unproven.
However, Berube was finally given his chance to take over the top job this season after a few years coaching at the assistant level, as well as in the AHL, after Peter Laviolette (who started the season as coach in Philadelphia) was fired after only three games (all losses).
It wasn’t an easy transition for Berube, and the Flyers continued their rocky start. On October 17th, the Flyers were 1-7-0 and and a quick turnaround was needed if Philadelphia didn’t want to fall out of the playoff race early. However, Berube’s system did eventually start to take hold, and the Flyers have been a completely different team since. Berube was able to analyze the problems which caused Philadelphia to miss the playoffs last season, and was able to get all his players to buy-in to a puck possession style and move away from the run-and-gun that hadn’t worked for Philadelphia in the past.
As a result the Flyers have shaved almost a quarter of a goal against per game off their average this year as compared to last season (while maintaining their scoring pace), and they’ve also catapulted into third in the Metropolitan division and, likely, a playoff spot. That’s a far cry from where they were back in November, when the season looked to be nearly over as soon as it began, and most of the credit can go to Berube.
2. Patrick Roy – Colorado Avalanche (50-21-7):
While Berube has done an admirable job in Philadelphia, it pales in comparison to the impact that fellow rookie coach Roy has had in Denver.
Roy’s credentials are well known: he’s one of the greatest NHL goaltenders of his generation and an accomplished coach at the junior level, but how his skills and experience would transfer to an NHL coaching gig were unknown until this season. Known just as much for his incredible accomplishments as his fiery personality, many wondered if he had the ability to control himself and lead an young, emerging Avalanche squad out of the NHL cellar, although his success in the QMJHL helped calm those concerns.
Roy has taken a team that finished 29th overall last season, and had missed the playoffs for three straight years, and turned them into a power house in the Western Conference. Last season the Avalanche, pro-rated for a full 82 game season, would have managed only 66 points. This year they’re already at 107 with four games left to play, the highest total since the club won the Stanley Cup back in 2001.
For a team that lost leader and captain Milan Hejduk to retirement, it could have been a struggle for the young Avalanche to take the next step. However, Roy’s experience and the respect he commands just by his presence has motivated his inexperienced core to reach new heights, particularly goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who is having a breakout season. If that’s not a sign of an Adams nominee, I don’t know what is.
1. Mike Babcock – Detroit Red Wings (37-27-14):
I said it a few weeks ago and nothing has happened to change my opinion: there is no doubt in my mind that if Detroit can make the playoffs, Babcock deserves the credit and the Adams.
Babcock has had a distinguished career. He has the 2008 Stanley Cup on his resume, along with two more Finals appearances, two Olympic gold medals, and is the only coach in the Triple Gold Club yet he’s never won the highest individual award a coach can win in the NHL. The argument has always been that he’s had great teams to coach, making his job and therefore the impact on his team’s success somewhat mitigated. Of course it looks easy when you have Nick Lidstrom on your blueline with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk up front, or the incredible rosters that Canada has been able to boast at the past two Olympic Games.
However, Babcock has had that all stripped away this year in Detroit. The Red Wings are second in man-games lost in the NHL this season, and that includes key injuries to Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Daniel Alfredsson, and starting goaltender Jimmy Howard, among others. This isn’t a situation like in Pittsburgh where Evgeni Malkin went down but the Penguins still had Sidney Crosby to lead the charge, this is a Detroit team whose core was entirely gutted.Those types of names missing from any lineup would be a disaster, but Babcock has made it work.
When it comes to catastrophic injuries, there’s only one thing a team can rely on: the system. Babcock has been able to take players such as Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Thomas Jurco, players the organization has been grooming for years, and slide them nearly effortlessly into his lineup thanks to that system.While credit might be given to GM Ken Holland, there’s no denying now that Babcock is the boots on the ground that has kept the Detroit machine running for all these years.
Awarding the Adams is always an inexact science. Generally it can be thought of as the award given to the coach “who got the most out of the least” with his team, but there’s a sentimentality to the Adams as well. That’s exactly why the factors that kept Babcock from winning the Adams in the past will propel him to it at the NHL awards this year.
Honorable Mentions: Claude Julien – Boston Bruins, Jon Cooper – Tampa Bay Lightning