Last Word On Sports is doing our annual awards nominations and predictions. We’ll be giving you our nominations and predictions for the Selke Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Calder Trophy, Norris Trophy, Jack Adams Trophy, and the Hart Trophy.
Among hockey fans around the league it feels like there are two kinds of coaches in the National Hockey League: coaches who save a team from the brink and do everything right to make them league contenders, or coaches that hold everyone back and the team wins in spite of. Call it the passion of the fans.
With more statistics available than ever before to the general public, more and more hockey fans are pointing out the mistakes from head coaches. What you don’t hear enough is them pointing out what the coaches do right, especially what they do right that they didn’t think was right. Everyone is a backseat head coach now, and when someone can admit to a coach making the right moves? It’s impressive.
The Jack Adams is a tough award to win. Coaches have a temporary shelf life and might flip between multiple teams, or find themselves stuck in limbo on a rebuilding team. Only Hockey Hall of Famer Pat Burns has won it three times, with Jacques Demers, Jacques Lemaire, Scotty Bowman and Pat Quinn being two time winners. Only one of my potential candidates has won it before, meaning Burns three time seat might go another while before being matched.
When Bob Hartley said he was going to the Calgary Flames instead of interviewing for the head coach position with the Montreal Canadiens because he saw more playoff potential than them, it didn’t take long for Hartley to realize his assessment was wrong. The Flames were ripe for a rebuild, not a playoff run. What the rest of us didn’t recognize was that Bob Hartley may have been wrong about that season, he wasn’t wrong on the Flames being close to the playoffs. It didn’t take long for Hartley to turn the Calgary Flames into the surprise of the National Hockey League. While the Senators and Wild have been second half successes, the Flames went from basement dwellers with their Alberta brethren to playoff position all season long to ousting the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings from any chance of the playoffs. Bob Hartley deserves admiration from his role in getting young players to stick with the system, giving Jiri Hudler the room to be a leader and keeping the team on track to the playoffs after losing their best defenceman in Mark Giordano.
You don’t take your team to the top of the Western Conference without being considered a Jack Adams candidate. Bruce Boudreau won the Jack Adams back in 2007-08 with the Washington Capitals, whom fired him 22 games into the regular season. Anaheim jumped on the opportunity to bring Boudreau in the 2011-12 season, even if they ended up fifth in their division and missed the playoffs. The next two seasons they placed first in their division and 2014-15 is no different. The Ducks clinched the Pacific Division once again and had a great shot all season long for the President’s trophy. Boudreau knows how to get his teams scoring goals, but isn’t very good at having his teams keep pucks out of the net. The fact that the Ducks have the most goals against for a playoff bound Western Conference team hurts him for this award. He also has a reputation for being a crazy line juggler, juggling players shift to shift without giving guys a lot of time to build chemistry. Boudreau would be deserving of a nomination, but I see him on the outside, even if one feels the goaltending in Anaheim deserves more blame than Bruce.
There might not be a head coach in the NHL more maligned by his own fans than Michel Therrien. Head to any Montreal Canadiens message board on the Internet and you’ll find hundreds, maybe in the thousands of posts with fans demanding he be fired. Yet Therrien has done nothing but push the Canadiens to regular season and playoff success. In his first season the Canadiens clinched their division. In the second season they made it to the Eastern Conference finals. Now the Canadiens look to clinch their division once again while posting their best win total since the last time they won the Stanley Cup. Yet talk to fans of the team and Therrien is holding the club back, winning off the back of a legendary Carey Price season and a bit of the performances of Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov. Maybe the fans doth protest too much for a head coach that does nothing but keep the Habs at the top of the Eastern Conference, but nobody can deny the team leans on the best goaltender in the world a little too much. Then again, Therrien went to the Stanley Cup finals leaning on the best forward in the world a little too much, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing. Therrien likely won’t be a candidate for the Jack Adams, but winning it would lead to some hilarious reactions of the self-appointed “real” head coaches of the Montreal Canadiens: Habs bloggers.
The Jack Adams Trophy Candidates
Trotz was once the long serving head coach of the Nashville Predators, well celebrated as one of the best coaches in the National Hockey League despite never winning the Jack Adams. He came close in 2009-10 but lost to Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes. Trotz was relieved of his coaching duties by the Nashville Predators and moved onto the Washington Capitals. Despite thinking the Capitals would be a challenge with an often maligned superstar captain in Alexander Ovechkin and just coming off a messy situation where they fired head coach Adam Oates and general manager George McPhee, Trotz instead turned around the Washington Capitals. He made them a smarter defensive club without sacrificing their offensive firepower and instead of trying to control Ovechkin, he put him in a comfortable position. Out of this, the Capitals have made the playoffs, have a Hart Trophy nominee for captain and might be looking at their goaltender Braden Holtby for a potential Vezina nomination. Trotz will have a bigger challenge ahead of him in trying to push the Capitals beyond the quarter-finals, but for now he stands as one of the best coaches of the 2014-15 NHL season.
When the Nashville Predators let Trotz go, they were letting go a very good NHL head coach. Many wondered if Trotz was the problem. It’s tough to say if he was, but Peter Laviolette certainly came in and changed the dynamic of the Predators. Formerly the coach of the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes, Laviolette did the reversal of Trotz in Washington. He got the offensive power out of the Predators without sacrificing their elite defensive game. With a healthy Pekka Rinne in net unlike the season before, the Preds stayed atop the extremely challenging Central Division. Ignited by rookie Filip Forsberg, a rejuvenated Mike Ribeiro and possibly the best defensive pairings in the league, Laviolette plays to the Predators strengths while creating new ones on the rush. Laviolette has yet to win the Jack Adams but was a runner-up in 2005-06 with the Hurricanes.
New York Rangers
A former Jack Adams winner in 2006-07 with the Vancovuer Canucks, Alain Vigneault took a strong but by no means East favourite in the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup finals last year. This season, instead of resting on their laurels, Vigneault pushed the Rangers to winning the President’s Trophy as the top team in the NHL. There’s no doubt that Alain Vigneault knows how to get his team in order. Henrik Lundqvist goes down? It’s okay because the back-up Cam Talbot is well supported and has an excellent back-up season. Rick Nash? Better than ever. Martin St. Louis? Still one of the best. It doesn’t hurt when general manager Glen Sather gifts you with Keith Yandle to give you one of the most deadliest defensive units in the league. The Rangers looked shaky at first and Vigneault was able to get those Stanley Cup final miles out of them and get them focused as a unit. The East always gets question marks when facing the West but without question, Vigneault can coach with the best of them, because he is one of the best of them.
My Ballot Choices
First Place: Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers
Second Place: Peter Laviolette, Nashville Predators
Third Place: Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals