No matter when the question has been asked this season, be it at the quarter-mark, mid-season or as the campaign winds down, the unquestioned, hands-down favorite for the Jack Adams Award has been Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant. He won our very own mid-season award, was voted the top choice by the Pro Hockey Writers Association post all-star break and the support for Gallant has been relatively unwavering.
All of this is with good reason, of course. From nearly the moment the puck dropped on the 2017-18 campaign, Gallant’s Golden Knights have been making history. He has taken a ragtag group pieced together by the Vegas front office and turning them into an honest-to-goodness Presidents’ Trophy contender that has all but sewn up a division title in its inaugural campaign. Along the way, Gallant’s group has rewritten the history books when it comes to success by an expansion franchise, and as we enter the final month of the campaign, Vegas’ accomplishments continue to overshadow those of any other first-year team in the annals of NHL history. And only adding to the intrigue surrounding Gallant as the coach of the year is how whirlwind the past 15 months have been for the coach.
Infamously, Gallant was kicked to the curb — almost literally — by the Florida Panthers in November 2016, a dismissal that was undoubtedly one of the more shocking in recent memory. While the Panthers were nothing more than a mediocre team in the early part of the campaign prior to Gallant’s firing, Florida was only several months removed from putting the finishing touches on an Atlantic Division crown and the Cats had just had the best regular season record in franchise history. But his firing allowed for the hiring not long after by the Golden Knights. Gallant didn’t even spend much more than four months on the unemployment line, inked to a deal by Vegas in April 2017 to become the franchise’s first bench boss. And as he approaches his first anniversary in the position, he’ll be preparing for the Golden Knights’ post-season opener. That’s a notion that likely would have been met with a hearty chuckle when fans took a quick glance at the roster Vegas assembled in the summer.
That the post-season is a lock for the Golden Knights, and that they have been for some time, hasn’t allowed for much room for discussion when it comes to the Jack Adams, though. The debate has often started and stopped with Gallant, with maybe a passing mention of some other coaches. In THN’s mid-season awards, for instance, the Devils’ John Hynes, Kings’ John Stevens, Lightning’s Jon Cooper and Jets’ Paul Maurice each received votes. The PHWA also gave Cooper and Maurice some love, though their vote totals almost assuredly paled in comparison to that of Gallant.
However, conspicuous in his absence from either THN’s mid-season ranking or the PHWA poll is Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar. And while Gallant might be the odds-on favorite to take home the trophy, Bednar should be making things much more interesting.
Make no mistake that Bednar’s first season behind the bench was a disaster. Colorado was the league’s laughing stock and a constant punchline. In pro wrestling parlance, the Avalanche were the NHL’s version of jobbers, a team consisting of a bunch of Brooklyn Brawlers. And, quite frankly, not much more was expected of Colorado come this season. In THN’s pre-season ranking, the Avalanche finished near the bottom and there weren’t many objections to the placement.
That wasn’t us picking on Colorado, either. Rather, it appeared nothing significant had been done to alter the fate of the franchise in time for this campaign. The off-season additions included Colin Wilson, Jonathan Bernier and Nail Yakupov, who some thought was on his way out of the league altogether. The big get was college free agent Alex Kerfoot, though there were no guarantees he could slot into the lineup in a hurry. All of this was clouded by the assumed exit of Matt Duchene, too, and the longtime Avalanche winger was indeed on his way out of town in the early part of the campaign. It’s remarkable what a full summer with a squad can do for a coach, though.
Bednar, as some will recall, didn’t have the luxury of an off-season to get his ducks in a row ahead of the 2016-17 campaign. Instead, he was thrust into the spotlight when then-Avalanche coach Patrick Roy resigned from his post, coming aboard little more than a month before the start of the season. This time around, however, he had the full run up to the campaign, a chance to implement any changes he wanted to make to his system and, despite the relatively quiet off-season in Colorado, he has managed to make a somewhat tangible impact.
While it’s marginal, the Avalanche have increased their shots for percentage by .75 percent, high-danger chances for percentage by .60 percent and scoring chances for percentage by .10 percent when compared to the 5-on-5 numbers from last season. Pair that with an offense that has generated more opportunities and Colorado’s goals for percentage has risen by a remarkable 15.3 percent, far and away the largest increase in the league. Add to it the play of individuals such as Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen and the resulting rise has been remarkable.
At their current pace, the Avalanche are in line to finish 2017-18 with 96 points. That’s double their point total from the 2016-17 campaign and it would be the largest season-to-season point swing of any team in the NHL this season. Matter of fact, it would see Colorado almost double the next-best mark — Tampa Bay is on pace to see a 25-point increase — and easily outdo the 32-point rise by the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, a swing that played no small part in John Tortorella’s Jack Adams win.
The reality, however, is that Bednar’s swift turnaround of the Avalanche would put him at the front of the pack or, at the very least, in the running for the award in any other year. But in this bizarre season, a campaign in which the Golden Knights have defied all the odds, there is likely nothing any coach can do that will be enough to unseat Gallant.
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