The Colorado Avalanche’s Jared Bednar, Boston Bruins’ Bruce Cassidy and Vegas Golden Knights’ Gerard Gallant were announced as finalists for the Jack Adams Award on Wednesday, and makes for an interesting trio of bench bosses up for the coach of the year honor.
In the post-lockout era, the award has generally gone to the coach who manufactures the biggest turnaround for his franchise with the finalists representing different levels of the bad-to-good success story. This time around, though, it could be argued only one coach really fits the bill, as Bednar took a team that was truly awful last season to the post-season this season. Rounding out the ballot, meanwhile, is a coach in Cassidy who came along to a playoff team and turned them from also-ran into Eastern Conference powerhouse, with Gallant landing himself on the ballot — and into the role of favorite — by way of guiding an expansion club to record-setting success.
With that said, here are the cases for each of the finalists and a quick look at two coaches who could be considered snubs:
THE CASE FOR BEDNAR
The Avalanche showed an almost shocking level of incompetence in Bednar’s first season and, when the season closed, Colorado had posted the worst season of any team in the post-lockout era. The Avalanche won just 22 games, accumulated just 48 points and finished dead-last in the NHL. And while that may have set the stage for a massive turnaround in Colorado, there was no reason to believe such a reversal of fortunes was coming when looking up and down the Avalanche roster on paper. It was a team without depth up front or on the blueline and an injury-prone goaltender who wasn’t getting any younger. Things looked bleak.
But a full off-season sure worked wonders for Bednar and Co. in Colorado. Instead of being thrust into the position — he was brought aboard late in the off-season ahead of the 2016-17 campaign after Patrick Roy shockingly resigned his post — Bednar was able to use the summer to get his systems in place and get the Avalanche playing the way he wanted. That didn’t necessarily aid the puck-possession game or Colorado’s underlying numbers, but there were slight upticks in scoring chance percentages for the Avalanche. Pair that with an outstanding performance from Nathan MacKinnon and Colorado shocked the NHL by improving by a whopping 47 points and earning a post-season berth for the first time since 2013-14.
THE CASE FOR CASSIDY
Difficult to imagine as it might be, the hiring of Cassidy was seen as a mistake in some circles. The Bruins were a good team last season under coach Claude Julien, doomed only by bad luck in the shooting department. Turns out, though, that Cassidy was every bit ready to take over and improve upon what Julien had put in place. In fact, this past season, you could make a case for the Bruins as the most dominant team in the entire league. Sure, they didn’t win the Presidents’ Trophy, but Boston flirted with the top record in the NHL and top spot in the entire Eastern Conference while maintaining top-five marks in Corsi for percentage, shots for percentage, scoring chances for percentage and goals for percentage at 5-on-5 when adjusted for score and venue. They were a do-nothing-wrong bunch under Cassidy.
Here’s where Cassidy’s candidacy gets that extra boost, too: he did it with a roster that was as banged up as any. The Bruins lost in the neighborhood of 300 man-games due to injury, and the only players to suit up in all 82 games were David Pastrnak and Tim Schaller. Missing more than 10 games were Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Charlie McAvoy and David Backes, among others. Regardless of their injury woes, though, the Bruins didn’t slow down for a second. Instead, the next-man-up system saw young guns come into the lineup and excel under Cassidy. Seven different rookies played at least a dozen games and those freshmen combined for 57 goals and 172 points.
THE CASE FOR GALLANT
While the actual top three for the Jack Adams were only announced Wednesday, we’ve known Gallant was going to be in the running — and likely win the award — since, what, the end of January? Around the time the expansion exemption lists were announced, it looked like the Golden Knights might have a shot at putting together a solid roster, but the perception of the first-year Vegas squad went from hot to cold after the expansion draft only for Gallant to mold his ragtag group of castoffs into one of the Western Conference’s top teams. Matter of fact, the Tampa Bay Lightning were the only team with more points than the Golden Knights at the all-star break.
Maybe the most impressive thing about Gallant’s work in Vegas this season isn’t the overall record, though, but his ability to get the most out of players who nothing more than middle-of-the-lineup skaters with other organizations. William Karlsson was given an opportunity to shine as a top-line pivot and proceeded to shock the NHL with a 40-goal breakout season. Erik Haula flirted with 30 goals in a top-six role. And the defensive standouts were equally impressive. Deryk Engelland transformed from a pugilist to top-four defender seemingly overnight under Gallant, while Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb took steps forward to prove they can play heavy minutes on a successful team.
Gallant, it should be noted, is also the only two-time Jack Adams finalist of the bunch. He finished second in voting in 2015-16 for his work in guiding the Florida Panthers to their best regular season record in franchise history.
WHO GOT SNUBBED?
By all appearances, there was only enough room for one coach to get the Jack Adams nod after taking a team from the league basement to the post-season, and Bednar got that spot. So, even though John Hynes helped the Devils bring post-season hockey back to New Jersey, he won’t be heading to Vegas as a finalist for the coach of the year honor. It’s a real shame, too, because the Devils were considered as much a long shot to make the post-season as the Golden Knights and Avalanche. The 27-point improvement in New Jersey left Hynes’ group only five points shy of the turnaround the Columbus Blue Jackets put together in 2016-17, which led to coach John Tortorella winning the Jack Adams.
Another notable name also left out of the running is Paul Maurice, whose Winnipeg Jets nearly won the Presidents’ Trophy one year after falling short of the post-season. Like the Avalanche and Devils, too, the Jets put together quite the season-to-season turnaround. Maurice’s group, on the strength of Vezina Trophy-quality goaltending and a high-flying offense, improved last season’s finish by 27 points and entered the playoffs as one of the biggest threats in the Western Conference. His work with young players — from Patrik Laine down to Jack Roslovic — has also been exceptional. He’s allowed them to fail and learn from those failures, which has led to the success the fresh-faced players have had in Winnipeg.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.