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Alain Vigneault has a strong case to win the Jack Adams

A lot of head coaches are in the conversation this season, but AV has an argument to win the award over most of them.

NHL: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Flyers haven’t had a head coach win the Jack Adams award since Bill Barber during the 2000-01 season. The Orange and Black have had a few campaigns since then that may have warranted some attention for their head coach, but Philly is coming up on 20 seasons without their bench boss earning the title. With how well the team has played this season and increased positivity surrounding the organization (both locally and nationally) is this the year the Jack Adams returns to Philadelphia?

In terms of best season-to-season turnaround it’s hard to argue any other coach in the league has improved their club’s play this year more than Alain Vigneault. He took over a team that finished last season 37-37-8 for 82 points while sporting a minus-39 goal differential. With 14 games still remaining on the team’s schedule, the Flyers currently have 41 wins and 89 points with a goal differential of plus-38. The only other bench boss who could really make the case for a better overall season-to-season improvement is Dave Tippett, the Edmonton Oilers’ head coach who also is enduring his first campaign with his new team. After going 35-38-9 in 2018-19 with a minus-42 goal differential with Todd McLellan for the first 20 contests and Ken Hitchcock for the last 62, the former Flyer has helped Edmonton to 37 victories and 82 points with a plus-11 goal differential through 68 games. In terms of these two cases AV has a decent argument to win the Jack Adams over Tippett due to having less high-end talent, as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are currently one and top when it comes to point leaders in the NHL while Travis Konecny’s team-leading 61 points is tied for 30th.

Impacts of Vigneault and Tippett

Head coach Seasons Record Goal Differential Goals/game Goals against/game Shots/game Shots against/game Corsi for % Expected goals-for %
Head coach Seasons Record Goal Differential Goals/game Goals against/game Shots/game Shots against/game Corsi for % Expected goals-for %
Alain Vigneault's impact 2018-19 Flyers 37-37-8 (82 pts) Minus-39 2.94 (18th) 3.41 (29th) 31.5 (17th) 32.5 (22nd) 48.45 (21st) 48.73 (18th)
2019-20 Flyers 41-20-7 (89 pts) Plus-38 3.34 (Tied-5th) 2.78 (Tied-7th) 31.3 (Tied-16th) 28.6 (1st) 51.05 (10th) 50.68 (15th)
Dave Tippett's impact 2018-19 Oilers 35-38-9 (79 pts) Minus-42 2.79 (20th) 3.30 (25th) 29.2 (28th) 31.7 (Tied-18th) 47.98 (24th) 47.63 (23rd)
2019-20 Oilers 37-24-8 (82 pts) Plus-11 3.17 (11th) 3.01 (14th) 29.5 (28th) 31.9 (Tied-19th) 47.88 (27th) 48.60 (22nd)

On top of that, Vigneault has a better case for improving his team’s overall play. Just looking at the numbers above you can see how AV has done more work to make the Flyers a better team than Tippett has with the Oilers. Tippett has helped Edmonton improve their goals-per-game and goals against-per-game rates, but Vigneault has drastically moved the Orange and Black up the league ranks in both these categories more than Tippett’s done with his team while at the same time made major strides in Philly’s ability to suppress shots and drive play.

Travis Green and David Quinn aren’t in their first years with their clubs, but they are two other head coaches who are getting some love for the Jack Adams thanks to their overall improvement from the 2018-19 campaign to this season. The Canucks finished nine points out of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference last season while the Rangers finished 20 points out of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but Vancouver is battling for a wild card spot this year and New York still has a shot to sneak into the postseason. If either team makes it the head coach will surely have his name thrown around to win the award, but there’s a lot to point to for the teams’ successes outside of coaching. For Vancouver J.T. Miller has broken the 25-goal and 70-point plateaus for the first time in his career in his first season with the Canucks and Quinn Hughes is in the running for the Calder Trophy while the club is benefitting from a weak Pacific Division (they’d be the third team out in the Eastern Conference instead of four points out of third in their division). For New York the team is still not playing defense (24th in goals against-per-game and 30th in shots against-per-game) and if they somehow make the playoffs it’s going to be because Artemi Panarin is a freak of nature who is on pace for 38 goals and 112 points.

AV has a strong case for best season-to-season improvement, but a few other head coaches are viable Jack Adams’ options due to injury-riddled rosters, losing key players over the summer, or both. One of the front runners is, unfortunately, Mike Sullivan of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since their Stanley Cup in 2017 (#ColtonSissonsScored) the Pens’ postseasons keep getting shorter, as they lost in the second round of 2018 in six games to the Washington Capitals before being swept last April by the New York Islanders in the opening round. Although the season isn’t over yet and the playoffs are still a couple weeks away, it feels as though the Pens are in a position to at least challenge their first round opponent if not beat them which would be a hell of an accomplishment considering all their injuries. To go along with Jake Guentzel suffering a season-ending injury late in December, the Pens have had Nick Bjugstad and top-pair blue liner Brian Dumoulin recently return from 46- and 37-game absences respectively. Sullivan has also had to deal with Justin Schultz (23 games), Patric Hornqvist (17), Evgeni Malkin (14), Bryan Rust (14), John Marino (13), Zach Aston-Reese (11), and Kris Letang (eight) being out of the lineup for a good chunk of the season. The usual response to the Pens winning while dealing with injuries is “they still have Sidney Crosby” but Sullivan had to go 28 straight games without his captain due to a core muscle injury only to see his team go 18-6-4.

Another head coach who should be in consideration is Paul Maurice of the Winnipeg Jets. A draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1985, Maurice has his team battling for one of the final wild card spots in the Western Conference despite losing Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers from his blue line over the summer. Although Neal Pionk has filled in nicely for Trouba, Maurice has also been helping Winnipeg deal with the loss of key forward Bryan Little, who has played a total of seven games this season and has been out of the lineup since November 5th due to taking a puck to the head. Despite keeping the Jets competitive the head coach might lose some Jack Adams appeal thanks to how well his club drives play and Connor Hellebuyck’s season. Winnipeg is 22nd with a 48.5 Corsi for percentage and last with a 43.58 Expected goals-for percentage meaning they get pushed around more at 5-on-5 than the 17-win Detroit Red Wings. As for Hellebuyck his .921 save percentage may not jump off the page, but considering how many high-danger chances he’s seeing and how poorly Laurent Brossoit is doing (.895 save percentage) facing the same shots against it seems as though a lot of the Jets’ success can be pinned on the netminder.

One coach that has dealt with numerous injuries to his roster and may have seen the biggest downgrade in overall team skill from 2018-19 to 2019-20 is John Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets. After he helped to orchestrate a first-round sweep of the President Trophy winners in the Tampa Bay Lightning last postseason, Tortorella watched the trio of Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky leave town. To make matters worse Columbus is the club that’s been hampered by injuries the most this season. On top of Brandon Dubinsky being out the entire season for wrist surgery, Tortorella has had to work around injuries to Josh Anderson (has missed 44 games due to injury and is out for the season), Ryan Murray (43), Alexandre Texier (34), Markus Nutivaara (33), Cam Atkinson (26), Oliver Bjorkstrand (21), Seth Jones (14), and Alexander Wennberg (13) at this point in time not to mention several of this players will continue to miss games. More importantly Tortorella had to go 24 games without Joonas Korpisalo due to right knee surgery injury leaving Elvis Merzlikins as the main guy in net. With Korpisalo out Merzlikins went 12-5-4 with a .935 save percentage to help keep the Blue Jackets in the hunt for one of the wild card spots in the Eastern Conference. Much like Maurice the assistance of an amazing performance in the blue paint may work against Tortorella’s case for head coach of the year (same if his team doesn’t make the playoffs), but considering the number of man-games lost to injury for Columbus this season if they play into mid-April it’s a huge accomplishment.

Other head coaches have their teams playing as good if not better than they had last season, but certain instances of that in the NHL (Bruce Cassidy with the Boston Bruins, Jon Cooper with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Craig Berube of the St. Louis Blues, and Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche) involves a team that excelled in 2018-19 with the expectation that they would be as good if not better in 2019-20. That’s not to say these coaches haven’t pressed the right buttons or pushed their teams along this season, but having familiarity with a Stanley Cup contender that only added skill to their rosters last offseason shouldn’t lead to being labeled the best difference maker behind the bench. One or two of these coaches will most likely be a Jack Adams’ finalist, but none have an open-and-shut case to win it.

There have also been quite a few changes behind the bench across the league this season, but it’s hard to make a case for any of the new head coaches winning the Jack Adams. Sheldon Keefe (Toronto Maple Leafs), Geoff Ward (Calgary Flames), Rick Bowness (Dallas Stars), Alain Nasreddine (New Jersey Devils), John Hynes (Nashville Predators), Bob Boughner (San Jose Sharks) and Dean Evason (Minnesota Wild) haven’t altered the trajectories of the their teams enough to push their ways into the head coach of the year discussion. Peter DeBoer, who was let go by the Sharks in mid-December only to be hired by the Vegas Golden Knights a month later, may have the strongest case for mid-season replacements but the decision to fire Gerard Gallant was confusing because Vegas was playing fine. When Gallant was fired on January 15th the Golden Knights were 24-19-6 and playing well (second behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for best Expected goals-for percentage with 54.84), but sat fifth in the Pacific Division and outside the playoff picture. DeBoer has kept Vegas playing well, but Gallant couldn’t buy a save from Marc-Andre Fleury (.906 save percentage through January 14th) and Malcolm Subban (.898 save percentage). If he had received a little better goaltending or had the benefit of Robin Lehner in net Gallant could be having the same success DeBoer is having at the moment if general manager Kelly McCrimmon had showed some patience.

There are a lot of names in the running for Jack Adams this season. Vigneault’s case is as good as any other coach, as he’s seemingly improved several facets of his team and has moved them up the standings a considerable amount in just his first season with the club. The offseason acquisitions of Kevin Hayes and Matt Niskanen are big reasons why the Flyers have improved as well, but they aren’t the only reasons the team is playing better. The Jack Adams has become an award given to which head coach has benefited most from elite goaltending over the last few seasons, but Vigneault has done the most to push his team forward without leaning on one goalie bailing out his team.