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Jack Adams Award: Analyzing Alain Vigneault’s case against Bruce Cassidy and John Tortorella

Analyzing how Alain Vigneault stacks up against Bruce Cassidy and John Tortorella for the Jack Adams.

Boston Bruins v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Alain Vigneault was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award last week. The Jack Adams Award is awarded annually to the National Hockey League coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.” The award is voted on by the National Hockey League Broadcasters Association at the end of the regular season. Vigneault is a finalist alongside Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, and Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella.

Vigneault has now been a finalist for the Jack Adams five times, and he has won it once (2006-07 with the Vancouver Canucks). The Flyers have had four coaches win the award, which is tied for the most in the league with the Detroit Red Wings and Phoenix Coyotes (Winnipeg Jets). The last Flyers coach to win the award was Bill Barber in the 2000-01 season.

Vigneault spoke about his “extra special” nomination last week, and he should have a pretty good chance to become just the sixth coach to win the award two times. Pat Burns holds the record with three Jack Adams Awards.

Back in March, Craig detailed Vigneault’s strong case to win the Jack Adams. That was written just before the season was suspended and most of the arguments remain the same. However, now that we know Vigneault is a finalist, as well as who he is nominated against, let’s take a look at how the three finalists compare.

Bruce Cassidy - Boston Bruins

The Bruins came into the 2019-20 season as one of the favorites to repeat as Eastern Conference champions, and one of the favorites in the entire league. After taking the St. Louis Blues to Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final, they were returning with most of that roster and looking for the Cup. Anything less than top-two seed in the East and a deep playoff run would be deemed a disappointment for the Bruins.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Bruce Cassidy isn’t deserving of the award. The playoffs are still to come, but the Bruins met – and possibly surpassed – their expectations for the regular season.

The Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy with a league-best 100 points in their 70 games. They finished with a record of 44-14-12, six points ahead of the St. Louis Blues (in 71 games) and eight points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning, who each had 92 points in 70 games.

Prior to the season, the over/under line for the Bruins’ point total – essentially how oddsmakers expected the Bruins to perform – was 100.5. The Bruins came up just shy of that total in only 70 games. For reference, the Bruins were on an 82-game pace of 117 points, 16.5 better than their over/under line.

Here is what Craig wrote about Cassidy (and similar coaches) in March, and it still rings very true:

“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.”

Cassidy is just that: a Jack Adams finalist, but he doesn’t have an open-and-shut case to win it.

Cassidy got the most out of an already good Bruins team that was probably of the mindset that the regular season was just a tune-up for the playoffs. That is enough to win the Jack Adams in some years, but in other years there is a coach that takes a team to the next level or overcomes offseason departures and in-season injuries to make the playoffs.

John Tortorella - Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets were written off by most people before the season. While the rest of the Metropolitan Division was improving, the Blue Jackets mostly sat and watched.

Craig also specifically touched on Tortorella’s work back in March:

“[Outside of the offseason departures,] 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.”’

Craig said it pretty well. Tortorella has a strong case to win the Jack Adams, but I don’t know if the Blue Jackets had what it takes – or have what it takes – to make the playoffs. They were on a downward trajectory in the Wild Card race (3-6-6 from February 8th to March 8th) while other teams were passing them and right on their tails. Only two of the Hurricanes, Islanders, Blue Jackets, Rangers, and Panthers were going to end up with a Wild Card spot, and it wasn’t looking good for Columbus.

The Blue Jackets’ over/under for the season was set at 84.5 points, just a 51.52 point percentage, and they were on an 82-game pace of 95 points (57.86 P%). They exceeded expectations, but not to the extent of the Bruins (or Flyers).

Alain Vigneault - Philadelphia Flyers

Craig’s whole article back in March centered around Vigneault’s very strong case, and since this is a Flyers blog, I will keep this short and sweet. Vigneault came in with a strong coaching staff and took a team with just a few offseason additions to the next level.

The Flyers’ over/under was set at 89.5 points (54.57 P%), and like the Bruins, they almost reached it during the shortened season with 89 points in 69 games (64.49 P%). That’s an 82-game pace of 106 points. Both the Bruins and Flyers had a point percentage of around 10 percent higher than their over/under.

Let’s get to the numbers.

Team performance in 2018-19 vs. 2019-20

This is a lot to take in, so let’s go through it a bit.

In terms of points – or point percentage due to the shortened season –, only the Bruins and Flyers improved. It seems odd that the coach of a team that got worse is a Jack Adams finalist, but that shows what the Blue Jackets went through this season. The Bruins improved upon their already impressive 65.24 P%, but the Flyers really knocked it out of the park with a 14.49% improvement – the equivalent of 14 points.

The next section is the more advanced stats – or underlying/possession numbers, whatever you want to call them – and they are at 5-on-5 play. The Flyers are the only team to improve in Corsi-For Percentage, Expected Goals-For Percentage, and Goals-For Percentage. Meanwhile, the Bruins’ possession numbers went down, and the Blue Jackets were a mixed bag. This may be skewed a bit due to how bad the Flyers were last season, but that’s kind of the whole point.

Moving on to special teams play, the Flyers saw improvements of three percent on both the power play and penalty kill. The Bruins got worse ever so slightly on the power play, but their penalty killing made up for it. The Blue Jackets, however, saw a net negative due to a slight increase in power-play efficiency and decline in penalty killing.

Finally, we come to the Stat That Matters: goals.

The Bruins improved at both ends of the ice with 0.11 more goals for per game, and 0.2 less goals allowed per game for an overall improvement of +0.31 goals per game. On the other hand, the Blue Jackets’ scoring predictably went down due to the loss of Panarin and their injuries, but over a half a goal is quite the drop off.

They became a more defensive team with 0.21 less goals allowed per game. But that still leaves them with a 0.34 goals per game decrease. They went from scoring 0.3 more goals per game than their opponent to having a negative goal differential. I don’t see how a team with a negative goal differential (even if it is only -1) can have the Jack Adams winner, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Once again, the Flyers came out on top. They scored 0.35 more goals per game, while allowing 0.64 less goals per game, making a difference of nearly a full goal per game. That’s seriously impressive. This year’s Flyers scored more goals (227) in just 69 games than the team did in the ‘14-15 (212), ‘15-16 (211), and ‘16-17 (212) seasons. A rate of 3.29 goals per game is the Flyers’ highest since 1996-97 (3.29), and we all know what happened that season.

Here’s a look at how the three teams’ performances changed from last season to this season.

‘18-19 season to ‘19-20 season

18-19 to '19-20 Point % CF% (5v5) xGF% (5v5) GF% (5v5) PP% PK% GF/GP GA/GP GD/GP
18-19 to '19-20 Point % CF% (5v5) xGF% (5v5) GF% (5v5) PP% PK% GF/GP GA/GP GD/GP
Bruins 6.19% -2.22% -1.10% 2.20% -0.70% 4.40% 0.11 -0.2 0.31
Blue Jackets -1.90% -1.10% 1.05% -1.77% 1.00% -3.30% -0.55 -0.21 -0.34
Flyers 14.49% 2.57% 1.91% 6.83% 3.70% 3.30% 0.35 -0.64 0.99

It’s incredible that the Flyers improved in every category across the board. The Bruins had a pretty good regular season compared to last, but it’s hard to say that about the Blue Jackets. I know the award isn’t about how a team has improved from one season to the next, but it’ll be tough to swallow a Tortorella win given Vigneault’s case.

Another thing that Vigneault has over the other two finalists is that he is in his first year as head coach. Cassidy took his team to the Stanley Cup Final, and Tortorella is in his fifth season with the Blue Jackets and swept the Lightning in the playoffs last year. Vigneault came into a team with a certain culture, had everyone buy in as he implemented his system, and the results are showing.

Vigneault’s first season in Philadelphia has undoubtedly been a success. He has gotten production out of his top veterans, the young players have progressed well, and the depth guys have been better than the sum of their parts due to the position they’ve been put in.

With all due respect to Cassidy and Tortorella, Vigneault deserves the Jack Adams Award.