The Philadelphia Flyers’ hirings of Chuck Fletcher and Alain Vigneault paid dividends in the 2019-20 season. Here’s why Vigneault is favored to win the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
Vigneault’s Impressive Pedigree
The Jack Adams Award is voted by members of the National Hockey League Broadcasters’ Association. They submit their ranked ballots following the conclusion of each regular season. Vigneault, 59, has been a finalist four times before in his career. He has one win, from his first season with the Vancouver Canucks in 2006-07.
Vigneault is known as a bit of a turnaround artist, who gets immediate results when he takes over a team. His Adams win came after he took over the Canucks from Marc Crawford. He guided the team to a 13-point improvement in the standings, then to the second round of the playoffs.
Vigneault was nominated for the Adams again in 2010-11. That year, the Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy and came within a game of capturing the Stanley Cup.
Bright On Broadway
The Canucks fired Vigneault on May 22, 2013. He was hired by the New York Rangers one month later and wasted little time making an impact. After a 3-7-0 start, Vigneault settled in and the 2013-14 Rangers went 42-24-6 the rest of the way.
By season’s end, they looked like a typical Vigneault team at both ends of the ice. The Rangers tallied the second-most shots per game and had third-best regular-season penalty kill.
The Rangers really hit their stride in the playoffs. They took out the Flyers in seven games before beating Pittsburgh and Montreal. In their first their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994, they ultimately lost in five games to the Los Angeles Kings.
The Flyers’ Turnaround
Flyers fans are hoping this season ends in a similar way if and when the NHL gets its 24-team playoff tournament underway later this summer. With 89 points in 69 games, this year’s team was on a 105-point pace when the season was paused. Philadelphia was already past the 82 points it collected last year, which ended with a sixth-place finish in the Metro and no playoffs under the watch of Dave Hakstol and then Scott Gordon.
Due to the abbreviated campaign, points percentage is the best way to analyze improvement across NHL teams this year. The Jack Adams award is often said to be an award for the team whose coach engineers the biggest turnaround in a season. This year, that’s Vigneault.
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Top five most-improved NHL teams in 2019-20
- Philadelphia Flyers 14.5%
- Colorado Avalanche 10.8%
- Edmonton Oilers 10.3%
- New York Rangers 8.8%
- Vancouver Canucks 7.1%
Who’s The Competition?
One name that has been mentioned as an Adams contender is Bruce Cassidy, who guided the Boston Bruins to a Presidents’ Trophy-winning season and a 6.2% improvement in points percentage.
Mike Sullivan also gets attention. Pittsburgh improved by just 1.3% this season but dealt with a litany of major injuries, including losing Sidney Crosby for 28 games, Evgeni Malkin for 14 and Jake Guentzel for 30. All are expected to be healthy and ready to go when play resumes.
Jared Bednar has also done a sneaky-good job with the Colorado Avalanche. Remember when he was hired from the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters just two weeks after Patrick Roy abruptly resigned as the Colorado coach in August of 2016?
The Avs finished last in the league in Bednar’s first season, but Joe Sakic stuck by his man. Then, Colorado improved from .293 to .579 before dipping back to .549 and jumping to .657 — tied for third in the league with Tampa Bay when the season was paused.
Another coach with a reputation for turning teams around is Dave Tippett, who has done just that in his first season with the Edmonton Oilers.
A veteran like Vigneault, Tippett improved the Dallas Stars by 21 points in his first-ever NHL head-coaching season in 2002-03. He then won the Jack Adams in 2009-10 when he guided the then-Phoenix Coyotes to a 28-point improvement and their first playoff appearance in seven years.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl get the lion’s share of the credit for the Oilers’ improved season, but Tippett has masterfully deployed his superstars and brought along a number of unheralded youngsters and journeymen to help support them.
The Bottom Line
In a year where eight NHL head coaches lost their jobs, many of the men who remained at the helm did impressive work with their squads.
Cassidy, Sullivan, Bednar, and Tippett deserve acknowledgment for their achievements. Still, Alain Vigneault is favored to win the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
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