About a week ago, before the Rangers clinched the Presidents' Trophy and finished their regular season with 113 points, Darren Dreger posted a tweet that caught the attention of a lot of Rangers fans.
Vigneault has to be in contention for Jack Adams. Through injuries to top players, NYR poised to win Presidents Trophy. Very good coach.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) April 7, 2015
I think it goes without saying that this team transformed its identity in a hurry after Vigneault took over from John Tortorella for the 2013-14 season, it's also worth pointing out that Vigneault and the Rangers lost some key pieces this past offseason and had to work very hard to rebuild and get the most out of some key young players to find success in 2014-15. But you know what, you can say that of plenty of other coaches in the league. What you can't say about any other bench boss in the league is that they managed to coach their team to win the their division, their conference, have the best record in the league, clinch the Presidents' Trophy with two games to spare, and do it all without the best player on the team for two months while getting the most he could out of his star players, kids, and role players.
Before we assign too much value to how the Rangers performed without Lundqvist in regards to Vigneault deserving the Jack Adams, let's take a look at the numbers. The Rangers certainly weren't as unlucky as the poor Columbus Blue Jackets, who lead the league in man games lost to injury (mangameslost.com). How did the Rangers compare to the rest of the league in regards to the injuries they had to endure this season? Well, it actually looks like they got off pretty easily. Only the Montreal Canadiens were more fortunate in regards to staying healthy in 2014-15. However, Henrik Lundqvist's 24 man games lost to injury ranked fourth among all goaltenders behind Jonas Gustavsson, Viktor Fasth, and Robin Lehner. To put it simply, losing Lundqvist for over a quarter of the season was a much bigger handicap to the Rangers' success than the games missed by the other aforementioned goaltenders. The Rangers had to find a way to win without their best player and that is exactly what they did under Alain Vigneault and his coaching staff.
Let's take a look at some of the other leading candidates for the Jack Adams Award.
Bob Hartley, Calgary Flames
Did you expect the Calgary Flames to make the 2015 Playoffs this year? Did you expect them to do that after losing their best player, Mark Giordano, for the last 20 games of the season? Of course you didn't, no one did. I'm pretty sure the Flames were expecting the tires to come off after losing their captain, which is probably why they moved Sven Baertschi to the Canucks and Curtis Glencross to the Capitals to pick up a bunch of early picks around the trade deadline. However, Calgary found a way to finish third in their division, beating out the 2014 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings by two points, to return to the NHL Playoffs for the first time since 2009. Hartley simply found a way to make things work and got some very special hockey out of his very young group.
Peter Laviolette, Nashville Predators
Laviolette is understandably the favorite pick of a lot of talking heads. After missing the playoffs for two straight seasons, the Nashville Predators came back in a big way in 2014-15. The Preds finished second in the Central Division (behind only the St. Louis Blues) and did it all with one of the most unassuming but solid rosters in the league. Last season the Predators finished with 88 points. This season they finished with 104 points in Laviolette's first season with the club, which was helped along by a 28-9-4 record on home ice. Laviolette turned things around in a hurry in Nashville and found a way to put together one of the most surprising and productive lines in hockey. The man Laviolette replaced, Barry Trotz, is also being talked about as a candidate for the Jack Adams Award for what he has accomplished in Washington this season.
Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets
In Maurice's first season as the coach of the Jets the franchise returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 (when they were the Atlanta Thrashers). The Jets' 99 point regular season earned them the last Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Winnipeg was another team that was simply not expected to be very good at the onset of the 2014-15 season, but after the dust settled and the blockbuster trade, the fans that have the smallest and loudest arena in the NHL will get to see playoff hockey in Winnipeg for the first time in a long time. Maurice had to work around and through all kinds of on and off the ice shenanigans including the Evander Kane drama and subsequent blockbuster trade, injuries, and the Byfuglien suspension, but he still managed to get the Jets into the Playoffs.
Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings
Can you believe that this man has never won the Jack Adams Award? To many, Babcock is the epitome of a great hockey coach. He even looks like the perfect hockey coach. Since becoming the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings back in 2005 after the lockout, Babcock has coached his team into the playoffs each and every season he has been behind the bench and did so again this season. Babcock managed to get the Red Wings back to where they belong despite the club's goaltending woes and injuries. Last year Babcock was the runner up for the Jack Adams Award, and he is very deservedly among those being mentioned as real candidates to win it this year.
Dave Cameron, Ottawa Senators
The Senators fired head coach Paul MacLean on December 8th and handed the reins over to assistant coach Dave Cameron... and then this happened:
Random: Sens are first #NHL team in modern era (since 1943-44) to overcome 14-point deficit at any point during season and make the playoffs— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) April 13, 2015
Talk about turning things around, huh? Dave Cameron helped the Senators make history while getting the most out of some unexpected heroes along the way including Mark Stone, Andrew Hammond, and Mike Hoffman. I'm still not sure how Cameron and the Senators ended up in the 2015 Playoffs, but I'm certainly glad that the Rangers aren't seeing them in the first round after seeing what kind of hockey they can play.
Bruce Boudreau, Jon Cooper, and Willie Desjardins are among the other solid choices for the Jack Adams Award this season, but I figured that we didn't have to go into each and every coach that was ever mentioned as being a good candidate for the award. I don't know about you guys, but that seems like a lot of guys for Alain Vigneault to beat in order to win his second Jack Adams Award, which is why I seriously doubt we'll see it in his hands in Las Vegas this offseason.
So, what does one have to do to win this award? (source: NHL.com)
The Jack Adams Award is an annual award presented by the National Hockey League Broadcasters' Association to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success. The winner is selected in a poll among members of the NHL Broadcasters' Association at the end of the regular season.
The first Jack Adams Award was presented in 1974 to Fred Shero. A New York Rangers coach has never won the award and, as things currently stand, it looks like that will hold true for yet another season despite the remarkable success of Alain Vigneault in his brief time in New York. Don't feel too bad for AV though, he picked up a Jack Adams Award back in 2007 when he was with the Vancouver Canucks.
So why is it unlikely that AV will have to make some room on his mantelpiece? The biggest thing working against Vigneault is that the Rangers were expected to be a good (or great) team this season. When your team is expected to be good or great and than meets and/or exceeds those expectations, no one is really surprised or convinced that you deserve recognition for doing what you were expected to do. It's true of assessing coaching performances outside of the Jack Adams Award as well, coaches are most often put under the spotlight of scrutiny or adoration when things are going horribly Toronto-Maple-Leafs-level-wrong or unexpectedly well.
I know plenty of you will point out his inexplicable fascination with Tanner Glass and the club's woeful power play as serious hits to the argument for Vigneault winning the award, but don't lose sight of what he has accomplished since stepping behind the Rangers' bench. Behind all the gum chewing and all of the headache-inducing lineup decisions, Alain Vigneault coached this team to the best record in the league after the club lost or parted ways with Brad Richards, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, and Benoit Pouliot this past offseason. Those guys were not easy replace on paper, in the locker room, or on the ice, but Vigneault found a way to make it work.
Alain Vigneault coached J.T. Miller to his best professional hockey and knew just what buttons to push with Kevin Hayes to help him have a stellar rookie campaign, he rattled Chris Kreider's cage just enough to get the kid to his first 20 goal season after a very slow start, he did everything he possibly could to help Cam Talbot find the success he found this season without overworking him, he used Nash in all the right ways to get him back to being Rick Nash again, and he managed to find ways to win throughout the season despite injuries to key players like Henrik Lundqvist, Derek Stepan, Kevin Klein, and Martin St. Louis. Every coach faces adversity of all kinds during the regular season and in the playoffs, but very few have accomplished what Vigneault was able to do with the Rangers this season.
Despite all of those points I still don't see the Rangers having their first head coach named the Jack Adams Award winner this year. As great as Vigneault's year was as the Rangers' head coach in 2014-15, his team was expected to be successful. The same can't be said for some of the other coaches that are leading candidates for the honor. It isn't that AV is undeserving of the award, there just happens to be a few guys that are likely more deserving or, quite frankly, are better "feel good" picks.
Who do you think will win the Jack Adams? Let me know what you think in the comments section.
Let's go Rangers. Thanks for reading.