At this point a return to the ice for the National Hockey League seems distant.
The prudent and responsible procedure is to hunker down at home, stay safe, hygienic and let this COVID-19 pandemic dissipate in time.
Life as we know it – or remember it more currently – will return, but not until the World Health Organization (WHO), medical professionals, scientists and government officials sound the all clear.
In the interim, the NHL season remains in limbo with two plausible options: a return to the 2019-20 season at some point this spring/summer and thus to a Stanley Cup conclusion; or the season’s cancelation entirely and a fresh start-up in September.
And truthfully, it could be months before a decision is made either way.
So, regardless of the league’s path moving ahead, it doesn’t hurt via this space to examine the potential candidates for The Jack Adams Award, emblematic of the NHL’s Coach of Year winner.
After all, whether the league’s awards are handed out or not, some recognition for the job performed by any of these individuals deserves a level of acknowledgement and consideration, especially since the season was only weeks away from completion.
And as one of the many broadcasters in the league, I have the privilege of casting a vote for the award (colleagues Dennis Beyak and Brian Munz also get a vote locally). The criteria we’re asked to use in submitting our selection is based on the individual "adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success."
As a requirement, each broadcaster is asked to forward three names on their ballot. From there, the numbers are totaled and a winner is determined.
In understanding the season isn’t concluded - and this list is purely subjective - I have created a Top 5 list below in order to include more debate and discussion.
Here is my list in no particular order:
Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues - Proving last year’s run to the Stanley Cup was no flash-in-the-plan after he was handed the team’s reigns November 20, 2018, the former NHL enforcer has his team at the top of the Western Conference standings and holding down the second-best record in the entire NHL at the time of the league’s shutdown. This has been accomplished despite having his top offensive player and scoring threat, Vladimir Tarasenko, for only 10 games this season. And those 10 outings were all in October. Berube, 54, guided the Blues through 63 regular season games last season to produce a .651 points percentage. This season, he’s improved on that by 11 points to .662 and his team boasts a stellar home record of 23-7-5, second only to Philadelphia. The Blues are certainly an older group with championship goaltending, but Berube continues to push the right buttons, allows them to play creatively and understands mixing in younger players to maintain speed and freshness, as Robert Thomas and Zach Sanford have flourished under his tutelage. He’s a player’s coach with an excellent grasp of the game’s changing nuances.
Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins - His team is the NHL’s top point producer with 100 when the "pause" to the season occurred. A President’s Trophy was shaping up to be seemingly a lock, despite the fact that his Bruins were 0-7 in games decided in a shootout this season. But who needs those extra points when your team is the best in regulation time with a 38-14-18 record for a .671 points percentage. Cassidy, 54, guided Boston to 49 wins and a Stanley Cup final appearance last year, losing in a seventh and deciding game to St. Louis. This year, they were on pace to surpass that win total and undoubtedly appear as a front-runner to finding their way back to hockey in mid-June. Cassidy understands his team and has created an environment that balances scoring, defensive awareness and physicality. In doing so, he’s allowed one of the league’s brightest talents, David Pastrnak, to flourish in producing a career year in goals (48) and points (95) and the potential for a Hart Trophy. He is also partly responsible for the league’s oldest player, Zdeno Chara at 43, playing like he’s 10 years younger with a chip on his shoulder the size of Boston Harbor.
Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets – At the start of the season no one truly knew what the expectations were for the Jets, including most in the Winnipeg market. The losses on the blue line piled up like snow banks on Portage Avenue in January. Gone were Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Jacob Trouba in the off-season. Then Dustin Byfuglien bowed out just before training camp, undecided whether hunting geese or shooting pucks was more important. Left to sift through it all was Maurice, 53, who has produced some excellent Jets’ seasons since taking over seven years ago, but didn’t receive any Jack Adams consideration, including in 2017-18 when the franchise produced its best-ever season by 10 furlongs. What Maurice has done this season is remarkable considering his blue line at one point had two waiver wire claims (Luca Sbisa and Carl Dahlstrom) playing on it, coupled with other such staples as Tucker Poolman, Sami Niku, Anthony Bitetto and Neal Pionk, who combined for less than 300 NHL games played prior to this season starting. Add in the 320-plus man-games lost to injury this season, his team’s overall age being 17 months younger than the league average, a few eclectic personalities and a volatile roster turnover because of the above aforementioned factors and you have a challenging season for any coach. However, Maurice has soldiered on to push his club into the top wild card in the Western Conference. Based on the adversity of the season, one might arguably consider this year to be Maurice’s best in the NHL, which is saying something for a coach of 1,600 games. Finally, his continuing work in developing stars Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine into bona fide two-way players should also resonate with voters.
John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets - "Torts" has his team sitting in a playoff spot this season even after losing his starting goaltender (Sergei Bobrovsky) and top scorer (Artemi Panarin) from last year to other teams via free agency. The fact Columbus is even in the conversation for a post-season berth is remarkable even though they tenuously occupy a wild card spot in the East. Tortorella has navigated his team through injury troubles that have the Blue Jackets leading the league in man-games lost at 411 entering their last game in Vancouver before the COVID-19 abeyance. And it’s not like Tortorella hasn’t worked through adversity before as a coach, or been recognized for those contributions either. He’s won the Jack Adams Award twice before, including three years ago with the Blue Jackets and previous to that in 2003-04 when he guided Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup. And while he’s mellowed somewhat in his coaching personality as he’s advanced into his early 60s, he still demands a certain style of play from all his players while at the same time understanding the make-up of his team. Those that play for him enjoy doing so and the results are exemplary, especially this season. He might not be a front-runner for the award in 2020, but he should at least receive some consideration for the job he’s performed.
Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche – The youngest coach on our list has had his team trending in the right direction for the last couple of years, but the turnaround is still impressive when you consider they were the worst team in the league – the worst! – only three season ago. Last year, the Avs earned a wild card berth on the second last game of the regular season by defeating the Jets at home. This season the 48-year-old has his club residing in second place in the Central Division and pushing the St. Louis Blues for first overall in the West. The Avs boast the best road record in the league at 24-11-2 and a Western Conference best plus-46 goal differential. The team’s upward trajectory continues in large part to a coach who has recently worked his way up from the ECHL and AHL to advance to one of hockey’s 31 pinnacle coaching positions. And it’s not been accomplished easily despite the fact that superstar Nathan MacKinnon resides on the roster. In 2016-17, Colorado finished last in the league by 21 points. It was Bednar’s first season behind the Avs bench after his predecessor Patrick Roy shockingly quit just prior to the season starting. That dismal first campaign could set a different course for Bednar, but instead he maneuvered through that and his team’s buy-in to his message is clearly evident, especially this season. Reclamation project Valeri Nichuskin and Calder candidate Cale Makar are two of his finest illustrations of developing players while crafting a contending team.
Other notables include: Dave Tippett, Edmonton; Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia; Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh and David Quinn, New York Rangers.
Stay safe and healthy everyone!