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The Jack Adams Is Not A Crutch

Jack AdamsIt seems people are a bit torn on Alain Vigneault these days, but one of the things that keeps bugging me is I keep hearing people say "he won the Jack Adams...he was the best coach IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE last year." As if to suggest questioning his ability to coach this team right now is off the table because he won an award last season.

...inhale...exhale...commence rant...

The coach is leading a team that is likely going to change year to year, so my casual guess is that the chemistry, cohesion and general luck that a team has one year isn't necessarily going to carry over to another (to speak nothing of the adjustments that other teams will make). Is winning the Jack Adams really so valuable that we can ignore other shortcomings of the coach? I say no; rather it's great marketing material for the coach for the rest of his career.

Before I return to Vigneault, a quick snapshot of the Jack Adams:

The award (named after a guy who played in Vancouver nonetheless), has been around for 34 seasons (including the lockout year) and is given to the coach who is "adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success." Those voting are members of The NHL Broadcasters' Association (NHLBA) which has dues-paying members and that's the extent I can find on the group (if anyone can find a list of the NHLBA please let me know). So the coach of the year is what the MSM boys club feels had the best...what, stats? Feel-good story? Easiest thing to reference when a broadcast is at a low point? Whatever the case, let's agree that "adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success" as criteria is debatable depending on who you are talking to or what the paying members of the NHLBA deem success.

Of the 33 winners, seven (Scotty Bowman X 2, Al Arbour, Pat Quinn, Mike Keenan, Glen Sather and Joel Quenneville) had lead their team to the best overall record in the league, three (Pat Quinn, Mike Keenan and Pat Burns) had lead them to the Cup finals but lost and three (Fred Shero, Scotty Bowman and John Tortorella) won the Cup the same year they won the Jack Adams. That means the award has a 21.2% correlation to the coach of the best team in the league and a 9% correlation to the coach of the Stanley Cup champs. It's not a frequently repeatable award either: five guys have won it multiple times (sometimes - like Quinn, Lemaire or Burns - on different teams) and only Jacques Demers has won in consecutive seasons.

Let's take a quick look at the point difference between the previous season and the season the coach won the award over the past decade:

Pat Burns, Bruins (97-98)
96-97: 26-47-9, 61 pts, 6th
97-98: 39-30-13, 91 pts, 2nd
Diff: 30 points; 33% increase

Jacques Martin, Senators (98-99)
97-98: 34-33-13, 83 pts, 5th
98-99: 44-23-15, 103 pts, 1st
Diff: 20 points; 21% increase

Joel Quenneville, Blues (99-00)
98-99: 37-32-13, 87 pts, 2nd
99-00: 51-19-11, 114 pts, 1st (Presidents Trophy Winner)
Diff: 27 points; 24% increase

Bill Barber, Flyers (00-01)
99-00: 45-22-12-3, 105 pts, 1st
00-01: 43-25-11-3, 100 pts, 2nd
Diff: -5 points; -5% decrease

Bob Francis, Coyotes (01-02)
00-01: 35-27-17-3, 90 pts - 4th
01-02: 40-27-9-6, 95 pts - 2nd
Diff: 5 points; 6% increase

Jacques Lemaire, Wild (02-03)
01-02: 26-35-12-9, 73 pts - 5th
02-03: 42-29-10-1, 95 pts - 3rd
Diff: 22 points; 24% increase

John Tortorella, Lightning (03-04)
02-03: 36-25-16-5, 93 pts - 1st
03-04: 46-22-8-6, 106 pts - 1st (Cup Winner)
Diff: 13 points; 12% increase

Lindy Ruff, Sabres (05-06)
03-04: 37-34-7-4, 85 pts - 5th
05-06: 52-24-0-6, 110 pts - 2nd
Diff: 25 points; 23% increase

Alain Vigneault, Canucks (06-07)
05-06: 42-32-8, 92 pts - 4th
06-07: 49-26-7, 105 pts - 1st
Diff: 13 points; 12% increase

Quenneville, Burns, Lemaire and Martin made the most definitive impact on their team statistically but you have mixed in the likes of Barber (statistically insignificant but a heart warming story) and Francis (statistically insignificant but he ran a team gutted of Roenick, Tkachuk and Khabibulin into the playoffs). You have Tortorella who won it when he guided Tampa Bay to a 13 point increase (12%) over 02-03 totals (and won the Southeast championship as well as the Cup) while Sutter lead Calgary to a 21 point increase (roughly 20%) over their 02-03 totals, a season they weren't even in the playoffs.

Vigneault's Jack Adams was awarded when he achieved a 12% increase over 05-06, though, by comparison in the same season, Carlyle lead the Ducks to an 11% increase (and the Cup), Lemaire lead the Wild to a 19% increase, and Therrien lead the Penguins to a whopping 45% increase. But Vigneault's edge was helping settle a listing Vancouver franchise though it's very easy to argue if Luongo had an off year, or if the Sedins didn't both explode, the award was going to Therrien.

It's also worth noting that there are great coaches currently who have never won the Jack Adams (Babcock, Carlyle, Robinson, and Hitchcock for instance). It's also no blank check in terms of employment; of the coaches mentioned above, Tortorella, Ruff and Martin are all on the hot seat, Quenneville, Barber, Francis and Burns are jobless (though Burns is a special case with his health) and, looking further back in history Ted Nolan (96-97) has his own troubles, Marc Crawford (94-95) can't coach his way out of a paperbag, and Lemaire (93-94) isn't coaching the Devils anymore.

Don't get me wrong, it's a great honor to receive the Jack Adams, but whether the NHLBA decides to honor a statistical achievement, a good story, a great goalie or any number of an infinite list of team intangibles, let's call it what it is: an "atta boy" for a good season that has no direct correlation on any future season. You are the best coach at the end of that season. Start of the next season? Hit the reset button because it's over.

So, if you're going to defend Vigneault, you can't start and stop the argument at the Jack Adams. He should be held accountable for the record he's created on the teams he's coached. He has a career record of 158–144–35–7 which puts him 6th out of the current 13 coaches who have not coached more then 350 career games. How about the offensive strengths of the teams he has coached? I'll finish what the KB guys started:

Offensive Output With Montreal/Vancouver
Season | Goals For | NHL Rank
1997-98 | 235 | 5th
1998-99 | 184 | 27th
1999-00 | 196 | 26th
2000-01 | 206 | 22nd (Fired 20 games in)
2006-07 | 222 | 22nd
2007-08 | 213 | 23st

In six seasons, Vigneault has guided his teams to the bottom third in offense five times; four of those teams didn't made the post season. Of the two teams that did, neither has gone past the second round. One could argue that, in both Vancouver and Montreal, he had few offensive talents at his disposal, but is not the job of a coach to make the best with the players he has (I believe that's what got Francis the nod as a Jack Adams winner in Phoenix)?

Additionally, in two seasons with Vancouver we have watched him misuse certain players (Naslund, Linden), verbally call out other players (Cooke, Bulis, Bieksa, Mitchell, Luongo) and has a reoccurring problem of creating effective lines. It's still an easy argument to make that the only reason Vancouver has had any level of success under Vigneault is because he has Luongo playing in his prime (and Vigneault managed to compromise that edge when he overworked Lui badly over the final two months of last season). As Jim Jamieson said in the Province yesterday, "When a team loses seven of its last eight games -- including several no-shows -- with a playoff spot in the balance, questions have to be asked."

Loooong story short: here we are with a new GM who has promised to create a more offensive-minded, up-tempo game with a coach who has never shown he can lead a team that way. We have a coach who was just given an extension but never, at any point in the press conference, said he was ready to embrace a more open style of play.

Can Vigneault coach effectively at both ends of the ice? Can he tout the hard working, blue collar theme and blend that with the freedom to let pure offensive players flourish all into one consistent coaching message? Moreover, will free agents be excited to be approached by Gillis to know they'll have Vigneault to deal with? All hate for him aside, the (former) Canuck captain is not likely to return because of this and he, at his best, is a pure goal scorer.

I don't know these answers. Neither do you. Sadly, neither does Gillis though he clearly has a great deal of faith that the coaching will change.

What we do know is Vigneault is a good coach - even a great one - but one with limits and question marks. One that is not beyond repeating certain questions or expressing serious doubts. And certainly one that is past the expiration date on using the Jack Adams as a crutch.

Jack Adams or no Jack Adams, 2006-07 is over and 2008-09 is a whole new game.