The 2024 Jack Adams race is one with lots of personal ties for Rick Tocchet and the Canucks

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
5 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks head into 2024, and into the back-half of the 2023/24 regular season, with plenty to play for.
Making — and then making some noise in — the playoff is obvious first and foremost on the goals-list. But though as hockey players they are loath to admit it, the Canucks also have a lot to play for on an individual basis, too, including several notable trophy-chases that will ensue over the next four months.
Quinn Hughes is tracking to win the Norris, and will probably pick up some Hart Trophy votes along the way, too.
JT Miller is another Hart candidate, and if all were fair, he’d probably nab some Selke Trophy votes, as well.
Thatcher Demko will probably get some buzz for the Vezina.
Even Brock Boeser remains in the hunt for the Rocket Richard, though Auston Matthews is going to be difficult to catch.
Each of those players is going to have to at least maintain, and in some cases increase, their current level of performance to bring home the hardware. And while that very well may happen, we feel quite confident in asserting that the players themselves won’t be focused on that, and will instead be zeroed in on the postseason.
But there’s one more Canuck in line for a major award for whom making the playoffs — and finishing as high as possible in the standings — comes part-and-parcel with their trophy-chase, and that individual might just be the most likely recipient on the team already.
We’re talking about Rick Tocchet and the 2024 Jack Adams Award for being the coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.”
Most Vegas outlets currently have Tocchet as the likely winner, and it’s not difficult to see why. Typically, the Jack Adams goes to whoever is essentially the head coach of the most-improved team. If your team was bad last year, and then improved drastically this year, chances are good you’re going to get some votes for the Jack Adams. It’s just the way the NHL Broadcasters Association votes.
So, it’s not hard to see why Tocchet is the leading candidate. When he took over in late January 2023, the Canucks were sitting at an 18-25-3 record, a .424 point-percentage good for 27th place in the league.
Since taking over, Tocchet has gone 43-22-7 for a point-percentage of .681. After failing to push the Canucks into the playoffs last year, a near-impossible task, he’s pushed them all the way to the top of the standings in 2023/24, and has this team looking the best it has in the past decade, at least.
All this, after the Canucks were once again picked to finish outside of the playoffs looking in.
So, Tocchet wins the Jack Adams, right? So long as the Canucks don’t totally tank out from here, they’re probably the most improved team, Tocchet has very clearly played a demonstrable role in that improvement, and that’s what wins the award.
But wait.
There are at least two other leading candidates out there that might just steal the Jack Adams away with some drastic team-improving of their own. And they just so happen to be individuals with some obvious personal ties to Tocchet and the Canucks.
The first is Andre “Bear” Tourigny in Arizona. When Tocchet was fired by the Coyotes at the conclusion of the 2020/21 season, Tourigny was hired out of the OHL and the World Juniors as his replacement.
Tourigny didn’t have the same immediate success as Tocchet did in Vancouver. There was no “Tourigny Turnaround.” The Coyotes went 25-50-7 in 2021/22, good for eighth in the division, and 28-40-14 the year after, good for seventh in the division.
But the Coyotes were very much a team in transition, and though Tourigny’s impact on their young roster took a little longer to show, it has very much made a difference.
Bear and the Coyotes are 19-14-2 so far this year, which might not sound all that impressive, but come on. This is the Arizona Coyotes we’re talking about. They aren’t even supposed to be here by this point.
Right now the Coyotes are hanging on to a wild card spot, which is higher in the standings than anyone can reasonably remember them having been. Should they hang on to that spot all season long, and crack the playoffs against all probability, Tourigny will no doubt have a strong case for the Jack Adams.
Heck, just look at the Arizona roster, and then look at Vancouver’s, and ask yourself who is really getting more out of their team.
Of particular note is Arizona’s home record, which stands at 12-5-0, second in the Central and seventh-best in the entire NHL. Arizona’s home, we’ll remind you, is about the size of one of Burnaby’s 8 Rinks. Everyone thought the Mullett Arena was going to be a disadvantage for the Coyotes, but they’ve turned it into a bastion of strength under Tourigny’s guidance.
Tourigny already took Tocchet’s job once (kinda.) Will he also be stealing away his Jack Adams?
If he doesn’t, John Tortorella just might.
Tocchet and Tortorella also have a close circumstantial relationship when it comes to coaching. Tortorella coached the Tampa Bay Lightning for seven seasons before being let go after the 2007/08 campaign. The next year in 2008/09, Barry Melrose was brought in as his replacement…with Tocchet on board as an assistant coach.
Melrose didn’t last long. He went 5-7-4 before exiting the picture, leaving Tocchet to take over as a first-time NHL head coach. Tocchet remained in Tampa for two seasons before being relieved of his duty.
We don’t need to remind you that Tortorella has travelled a lot since, including a brief stint in Vancouver — or, rather, Point Roberts — that was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Torts went from Tampa to New York to Vancouver to Columbus, and then after a year off landed in Philadelphia, where he seems to have truly rediscovered his coaching self.
The Flyers did…fine in Tortorella’s first season with the team, 2022/23. They were missing Sean Couturier for the entire year, and wound up right about where they were expected to at 31-38-13, good for second-last in the Metropolitan.
Having sold off a few pieces, the Flyers were expected to sink a little further in 2023/24. Instead, the opposite has happened. Tortorella and the Flyers are currently 19-11-5 with a .614 point-percentage, the second-best in the Metropolitan Division. That’s well ahead of notable contenders like the Carolina Hurricanes, the New Jersey Devils, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Nobody, aside from perhaps the notoriously brash Tortorella, saw this coming.
All this, with the most significant additions to the roster having been Nicolas Deslauriers and Sean Walker.
Much of the credit would seem to go to Tortorella, who is bringing hard-nosed hockey back to Philadelphia in much the same way Tocchet himself once did as a Flyer.
So, we have three coaches each with a claim to coaching the most-improved NHL team, and thus each in the running for the Jack Adams. Each has improved their team in a unique way. The Flyers are a veteran-laden roster that is clearly playing well above their heads. The Coyotes are a young team that is now firmly on the rise. And the Canucks are somewhere in between, as a team that has chronically underachieved, only to finally be “unlocked” by Tocchet’s coaching.
As Tocchet and the Canucks enter 2024, we can be quite sure that they don’t have their eyes on the Jack Adams race, but that doesn’t mean it’s not personal.
Odds are that Tocchet is either going to lose the award to the coach he replaced in Tampa Bay (who is now coaching Tocchet’s former NHL team), or to the coach who replaced him in Arizona.
Or, he’s going to win it himself, which is as personal as it gets.
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