Heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, Rick Tocchet has all but sealed up the Jack Adams

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
13 days ago
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Here’s the funny thing about the Vancouver Canucks and their largely-unexpected success thus far in 2023/24:
Had any of us been asked at the outset of the campaign whether a return to the postseason – as the top seed in the Pacific Division, no less – would have constituted a successful season, most would have answered with an unmitigated “yes.”
But we’re here now, and after all that winning and standings-climbing, it sure doesn’t feel as though the Canucks have really achieved anything worth celebrating quite yet. And it definitely feels like to make it this far, only to ultimately bow out in the first round of the playoffs, would still make for a major disappointment.
Perspectives, and expectations, can change.
But while the Canucks and their fans will not at all be resting on their regular season laurels when the schedule flips over in a couple of weeks, instead focusing entirely on Round One, there is a group out there ready to fete and celebrate the achievements of the campaign that just was. And that’s the cumulative body that decides upon and hands out the official NHL awards.
At this point, it seems very likely that, regardless of what happens in the playoffs, at least two Canucks will be called up to the stage in the summer to receive major awards.
The first is Quinn Hughes, still the odds-on favourite to take home the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defender. Hughes is now far enough of Cale Makar and Roman Josi in the race to call it his to lose, and we’ll be making a more explicit case for him in the days to come.
The other is head coach Rick Tocchet, who could be said to have already sealed up the Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach.
But Tocchet’s field is a little more tightly-packed than Hughes, and so we thought this was an appropriate time to make one last appeal on his behalf before everything switches over to playoff mode and talking about regular season success becomes gauche.
Let’s start the discussion with an admission: the Jack Adams Award doesn’t really traditionally go to the “best” coach. Instead, it’s come to represent something akin to “most improved,” or rather “the coach who got the most improvement out of their team from one season to the next.”
As such, one can usually form a pretty good list of candidates just by naming the coaches of those teams who are set to make the playoffs in 2023/24 after missing them in 2022/23.
Tocchet and the Canucks obviously qualify. But so too do – at least as of this writing – John Tortorella and the Philadelphia Flyers, Spencer Carberry and the Washington Capitals, and Andrew Brunette and the Nashville Predators.
We go first to Tortorella. The last time we wrote about this topic, we IDed Tortorella and Arizona’s Andre Tourigny as Tocchet’s chief rivals for the Adams.
Since then, the Tourigny and the Coyotes have fallen out of the race, effectively ending his hopes of winning the award. Torts and the Flyers have stayed in it, but then some might say that he’s also taken himself out of the race through some very on-brand shenanigans.
A couple of weeks back, Tortorella served a two-game suspension for refusing to leave the bench after having been ejected by the officials.
Upon his return, he made headlines for scratching and then somewhat publicly shaming his captain, Sean Couturier.
Debate the merits of Tortorella’s actions all you like, the reality is that the Jack Adams is voted on by the NHL Broadcasters Association, and they’re both a sensitive bunch and a group who really appreciates a good narrative. Awarding Tortorella – who has already won the Adams on two occasions – in a season in which he has mistreated his players and league officials as often as ever does not stand out as a positive narrative.
For this reason alone, we can expect Tortorella to earn a well-deserved nomination, but not to win the actual award.
That leaves Brunette and Carberry as Tocchet’s primary opposition. That said, neither of them has as clearcut a claim on a playoff position as Tocchet and his Canucks.
As of this writing, the Washington Capitals are holding on to the last wildcard spot in the East, but have Detroit, the Islanders, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo all within striking distance.
Suffice it to say that if the Capitals don’t hold on to the spot, Carberry won’t be winning the Jack Adams. It might not be entirely fair, but that’s the way the voting goes.
And even if the Capitals do make it, can Carberry be said to be the primary reason? There’s no doubt that he’s provided some revitalization to the Capitals, but this was a team with a core that already knew how to win.
A closer look at the Capitals turnaround will reveal that it’s been largely sparked by Alex Ovechkin waking up and scoring ten goals in his last 14 games.
We’re not going to give Carberry that much credit for coaching Ovechkin on how to score goals, are we?
Contrast that with the direct and obvious impact that Tocchet’s coaching has had on his core players, all of whom are playing as well or significantly better than they ever had previously at the NHL level. That’s an accomplishment that Carberry simply can’t claim.
Brunette, on the other hand, could definitely be said to have the Predators playing better than the sum of their parts. They’re in the first of two wildcard spots in the West, and a full eight points ahead of the non-playoff St. Louis Blues at this point. They’re also fresh off a 16-0-2 streak that brought them all the way back from the brink of elimination.
Brunette deserves ample, and perhaps primary, credit for the turnaround.
Like Carberry, if the Predators somehow fall out of it between now and the end of the regular season, then there goes Brunette’s nomination. But that feels unlikely at this point, and so it might be fair to name Brunette and Brunette alone as Tocchet’s “rival” for the 2024 Jack Adams.
But then consider this: in 2022/23, under coach John Hynes, the Predators only missed the playoffs by three points, finishing with a total of 93. Right now, Brunette and the Predators sit at 90 points. Sure, they’ll almost certainly eclipse last year’s total, but only by a few.
Contrast that with the Canucks. They finished last season with 83 points, even after a late-season push under a partial season of Tocchet. As of this writing, they’re at 98 points. That means a guaranteed 15-point improvement, and probably a much bigger one than that.
If we look at the history of the Jack Adams being an award for most improved, and we look at the improvement made to and by the Canucks under Tocchet, it becomes difficult to not call him the odds-on favourite.
Vegas certainly agrees (and no, not the Golden Knights.) Most bookmakers have Tocchet at better-than-even to win the award.
There are other names in the mix than who we have mentioned. Rick Bowness had the Winnipeg Jets near the top of the standings all year. Paul Maurice has dramatically improved the Florida Panthers’ regular season fortunes after taking them to the finals last year, and is much beloved by broadcasters for his candor. Kris Knoblauch really turned the Edmonton Oilers around.
But we have to believe that the Jack Adams is now Tocchet’s to lose, and we think the odds are high that he’ll be joined in his nomination by both Carberry and Brunette.
And that’s the last we’re going to talk about it until after the playoffs.

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