The great irony of the Jack Adams award is that being the coach of the league’s best team often precludes one from talk of being the league’s best coach. Truth is, when there’s no other possible explanation for a team’s success, then the coach gets the credit. If, however, it’s possible to attribute that success elsewhere (such as the team’s makeup or star players) you’re likely to hear very little about the man behind the bench.
The Jack Adams trophy typically goes to coaches who have led unimpressive teams to impressive records. Impressive, that is to say, considering how little was expected of them. It’s an award predicated on exceedingexpectations, not excelling. You measure where expectations were when you started, and contrast this with where the team winds up. The coach behind the greatest unexplained upswing gets the award.
This is one reason chatter regarding Alain Vigneault’s coach of the year odds has been relatively nonexistent this year. Everyone expected the Canucks to be good: they’ve been the safe pick to win the West since the summer, and you don’t win the Jack Adams simply by meeting expectations, however lofty. Considering Mike Babcock has never won the award, largely because his team, too, is merely ho-hum excellent, you’d think it was nearly impossible for the coach of a top-tier team to win. The team would have to dominate every major statistical category.
Amazingly, Alain Vigneault has emerged as a late-season frontrunner for the Jack Adams, because that’s what the Canucks are doing.
They have the league’s best offensive players powering the league’s best offense. They’re 1st in goals for and 1st on the power play, with 39 man advantage goals, where the league median is 21. This offense boasts the top two scorers in the NHL, the league’s best playmaker, and two of the league’s top four goal scorers. They have the reigning Art Ross and Hart trophy winner, and he’ll likely be passing both awards to his freaking twin brother. At alternating times this season, three different Canuck forwards have been tabbed as the frontrunner for league MVP.
On defense, they don’t have the same superstar names, and some say they lack a top pairing guy, unless you want to make an argument for Dan Hamhuis or Kevin Bieksa, third and fourth in the NHL in plus/minus, respectively, or for Christian Ehrhoff, who is sixth in scoring by a defenseman, or even for Alex Edler, who is generally considered to be better than those three guys. On top of that, statistically, the Canucks are the best defensive team in the league, so it’s hard to criticize their personnel. They’re 1st in goals against. They’re one-tenth of a percentage point from first on the penalty kill. They have 18 games won by three goals or more, tops in the league. They’re first in faceoffs.
They have arguably the league’s best goaltending. Their goaltender is first in wins, third in save percentage, and fourth in goals against average, and his backup has nearly identical stats. The Canucks have the highest winning percentage in the league when outshot. Luongo and Schneider are in line to bring home Vancouver’s first ever Jennings Trophy.
And if you think Alain Vigneault is resting on his laurels or coasting on the strength of this roster, consider that the Canucks have dressed 39 different skaters this year, not including goalies. That’s more than any other team, followed by the New York Islanders, who are proof that, when you have that many injuries, you’re supposed to be terrible.
But the Canucks aren’t terrible. Not by a longshot, not at anything. In fact, they’re on top of every category. You’d think everything must have gone right this season to achieve that kind of dominance, and you’d be right to think that because, even when it hasn’t, somehow, improbably, it has.
Alain Vigneault has weathered every obstacle. He’s done it this year without playing even one game with all six of his top defensemen healthy, with his starting goaltender changing his game on the fly, with the right-winger on his top line missing the first month of the season, with the wingers on his second line playing inconsistent hockey all year, with his entire third line disappearing for over a month, and a fourth line featuring numerous AHL callups, Euro-league transfers, and gingerbread men. In truth, the only consistency the Canucks have seen all season has been behind the bench.
And that may be the greatest testament to this incredible season. The Canucks are so good that their coach might even get the credit.
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