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Jack Adams Award: Vigneault Vies to Make History

If Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault wins the Jack Adams Award this season as the NHL's coach of the year, he will make history on several fronts

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

If Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault wins the Jack Adams Award this season as the National Hockey League's coach of the year, he will make history on several fronts. First awarded in 1973-74, the honor is selected by a poll of the NHL Broadcasters' Association.

A Vigneault victory in the 2019-20 balloting would mark the fifth time in Flyers franchise history that one of its head coaches has won the Jack Adams Award; the most of any team in the league. Currently, the Flyers are tied with the Detroit Red Wings and Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes for the most in the league. 

Legendary Flyers head coach Fred Shero won the inaugural Jack Adams Award in 1973-74. Subsequently, the feat was duplicated by Pat Quinn (1979-80), Mike Keenan (1984-85) and Bill Barber (2000-01). Flyers head coach Terry Murray was a finalist in 1994-95 but Marc Crawford of the Quebec Nordiques collected the prize. 

If Vigneault wins the Jack Adams Award this season, he will become just the seventh coach to win the honor with two or more teams (the late Pat Burns won it with the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins). While coaching the Vancouver Canucks, Vigneault won the Adams in 2006-07. 

If Vigneault finishes in the top three of this year's Adams balloting, it will mark the fifth time -- and the fourth different team -- in his distinguished NHL coaching career that he will be honored as a finalist for the award. Before Vigneault won the award with Vancouver, he was a finalist for the award with the Montreal Canadiens in 1999-2000 (Joel Quenneville of the St, Louis Blues won that year). 

Vigneault was a finalist again with Vancouver in 2010-11 (Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma won). Finally, while coaching the President's Trophy winning New York Rangers in 2014-15, Vigneault became a four-time finalist. However, Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley won the award that season.

Vigneault has given the Jack Adams Award voters plenty to consider in terms of his candidacy for this year's award. Consider the following:

* Even though the Covid-19 pandemic shortened the Flyers' 2019-20 regular season by 13 games, the team under first-year head coach Vigneault already had four more wins and seven more points across 69 games than it did over 82 games in 2018-19. The team's winning percentage jumped to .645 this season, which would prorate to 106 points over a normal 82 game season.  

* Despite playing an extremely grueling schedule in November -- 16 games in 30 days -- Vigneault's Flyers enjoyed the league's best record that month (10-2-4, 24 points). Later, over the final 26 games before the NHL's schedule pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Flyers tied the Boston Bruins for the NHL's best record (19-6-1, 39 points, .750 points percentage).

* The Flyers boasted the NHL's best home record this season at the time of the pause (25-6-4, 54 points, 771 points percentage). The team improved modestly on the road this season (.488 points percentage in 2018-19, .515 this season).

* Last season, the Flyers were saddled with the NHL's 29th-ranked goals against average (3.41). This season, the team has vaulted to being tied with Tampa Bay for the seventh-best GAA (2.77).

* Shot suppression: Under Vigneault, the Flyers have become the NHL's stingiest team in permitting opposing shots on goal. The 28.7 shots per game allowed on average in 2019-20 was the best in the entire league. Last year, Philadelphia ranked 27th.

* Improved offense: The Flyers ranked 18th last season with an average 2.94 goals scored per game. This season,the team has jumped up 11 spots to rank 7th with a 3.29 goals per game average. Balanced scoring has been the key, as the Flyers did not have a single player ranked in the top 30 of the Art Ross Trophy race for the NHL's leading individual scorer.

* Buy-in to systems: Vigneault has gotten his players, across the board, to buy in to his system, which requires a high-tempo pace, and 200-foot attention to detail to execute. One telling indicator of the buy-in: shorter shifts. Almost to a man, Flyers players have bought in to skating shorter shifts. The average shift time per player is down roughly 3 seconds this season. Multiplied out over entire games, it has amounted to having fresheer troops in the third period of games.

* Close-outs: When leading a game after two periods this season, the Flyers posted a 29-0-2 record. Only two other teams -- the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues (27-0-6) and the Florida Panthers (26-0-1) -- did not lose a single game in regulation this season when leading after two periods.

Of course, Vigneault does not deserve all the credit for the team's improvements in these and other areas (including special teams). He shares credit with his assistant coaches, his players and with general manager Chuck Fletcher for bringing in personnel needed to address key areas of weakness from last season. Nonetheless, the buck stops with the head coach in terms of getting his team prepared to play, managing his personnel (including working around long-term injuries/illness affecting players such as Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom) and demanding accountability. 

Vigneault has passed all of these tests with flying colors in his first season in Philadelphia. Given his track record and previous accolades for being among the league's coaching elites, it's fair to say that Vigneault's impact on the Flyers has not been an aberration. He is legitimately one of the best coaches in the business.

Even if he does not win his second Jack Adams Award this season, Vigneault is already the 10th head coach in Flyers history to be named a Jack Adams finalist -- whether during his Flyers tenure or while with another NHL team -- at some point during the course of his NHL career.

Two-tenure Flyers head coach Bob McCammon was later a Jack Adams Award finalist with the Vancouver Canucks in 1988-89 (Burns won). While coaching the New York Rangers in Roger Neison was the top runner up to second-time winner Quinn (by then with Vancouver) in 1991-92.. Former Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock won the Jack Adams Award with the St. Louis Blues in 2011-12. Fellow ex-Flyers head coach Peter Laviolotte was a finalist with the eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 (losing out to Buffalo's Lindy Ruff by a single point) and with the Nashville Predators in 2014-15 (Hartley). 

Additionally, several former Flyers assistant coaches were named as Adams finalists while serving as the head coach of other franchises. The ranks include Calgary's Terry Crisp in 1988-89 (Detroit's Jacques Demers became the only back-to-back winner that season) and the late Tom Webster with the Los Angeles Kings in 1990-91. The Blues' Brian Sutter won, with Webster placing second in the balloting. Current Flyers assistant coach Michel Therrien, while the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, was a finalist in 2096-07 when close friend Vigneault won the award. 

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