To mark the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, NHL.com is running its fifth and final installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Jack Adams Award, given annually to the top coach in the NHL as selected in a Professional Hockey Writers Association poll.
Alain Vigneault has worked wonders in his first season coaching a team throughout his NHL career.
He did it again with the Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7), who went 19-6-1 after Jan. 8 to get within one point of the first-place Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division when the 2019-20 season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
A panel of 18 NHL.com writers chose Vigneault as the favorite to be the first Flyers coach since Bill Barber in 2000-01 to win the Jack Adams Award. He earned 59 points (six first-place votes), three more points than Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, who finished second in the voting. John Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets was third.
Vigneault received five votes (none for first place) on Feb. 23 at the three-quarters point of the season. The Flyers won nine consecutive games from Feb. 18 to March 7, their longest streak since winning 10 in a row Nov. 27 to Dec. 14, 2016, outscoring opponents 39-17. Their goal differential for the season was plus-36 and they allowed an NHL-low 28.7 shots on goal and 2.77 goals per game in 69 games, a dramatic turnaround after going 37-37-8 with a minus-39 goal differential, 32.5 shots against and 3.41 goals against per game last season under Dave Hakstol and Scott Gordon.
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Philadelphia trailed Washington by 15 points and was tied with the Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference on Jan. 7. The Flyers had a chance to pass the Capitals for first place in the division on March 10, but their nine-game winning streak ended with a 2-0 loss to the Boston Bruins.
"Teams have to continue to improve during the season," Vigneault told the Flyers website April 29. "You have to get better. I believe that's what we were doing in all aspects of our game, our 5-on-5 play, our special teams play, our defensive play and offensive play. We were getting better individually and getting better as a group. That enables you to get a chance, to get into the playoffs and have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup."
Teams getting better instantaneously under Vigneault is a pattern. He advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs in his first season with each of the first three teams he coached in the NHL. The Montreal Canadiens reached the conference semifinals in 1997-98 after they failed to advance past the first round since winning the Stanley Cup in 1993. Vigneault won the Jack Adams Award after turning the Vancouver Canucks from a non-playoff team to one that won a Vancouver-record 49 games in 2006-07, and the New York Rangers reached the Cup Final for the first time in 20 years in 2013-14.
Vigneault got the Flyers to buy-in too; Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny each accepted a reduction in ice time by playing 46 seconds per shift, tied for first among Philadelphia forwards and after playing 50 seconds and 45 seconds last season. Forwards Claude Giroux (49 to 43 seconds) and Jakub Voracek (49 to 45) also had his ice time reduced.
The strategy worked. The Flyers scored 87 third-period goals, third in the NHL, and allowed 61 (fifth fewest).
"The shorter shifts have been very important," Vigneault said. "Short-shift hockey is high-tempo hockey. High-tempo hockey is very important to more puck possession, more chances to attack. The guys see that they are skating just as many shifts as they did before, so they get in the habit of playing that way.
"You need everyone on the team to commit to that, and it's a credit to our players that they've done it."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1- basis): Alain Vigneault, Flyers, 59 points (six first-place votes); Mike Sullivan, Penguins, 56 points (five first-place votes); John Tortorella, Blue Jackets, 44 points (four first-place votes); Dave Tippett, Edmonton Oilers, 32 points (one first-place vote); Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche, 26 points (one first-place vote); Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins, 16 points (one first-place vote); Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues, 13 points; Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning, 11 points; Travis Green, Vancouver Canucks, 6 points; Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets, 5 points; Barry Trotz, New York Islanders, 1 point; Rod Brind'Amour; Carolina Hurricanes, 1 point