With a quarter of the 2021-22 NHL season already in the rearview mirror teams and players are beginning to separate themselves in the standings and scoring races. Candidates are beginning to emerge for all of the NHL’s major awards including the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy, Norris Trophy, and the Calder Trophy and that also means that head coaches are also being evaluated.
There are several coaches that were able to get their teams off to great starts this season and are throwing their hat in the ring to win the Jack Adams Award. With a lot of the regular season schedule remaining, this will be the first look at the Jack Adams Award race and we will continuously track how it unfolds within future articles. For now, there is a clear front-runner for the award with some familiar faces and dark horses candidates looking to steal the trophy.
Dean Evason – Minnesota Wild
The Minnesota Wild are on a drastically different path since Dean Evason took over as the team’s head coach after the Bruce Boudreau firing during the 2019-20 season. General manager (GM) Bill Guerin decided to promote Evason from his assistant coaching duties rather than look externally for a candidate and just over two seasons later it is proving to be the right decision.
Evason boasts a 62-28-7 record through his first 97 games with the Wild behind the bench with a .675 win percentage. He helped lead the team to a third-place finish in the Central Division which was good enough for ninth in the overall standings in the shortened 2020-21 season and making playoff appearances in the first two seasons.
The team is continuing to improve and buy into Evason’s philosophy, despite a lack of star players on the roster. He is able to get the most from every player on the ice and put many players in positions to be effective and successful. The Wild are pacing the Central Division standings 29 games into the 2021-22 season with a 19-8-2 record and after being a finalist for the Jack Adams Award last season, he is the leader to claim it this time around.
In the Mix
Gerard Gallant – New York Rangers
After taking a year off from coaching since his shocking dismissal from his role with the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2019-20 season, he is back behind the bench in the New York City spotlight. Newly appointed GM Chris Drury opted to remove David Quinn from his duties over the 2021 offseason and sign Gallant to a four-year deal. Gallant is the 36th head coach in club history and comes with a proven track record of being a players coach. He prides his team’s on outworking opponents in all facets of the game and comes with plenty of experience both as a coach and a player.
The New York Rangers fell well short of a playoff spot a season ago after an accelerated rebuild turned them back into playoff hopefuls rather quickly. Gallant is now tasked with taking a young Rangers team to the next level and that starts with putting together a strong regular season. The Rangers are tied for third in the NHL standings through 29 games played and are one of the top teams in a tough Metropolitan Division. With a Jack Adams Award already under his belt from his role in Vegas’ success in their inaugural season and his above .500 win percentage in his three playoff appearances, he is in the mix to claim his second award if the Rangers can continue stringing together wins.
Darryl Sutter – Calgary Flames
It’s tough to find many coaches with a resume comparable to Darryl Sutter. He took over the Calgary Flames head coaching gig late in the 2020-21 season after the firing of Geoff Ward and finished that season with a 15-15-0 record. This is Sutter’s second stint as the Flames head coach after previously being with the organization from 2002-2006 and the early eye-test this season suggests a drastic change in culture with a positive outcome.
His hard-nosed, strong defensive style approach to the game is proving to be effective given the personnel in the organization. Players like Milan Lucic, Erik Gudbranson, Nikita Zadorov, Blake Coleman, and Brandon Tanev all fit the type of game Sutter likes to play. The Flames defensive game also looks improved under Sutter, ranking second-best in the league with 62 goals against and also tied for the second-best goal differential in the league at plus-25 through 28 games played.
The team is second in the Pacific Division and looks poised to return to the playoffs after they failed to make an appearance last season, finishing fifth in the North Division with a losing record. The focus of the team looks improved and rejuvenated and they will hope to continue their success after they return to the ice once their COVID-19 outbreak subsides.
Sheldon Keefe – Toronto Maple Leafs
Despite the lack of playoff success and constant roster turnover due to Toronto’s tight cap situation, Sheldon Keefe is still managing to pile up wins. He is now into his third season behind the bench after working his way through the hockey ranks. In two season’s under Keefe, the Leafs’ finished third in the Atlantic Division in 2019-20, first in the North Division in 2020-21, and currently sit second in the Atlantic this season with a 20-8-2 record through their first 30 games.
Despite the slow start from the team this season, the Leafs managed to trust the process and climb their way up the standings. His fiery attitude on the bench is no secret and his ability to manage many different players’ styles, and their wants and needs is instrumental. With a mix of young and veteran talent and not much playoff success to show for it in the pressure cooker that is Toronto, it is tough not to recognize his ability to deliver as a young 41-year-old NHL coach. He is definitely a name that is in the mix for the award because of how good the team is performing, despite many believing the roster got worse over the offseason.
Andrew Brunette – Florida Panthers
After Joel Quenneville’s resignation as head coach early into the 2021-22 season, Andrew Brunette took over as the interim head coach of the Florida Panthers. Brunette joined the team prior to the start of the 2019-20 season as an assistant on the staff after a storied 16-year NHL career. This is his first attempt at a head coaching gig after previously serving as an assistant coach and assistant general manager with the Minnesota Wild before leaving at the end of the 2018-19 season.
In his first 21 games as head coach, the Panthers are 10-7-4 and sit sixth in the league through 29 total games played. This couldn’t be a better team for Brunette to get his first chance with given how talented the roster is. The team looks like a legit Cup contender and both the team and Brunette are out to prove it. He is coaching for a full-time job this season and will hope to be successful enough in both the regular season and playoff to earn the official head coaching job from GM Bill Zito.
They are without some significant players due to injuries, and it is likely that they are still working through somewhat of a transition period since the takeover but the early results are positive. He is in the dark horse category because of the high expectations of the team heading into the season given how good the roster is. Fortunately for him, the fact that this is his first season as a head coach should work in his favor.
Dallas Eakins – Anaheim Ducks
Now into his third season behind the bench of a rebuilding Anaheim Ducks team, it appears that the tough times may be a thing of the past. Eakins battled with this team through two losing seasons from 2019-21, but with some youth injected into the roster the team is off to a 17-9-6 start through the first 32 games of the 2021-22 season. That record is good enough to be tied for sixth in league standings and they can thank their improved special teams and better defensive play for their early success.
This is only Eakins’ second head coaching job after the Oilers relieved him of his duties back in 2014, just 18 months after his hiring. He returned to the American Hockey League in 2015 with the San Diego Gulls before being promoted to his current position with the Ducks. Knowing the players in the system and working with them as they mature through their professional career, looks like it’s paying great dividends for the franchise and players’ development. Eakins will remain a dark horse candidate because of how tight the Pacific Division standings are and the need for the Ducks not to fall out of the playoff race.
Bruce Boudreau – Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks were expected to be a competitive team this year after some notable offseason additions in Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Unfortunately for them, the 2021-22 season started off on the wrong foot and led to a mass exodus in management and ultimately the firing of head coach Travis Green. Queue “Bruce there it is” because the Canucks hired 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner Bruce Boudreau.
There is no denying the resume and established career that Boudreau brings and his defensive coaching style helped immediately improve the team. Prior to Boudreau’s arrival, the Canucks were 8-15-2 and free-falling in the standings. Since then they are a perfect 6-0-0 outscoring opponent’s 19-10 in those six games. The small sample size and often improved team play early into a coaching change are where expectations for the Jack Adams need to be tempered, but Boudreau’s experience and hot start is worth keeping tabs on in this race.
Next Jack Adams Award Update: February 2022
Of course, these coaches are less focused on awards and dedicated to getting the most out of their team every night and getting two points every game. The race is just beginning and there is a lot of time for drastic movements in the standings. As we continue to inch closer to the end of the regular season the next update will occur in early February 2022 as we reevaluate these coaches and their teams’ play near the 2022 NHL All-Star break, and see if the front-runner maintains his spot or if the dark horse candidates can rise to the occasion.
I am a graduate of Seneca Colleges Civil Engineering Technology Program and have turned my obsession for sports into a lifestyle. I have been covering the Edmonton Oilers here on The Hockey Writers since 2019. I love fantasy sports, collecting sports memorabilia and listening to classic rock with a cold one or a coffee in my hand.