Avalanche’s Bednar Huge Jack Adams Award Snub

The NHL recently announced its three finalists for the 2021-22 Jack Adams Award, an annual honour bestowed upon the coach thought to have been most responsible for his team’s success. Unsurprisingly, the three nominees hailed from several of this season’s most successful clubs. Andrew Brunette (Florida Panthers), Darryl Sutter (Calgary Flames), and Gerard Gallant (New York Rangers) all garnered nominations, having led their respective charges to top seven records in the NHL this season. While there’s often little to quibble about regarding the nominations, the absence of Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar was particularly glaring. Let’s dig into why his omission was a mistake, and why he deserved a nomination (at minimum) for his work behind the bench this season.

True Impact of Brunette & Gallant In Question

First, I don’t dispute the inclusion of Sutter on the list of finalists. He took over a forlorn Flames squad desperate for an identity and one coming off of the heels of a season in which they missed the playoffs. They played at an 80-point pace in the 2020-21 North Division and finished four points adrift of the Montreal Canadiens for the final divisional playoff spot. This year, the Flames finished with 111 points, won the Pacific Division title, and were a top-five possession team, owning a 55.3% share of shots (SF%) and 55% of expected goals (xGF%). After a turbulent offseason in which the fates of Calgary’s stars were uncertain, the steady hand of Sutter worked wonders.

Head coach Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche
Head coach Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche (Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

When it comes to Brunette, it’s difficult to discount just how good the team was before he took over for John Quenneville early on in the season. Before Quenneville resigned in late October because of his role in the Chicago Blackhawks’ Kyle Beach scandal, the Panthers were flying. They had started the season with seven straight wins and led the league in goals per game (4.43). Sure, Brunette presided over the best season in franchise history and captured the Presidents’ Trophy, but remember that Quenneville had the second-best campaign by points percentage the year prior.

Since the Jack Adams criteria state that the winner should be the individual most responsible for his team’s success, the worst transgression is easily Gallant’s nomination. A quick glance at the Rangers’ underlying numbers suggests that the team’s 5v5 play – which is most influenced by coaching strategy – was a significant weakness, and directly downplays Gallant’s positive value. At 5v5, the Rangers had a 47.9 SF% (21st), 47 xGF% (24th), and 46.1% of scoring chances (SCF%). Those marks were easily the worst among the playoff teams, and not results befitting of a team which finished seventh overall. So how did the Rangers complete the fourth-best regular season in franchise history? Two words: Igor Shesterkin.

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The Russian netminder posted one of the most impressive seasons in recent memory. Shesterkin’s .935 save percentage (SV%) ranked third all-time among goalies to have played at least 41 games in a season. Further, his goals saved above expected (GSAx) mark was the sixth-highest of the salary cap era. By both advanced and traditional metrics, he was otherworldly. So, should Gallant get the credit for a team winning a lot of games despite playing like a bottom-feeder at 5v5? The NHL’s voting bloc seems to follow that line of thinking, but it doesn’t seem logical when one considers Shesterkin’s oversized impact on their overall success.

Bednar Led Avalanche to Success Despite Injury Troubles

According to NHL Injury Viz, the Avalanche ranked 12th in Cap Hit of Injured Players (CHIP), a metric which sums up the per-game cap charge of players missing a game due to injury. Adjusting by a missing player’s cap hit offers greater context than just using total man-games lost. After all, missing an All-Star-level talent is more significant than losing a fourth-line grinder. In comparison, the Panthers ranked 15th in CHIP while the Rangers (29th) and Flames (32nd) were among the healthiest teams in the NHL this season. Of Colorado’s top 10 players by points per game (P/G), six missed at least 10 games over the course of the campaign.

PlayerGames Missed
Bowen Byram52
Gabriel Landeskog31
Valeri Nichushkin20
Nathan MacKinnon17
Devon Toews16
Samuel Girard15
Nazem Kadri11
Regular-season games missed by notable Avalanche skaters in 2021-22

Bednar led an often shorthanded Avalanche squad to the best regular season in franchise history, tying the 2000-01 team with 52 regulation plus overtime wins. They finished with the second-most regulation wins (46), the third-best goal differential (plus-78) and owned a sparkling record against the NHL’s elite. By the advanced stats, they controlled 52.1% of SF (ninth), 52% of xGF (11th), and 53.9% of SCF (sixth). They weren’t as pristine as last season when they ranked first or second in most 5v5 metrics, but Bednar faced more adversity and inconsistent lineups this year which lends greater credence to his Jack Adams case.

Jack Adams Voting Punishing Bednar for Avalanche’s Excellence

Since 2019-20, no team has won more regular-season games (137), accrued a higher points percentage (.704), or posted a better goal differential (plus-187) than the Avalanche. The team also ranks highly in its share of 5v5 shot attempts (second), scoring chances (first), and expected goals (third) over that time. Whether you value tangible on-ice success or consistently stellar underlying numbers, Bednar has delivered on both fronts. Despite the team’s recent history of underwhelming showings in the postseason (and there have been many), those should not figure into this discussion.

Over those three seasons, Bednar finished fifth in Jack Adams voting in 2019-20, fourth in 2020-21, and will once again finish outside the top three vote-getters in 2021-22. He did earn a third-place nod in 2017-18 for guiding the upstart Avalance to a 47-point improvement in the standings, but that mirrors the pattern of praising unexpected surprises, rather than rewarding sustained excellence. Past results don’t figure into this season’s awards race, but it’s a travesty that the Avalanche bench boss has not been recognized for his role in corralling this team into perennial Stanely Cup contenders.

Colorado Avalanche Celebration
Colorado Avalanche celebrate (Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

A similar affliction has befallen Tampa Bay Lightning bench boss Jon Cooper, who has overseen the most successful stretch of the franchise’s history. Since 2018, he has finished second (2018-19), ninth (2019-20), and eighth (2020-21) in Jack Adams voting. If the team is good for long enough, their excellence is taken for granted and overlooked. Yes, voting is a subjective process, but coaches like him and Bednar have not received the respect they deserve. Maybe they will next year.

Data courtesy of Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick, and the NHL.

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