For the second time in three years as head coach of the Boston Bruins, Bruce Cassidy is a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach. Two years ago, Cassidy finished second in the voting, which is done by the leagues broadcasters, to former Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant.
Gallant was an obvious winner that year for the job he did with the expansion Golden Knights, while Cassidy was recognized for the job he did leading the Bruins to 50-20-12 record and 112 points. Boston finished one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division that season in his first full season in charge behind the Bruins bench. Once again, Cassidy won’t be at the top of the list as a clear cut winner this season, but let’s take a look at his chance against the other two nominees.
Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia Flyers
Playing under Alain Vigneault in his first season as the team’s head coach, the Flyers had a resurgence after an average first four months of the season. Philadelphia was playing their best hockey at the right time, only to be stopped in their tracks by the coronavirus pandemic. They are back in the playoffs thanks to a nine-game winning streak in February and were 4-1 in March when the season was paused.
The Flyers went from the outside of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference in January to second place in the Metropolitan Division with 89 points, one point behind the Washington Capitals. The surge in February allowed Philadelphia to be part of the NHL’s round-robin tournament and avoid playing in a qualifying round series. Instead of playing an elimination best-of-five series, they will battle the Bruins, Capitals and Lightning for the top seed in the playoffs.
Under Vigneault, the Flyers improved in several categories. They went from a minus-37 goal differential last season to a plus-36 this season in 69 games. Carter Hart has become a No. 1 goalie with a solid season in 2019-20. He finished the regular-season 24-13-3 with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage (SV%). Travis Konecny led the team in scoring with 24 goals and 37 assists. Add in contributions from Kevin Hayes (23 goals) and Sean Couturier (22 goals), and it’s easy to see why they are a playoff team in 2020.
Vigneault has been around the block as an NHL head coach with stops with the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. He has brought his aggressive style of hockey to Philadelphia and allowed his players the freedom to play their style of hockey. The result has them as a Cup contender as the league looks to restart the season in early August after finishing near the bottom of the division last season and out of the playoffs.
John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets
One of the more fiery and outspoken coaches who is never afraid to share his opinion publicly, John Tortorella has the surprising Blue Jackets in the qualifying round in the Eastern Conference. Last season, he led Columbus to one of the biggest upsets in playoff history when the Blue Jackets took down the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in a four-game sweep.
Not much was expected from Columbus in 2019-20 after losing key free agents Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky last summer. In fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, they will play the Toronto Maple Leafs in the qualifying round. Along with key free-agent losses, the Blue Jackets were hit with injuries this season as they only had seven players play more than 60 games.
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Pierre-Luc Dubois (18 goals and 31 assists) and Gustav Nyquist (15 goals and 27 assists) led them in scoring and are the only two players to play in all 70 games. Not many coaches with a team in fifth place get nominated for the award, but with the big-name free agents that left last year, it’s a surprise that they played well enough to hang around for a playoff spot.
Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins
After losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2019, the Bruins did not have a hangover this season. Cassidy led the Bruins to the Presidents’ Trophy in a coronavirus-shortened regular season with 100 points. This season, however, did have its obstacles for the Bruins.
After their first line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, there were a lot of questions surrounding their next three lines. They struggled with secondary scoring behind the top line and made a trade at the deadline to acquire Ondrej Kase for ring wing help. Boston dealt with injuries to their defensive unit, as well as goalie Tuukka Rask who missed time in the middle of the season with a concussion.
Replacing Claude Julien during the 2016-17 season, Cassidy has gone 161-66-34 with the Bruins and will be making his fourth playoff appearance in as many years. They own the NHL’s second-ranked power play and are third killing penalties, which has to help ease the burden of scoring production issues after the first line.
The Winner Is?
Vigneault has done a good job in his first season with the Flyers and has them back in the playoffs. Tortorella lost three key free agents, battled injuries, but still managed to get the Blue Jackets into the qualifying round and 11 games over .500.
Cassidy was passed over two years ago for the award, but as head coach of the only team in the league with 100 points and dealing with several moving parts, he was able to keep the Bruins ahead of the rest of the league. It will be close, but Cassidy has to be the frontrunner for the award.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.