Besides a Stanley Cup, the Jack Adams Award is the most coveted trophy a head coach can win in the National Hockey League. By definition, the Jack Adams is awarded annually to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success. The 2019-20 campaign, like in many past seasons, has seen its fair share of outstanding coaching performances.
From Bruce Cassidy (Boston Bruins), John Tortorella (Columbus Blue Jackets), Alain Vigneault (Philadelphia Flyers), Craig Berube (St. Louis Blues), Jared Bednar (Colorado Avalanche), David Quinn (New York Rangers) and Dave Tippett (Edmonton Oilers) each present a legitimate case to take home the prestigious honor as coach of the year.
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Rick Tocchet of the Arizona Coyotes is another coach in contention for the award. In comparison to some of the other candidates, Tocchet certainly flies under the radar but has done a phenomenal job behind the bench in the desert. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at Tocchet’s body of work this year and why he deserves serious consideration for the Jack Adams Award.
Arizona’s Long List of Injuries
Every team experiences injuries. It’s extremely rare to see a team go through an entire season without placing players on the injured reserve. The injury bug has taken a big bite out of the Coyotes this season with players such as Brad Richardson, Jason Demers, Antti Raanta, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Taylor Hall, Darcy Kuemper, Lawson Crouse, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Michael Grabner, Barrett Hayton, and Jakob Chychrun all spending time on the sidelines.
If you factor in the sheer magnitude of these injuries which include both goaltenders, star defenseman and team captain Ekman-Larsson, talented winger Hall, and promising youngsters such as Crouse, Hayton, and Chychrun, the Coyotes had every reason to “throw in the towel” on the season.
Instead, Tocchet and his staff refused to make excuses and held every player accountable regardless of who was in (or out) of the lineup on any given night. He made adjustments to his forward lines and defensive pairings and instilled a real sense of belief in his group which has held firm throughout the course of the season.
One subtle change was placing Kessel on the second line with Nick Schmaltz at center. This adjustment worked wonders for the Coyotes as the two combined for 83 points. Tocchet also matched Jordan Oesterle with Demers, who effectively formed a dynamic shut-down, third-pairing duo on the blue line, while logging valuable minutes down the stretch. Tocchet was never one to “shy away” from lineup changes and line combinations, and his team responded accordingly by staying competitive all season long.
Despite the significant number of man-games lost and the unlucky fortune of the team, the Coyotes found themselves with a 33-29-8 record amassing 74 points through 70 games- good enough for a spot in the NHL’s 24-team postseason. This will be Arizona’s first playoff appearance since 2011-12 and one in which Tocchet deserves a ton of credit for.
Lack of Offensive Punch
Over the last few seasons, Coyotes general manager John Chayka bolstered the team’s offense with the addition of two-time Stanley Cup winner, Phil Kessel, and former Hart Memorial Trophy winner, Taylor Hall. Regardless of these additions, the Coyotes still struggled to score goals. In fact, the team managed just 195 goals in 70 games played which is the fifth-worst in the Western Conference behind the Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings.
This season, the Coyotes had only one 20-goal scorer (Conor Garland) and none who hit the 50-point plateau. Their top scorer was Schmaltz with a mere 45 points. Compare these point totals to their division foes, the Edmonton Oilers, who had Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl alone tally 97 and 110 points respectively. Goals were certainly hard to come by in the desert.
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So many NHL coaches are judged by their ability to read, react, and adjust “on the fly” when their team is in limbo. Tocchet did just that and made several significant changes to his team’s approach to games to counteract the lack of offensive output. For starters, he emphasized “defense first”, which was quickly adopted by his club. When the NHL halted (and then effectively ended) the regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coyotes gave up only 187 goals- the single-fewest in the Pacific Divison.
Tocchet’s team also “scored by committee” and received valuable production from several unsung and unlikely heroes such as Vinnie Hinostroza, Alex Goligoski, Carl Soderberg, and Garland. Anyone who watched the Coyotes play this season saw the “bite” (no pun intended), drive, determination, and work ethic that they played on a nightly basis. That’s a testament to their head coach. This team “bought into” what Tocchet was selling and then some.
Dealing with Adversity
Heading into the 2019-20 campaign, not much was expected from the Coyotes who are often viewed as an afterthought in the ever-competitive Pacific Division. The “Yotes” often play second-fiddle to teams such as the Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary Flames, Sharks, and until recently the Kings. Tocchet has combated this by leading one of the hardest-working teams in the league. The more adversity this team has faced the better they’ve played.
Under Tocchet, the Coyotes play a competitive, “in your face” game with a real sense of team camaraderie. Those are attributes that are pretty hard to find in the NHL but a true testament to the coach with how he’s kept this group aligned and on the same page despite numerous injuries and a lack of scoring. This team has exceeded expectations and has been turning heads across the NHL.
I truly believe that Tocchet deserves full credit for getting his group to believe in one another and for embracing the opportunity as opposed to crumbling and settling for a high draft pick-something that would have been completely justifiable given the circumstances.
The Case for Tocchet
After looking at Tocchet’s body of work this season, he definitely deserves to be a front-runner for the Jack Adams Award. By no means am I saying that he is the runaway favorite to win this prestigious honor because other candidates present intriguing cases as well. But the way Tocchet has conducted himself this year and dealt with adversity is more than admirable.
He has held his group accountable with countless injuries, refused to accept any excuses from his team, and gave them a sense of belief and pride that’s extremely invaluable in today’s NHL. Again, he may not win the Award, but I hope anyone who holds a vote takes a long, hard look at Tocchet as the 2019-20 Jack Adams Award recipient.
My name is Domenic Lunardo, and I cover all things Blue Jackets here at The Hockey Writers. I am an avid Toronto Maple Leafs fan living in Toronto, with an unmatched passion for the beautiful sport of hockey.