The Jack Adams Award finalists are in and you won’t find Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery’s name among them. It isn’t for lack of success, though.
Montgomery’s Rise to Stardom
Truth be told, if this were any other season, Montgomery’s name would likely be in the same conversation as the likes of Craig Berube, Jon Cooper and the leading candidate, Barry Trotz. However, Montgomery has the apparent misfortune of having helped lead the Stars to their first playoff berth since 2015-16 in the same season as the following:
- Trotz was hired by a team on the verge of losing the face of its franchise and only superstar before coaching them into a defensive powerhouse and to a playoff spot.
- Berube took a last-place team and effectively put the St. Louis Blues on a Presidents’ Trophy-winning pace over the second half en route to earning a playoff spot of their own.
- Cooper actually won the Presidents’ Trophy with the historically excellent Tampa Bay Lightning, their playoff success (or lack thereof) notwithstanding.
Of course, the fact the Lightning got upset in embarrassing fashion in Round 1 won’t have factored into the voting, which only took the regular season into consideration. It is quite telling with regard to Montgomery’s coaching ability that he has made it to the second round in his first season as an NHL coach. To his credit, Montgomery had won two United States Hockey League championships, before a successful five-year stint at the University of Denver. He coincidentally now faces off against Berube.
Montgomery’s Stars vs. Berube’s Blues
Furthermore, it can be argued that, in the now-tied series against the Blues, Montgomery has outcoached the Jack Adams nominee, at least in what was a pivotal Game 4. Coming off a disappointing last-minute Game 3 loss, Montgomery had sensed something was off, citing a lack of possession as the reason behind re-arranging his top two lines.
Instead of captain Tyler Seguin centering Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov, he played between Jason Dickinson and Mats Zuccarello. Roope Hintz took his spot on what had been the top line. It’s not exactly clear which one is the No. 1 unit now, though. After all, they both scored in the 4-2 Game 4 victory and all six players in question had at least one point.
Many coaches might have looked at the Game 3 boxscore and not thought all that much about it other than about the heartbreaking circumstances surrounding the one-goal loss. The Stars were in it until the end, when Patrick Maroon scored the go-ahead, game-winning goal with minutes left in the game. The Blues also only outshot the Stars by three overall.
Montgomery Makes the Hard Decision
Nevertheless, Montgomery, believing his offense could be better in synch in spite of the three goals scored in the loss, gambled with a potential 3-1 series deficit at stake. It paid off. Instead, the Stars are right back in a now-best-of-three series in which many believed the Blues were the clear favorites.
The gamble could have seriously blown up, in the sense that, just one game earlier, the second line of Hintz, Zuccarello and Dickinson had been firing on all cylinders. So, it wasn’t just the first line’s lack of scoring Montgomery was toying with, but the chemistry the second one had generated and could have been on the verge of rekindling in Game 4.
In fairness, in that Game 3 loss, Zuccarello had assisted on a Seguin goal late in the game. So, it wasn’t like Montgomery was making such a radical decision to put the two together in Game 4, even if the contest marked the first time ever this specific permutation of the Stars’ forward lines was used. Of course, Zuccarello only played two regular-season games with the Stars after being acquired at the trade deadline and then getting injured in his first game with his new team. Read into the factoid however much you wish.
It’s still hard to understate Montgomery’s importance to this team. Unlike Zuccarello, he’s been here the entire season, coaching them to a 97-point pace for over a half of it just so they could make the playoffs. Now that they’re in and have reached the second round, it isn’t a matter of anything potentially happening, but rather the Stars playing to their potential under Montgomery.
Unlike Trotz, Montgomery does have the benefit of several superstars playing for him. Unlike Cooper, he’s in the second round. And unlike Berube, this is his first kick at the can in the NHL. Maybe that means Montgomery doesn’t have the experience it takes to win yet. He technically also hasn’t lost either though, without so much as having faced an elimination game, like the upcoming Game 5 could have been. There might be a reason for that.