There are 32 teams in the NHL, which means limited head coaching opportunities exist in one of the world’s most respected professional hockey leagues. If a bench boss has a successful season and wins the Jack Adams Award as the best coach, they join a small fraternity of past and present winners with a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
However, no one can coach forever, and the turnover in the position is relatively high. Even people who guide their teams to a Stanley Cup championship eventually end up unemployed, and the cycle restarts again.
Related: Jack Adams, the Man, and the Award
Latest News & Highlights
As of 2023, there have been 39 Jack Adams Award winners, with a handful of legendary names winning the trophy on several occasions bringing the total to 47 recipients. Interestingly, eight coaches have won the award after a successful campaign, only to follow that year up with a lackluster one resulting in their termination.
Since the Calgary Flames went from Pacific Division champions in 2021-22 to missing the playoffs in 2022-23, former head coach Darryl Sutter becomes the latest coach to join this exclusive list. Who are the other coaches? Well, let’s dig into the hockey annuals and find out.
Note: The number of days listed in the article represents the days between the NHL Awards ceremony and the date a coach left his post.
Brian Sutter (St. Louis Blues) 329 Days
Brian Sutter is the second-oldest sibling of the Sutter brother family, one of the most recognized hockey families, originally from Viking, Alberta. Interestingly, the six Sutter brothers played in the NHL, with a handful turning into team executives upon retirement.
After serving as the captain of the St. Louis Blues from 1979-1988, Sutter retired at 32, ending a 12-year stint as a player with the organization. Immediately after hanging up his skates, the Blues appointed him head coach in the summer of 1988.
Moreover, Sutter improved the Blues’ record in his first two seasons, with 78 and 83-point campaigns, eventually earning 105 points in 1990-91, the year he won the Jack Adams Award. After that campaign, the Blues struggled in 1991-92, finishing with 22 fewer points than the previous year, leading to Sutter’s termination on March 1, 1992, just 329 days after being named Coach of the Year.
Bill Barber (Philadelphia Flyers) 320 Days
Bill Barber is a Philadelphia Flyers legend, a member of “The Broadstreet Bullies,” winning back-to-back Stanley Cup titles with the team in 1974 and 1975. After retiring in 1984, the three-time All-Star earned a plaque in the Hall of Fame in 1990.
Upon retirement, Barber got into coaching, serving as a Flyers’ assistant coach from 1985-1988 before venturing into head coaching with the Philadelphia Phantoms from 1996-2000, winning the Calder Cup in 1998. Then in December 2000, he was offered the head coaching job of the Flyers by his former teammate Bobby Clarke, general manager at the time. Although he only coached 54 games, the team secured 100 points, and he won the Jack Adams Award.
Despite producing a winning record, 42-27-10-3, and 97 points in 2001-02, the Flyers lost in the first round for the second consecutive season. Ultimately, the team relieved Barber of his duties on April 30, 2002, just 320 days after being named Coach of the Year.
Bob Murdoch (Winnipeg Jets) 300 Days
Bob Murdoch is another two-time Stanley Cup champion, winning the silver chalice in 1971 and 1973 with the Montreal Canadiens. After playing 757 games with the Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings, and the Atlanta/Calgary Flames, he retired in 1982.
Eventually, Murdoch got into coaching, taking a job with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1987-88 season, earning a 30-41-9 record. Although only employed with the club for a year, he didn’t return for the next season or coach professionally until returning to the profession with the Winnipeg Jets in 1989-90.
As the bench boss of the Jets, the team improved by 21 points and returned to the playoffs a year after failing to qualify, leading to Murdoch winning the Jack Adams Award. Unfortunately, the team missed the playoffs the following season, dropping 22 points in the standings, which led to their coach being let go just 300 days after winning the award.
Red Berenson (St. Louis Blues) 274 Days
Red Berenson played 987 games in the NHL, winning the Stanley Cup in 1965 and appearing with the Blues franchise in three straight Final appearances from 1967 to 1969. Eventually, he left the Blues to play five seasons with the Detroit Red Wings but returned in 1975 to retire with the club in 1978.
Immediately upon retirement, he became an assistant coach with the Blues, getting promoted to head coach during the 1979-80 season. Although he only got to lead the team for 56 games that year, he had an entire season in 1980-81 to work his magic, resulting in a 27-point increase and a Jack Adams Award win.
Unfortunately, the success was short-lived, as the Blues stumbled in 1981-82, dropping 45 points in the standings leading to Berenson’s dismissal on March 9, 1982, just 274 days after being named Coach of the Year. Realistically, the firing was a blessing in disguise as he returned to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, in 1984, capturing two national titles before retiring in 2017.
Bob Hartley (Calgary Flames) 253 Days
Bob Hartley never played in the NHL; instead, he rose through the coaching ranks after taking a position with a Junior A team in Quebec. Eventually, he coached in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and the American Hockey League (AHL), where he won a Calder Cup title in 1997.
As an employee of the Hershey Bears, the minor league club of the Colorado Avalanche, Hartley was promoted to the NHL in 1998. Within three seasons, he led the Avalanche to their second Stanley Cup championship in 2001. After leaving the team in 2002-03, he became head coach in Atlanta for five years before heading to coach in Europe for four years.
Upon his return to the NHL in 2012-13, Hartley became head coach of the Flames, earning a 54-65-11 record in his first two years. During the 2014-15 season, in which he won the Jack Adams Award, the Flames improved by 20 points and lost in the second round. Unfortunately, the team reverted to their losing ways the following season costing Hartley his job on June 24, 2015, just 253 days after winning Coach of the Year honors.
Darryl Sutter (Calgary Flames) 253 Days
History has been unkind to the two Flames coaches (Hartley and Sutter) who won the Jack Adams Award since both winners lost their jobs precisely the same number of days later. Unlike Hartley, Darryl Sutter played 406 games in the NHL with the Blackhawks before getting into coaching.
After becoming an assistant coach in the NHL, he developed his head coaching resume in the IHL, winning the league championship and their Coach of the Year award. Eventually, he returned to the NHL and the Blackhawks to start his head coaching career, which includes two Stanley Cup championships with the Kings in 2012 and 2014.
Then, after serving as the bench boss of the San Jose Sharks for six seasons, he came home to Alberta and the Flames in 2002 and led the team to their first Stanley Cup Final in 15 years during the 2003-04 season. Besides being head coach, Sutter was also the general manager during his tenure. However, he resigned from his coaching duties in 2006 to focus more on being an executive.
Eventually, Sutter resigned from the Flames organization in 2010 before joining the Kings franchise a year later in 2011. Then, after a decade away, he returned to the Flames in 2021, guiding the team to one of their most successful seasons in 2021-22, winning his first Jack Adams Award. However, after a rough offseason with significant roster turnover, the Flames failed to qualify for the playoffs a year after winning the division. Unfortunately, the club let Sutter go on May 1, 2023, just 253 days after being named Coach of the Year.
Ted Nolan (Buffalo Sabres) Seven Days
Ted Nolan played 78 games in the NHL, spending most of his career in the AHL, scoring 280 points in 374 games. After winning the Memorial Cup with the Sault. Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 1993, he became an assistant coach with the Hartford Whalers in 1994-95 before being named head coach of the Buffalo Sabres for the start of the 1995-96 season.
The Sabres didn’t make the playoffs during Nolan’s first season, with a 33-42-72 record. However, in 1996-97, the team improved by 20 points and lost in the second round, resulting in a Jack Adams Award at the season’s end.
After accepting his trophy on June 19, 1997, news broke that the Sabres’ star player, Dominik Hasek, didn’t want Nolan, whose contract had expired, behind the bench. Moreover, to make matters worse, the Sabres hired a new general manager, Darcy Regier, who undercut Nolan’s latest contract offer, ultimately forcing him to decline.
Eventually, Regier rescinded the offer and hired a new coach instead of working out an extension with Nolan, who went from being NHL Coach of the Year to unemployed within a week.
When we dive deep into the statistics regarding the head coaches who won the Jack Adams Award, it is shocking to note that after winning the trophy, the average length of employment with that particular team is just 3.2 seasons.
Related: Renaming the NHL Awards: What They Could Look Like
Of course, there are exceptions like Al Arbour, who stayed with the New York Islanders for 13 seasons after winning the Jack Adams Award in 1978-79. Then, there is Claude Julien, who remained with the Boston Bruins for eight years after winning, and Lindy Ruff, who stayed with the Sabres for seven seasons.
|Years After Jack Adams Award Win||13||8||7||6||5||4||3||2||<1|
|Coaches Remaining with Team||1||1||1||3||3||6||9||16||7|
However, looking deeper into the numbers, winning the award has resulted in a short tenure for the victors, either for failure to live up to previous successes or for various other reasons. Much like the “curse” of the Presidents’ Trophy winners, which has plagued the success of regular season teams in the playoffs, maybe it’s time to start talking about the bad luck some head coaches have had after winning the Jack Adams Award.