It’s not a major revelation to say that awards can often be a bit silly. Trying to judge anything against it’s peers, whether it is a movie, music, video game or even a coach, is an incredibly difficult task, as there will always be personal biases and differences in taste that influence the winner.
In the NHL, the winner of the Jack Adams award for Coach of the Year rarely is the coach of the best team in the league. Oftentimes, those coaches get overlooked as they are seen to be carried by the talent on their roster to a top record, instead of how they utilize said talent. Typically the coach that wins the award was in charge of a team that was expected to be bad, and that disarray or lack of superstars helps them to get noticed when they reach the postseason.
For example, if Bruce Boudreau is able to raise the Vancouver Canucks from being one of the worst teams in the league to postseason contention, he would be a surefire nominee and likely winner of the Jack Adams. However, if Vancouver’s former coach Travis Green had led the same team to the postseason, it’s unlikely that he would have received enough attention to earn a nomination.
Now, all this longwinded opening is trying to say is that Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper should be the frontrunner for the 2021-22 Jack Adams award. However, due to the success of the Lightning throughout his tenure with the franchise, he simply won’t be.
Cooper Doesn’t Get Recognized on the National Scale
Since taking over as head coach of the Lightning back in 2013, Cooper has done nothing but win. Now in his 10th season, he holds an incredible regular-season record of 404-203-57, which gives him a points percentage of .651. Not only that, but Tampa Bay have never finished with less than 90 points during his tenure (excluding the shortened 2020-21 season) and they only missed the postseason once (by a single point) in 2016-17.
In the postseason, Cooper has been just as good, with a record of 70 wins and 46 losses, giving him a winning percentage around .603. Besides this, he won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons and has led the Lightning to at least the Eastern Conference Final five times.
Despite this consistent record of success on the ice, Cooper has never won the Jack Adams award. Even in 2018-19, when the Lightning tied the NHL regular-season points record with 128, he still lost out on the award to Barry Trotz, who took over a New York Islanders’ team that was expected to be bad but went on to reach the playoffs instead.
Oftentimes, the reason for Cooper being left out of the Jack Adams’ conversation is simple. He is the head coach of the Lightning, a franchise that is stacked with talent on all ends of the ice, and many see his success as a byproduct of this talent.
There is some truth to this, of course, as all great teams win on the back of their stars. However, just because Cooper has names like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Victor Hedman on his roster, there is no guarantee that the team will still be this successful. Plenty of great teams fall short of their potential due to misuse or a coach just not getting the most out of their players after losing the locker room.
Despite Losses, Cooper Has Lightning Humming Along in 2021-22
Heading into the 2021-22 season, many expected the Lightning to remain contenders for the Stanley Cup, but there was also an expectation that the team would regress some after winning back-to-back Stanley Cups. They did, after all, lose the entirety of their dominant third line during the off-season, and had some uncertainty surrounding their roster with new veterans and rookies entering the lineup. This doubt was only exasperated when Tampa Bay lost Kuvherov in the opening days of the season, followed by Brayden Point shortly after to long-term injuries.
Despite all of this uncertainty, 30 games into the season the Lightning sit at the top of the NHL standings with 44 points. While this standing is a but nebulous due to so many teams missing games for various reasons, it’s still a testament to how good the team has been in the face of so much adversity. Through injuries to stars, offseason losses, and even a stoppage in play, Tampa Bay has remained united in their efforts to create a modern hockey dynasty.
Yes, you can point to all-star talent stepping up and carrying their team, but at some point, you have to give credit to Cooper for what he has managed to do for this franchise year in and year out. He always finds a way to motivate his players, and outside of one terrible playoff series back in 2019, his players have always given him 110 percent in return
So, while this Lightning team would likely be great with another coach at the helm, that shouldn’t be held against Cooper. He is a shining example of what a modern NHL coach should be, and at some point, the league will have to recognize him for his output both on the ice and off it.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.