The NHL announced on July 15 that Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins, Alain Vigneault of the Philadelphia Flyers, and John Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets were finalists for the Jack Adams Award, an honor handed out annually to the head coach that “contributed the most to his team’s success” by the NHL’s Broadcasters’ Association.
Dave Tippett, who spearheaded a drastic Oilers turnaround behind the bench this season, was a surprise omission for some. Did he deserve more recognition for his job in Edmonton this year?
Firstly, this isn’t to discredit the jobs performed by the three aforementioned coaches. Cassidy has been an integral part of turning Boston into a juggernaut these past few seasons. Since taking over for Claude Julien in the 2016-17 season, his 161-66-34 record – including an insane points percentage of .682 percent – with the club essentially speaks for itself.
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Vigneault, much like Tippett did in Edmonton, helped rejuvenate life into the Flyers’ organization in his maiden season there. Philadelphia finished with more points this season (89) than a season prior (82), despite an abbreviated season that saw them only play 70 regular-season games compared to the normal 82 games.
Lastly, and my personal favorite to take home the award for the third time in his career, Tortorella deserves a ton of credit for keeping the Blue Jackets afloat this season, especially after an offseason that saw the departures of franchise cornerstones Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin compounded with a bevy of injuries suffered this year, namely Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson who missed a combined 40 games.
Ultimately, coaching Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid should only be perceived as a blessing; however, in a sense, boasting the league’s top two scorers could have actually acted as a detriment in Tippett’s Jack Adams case.
It’s widely believed that the Oilers will go as far as McDavid and Draisatl will take them – such is usually the case for superstar talents that don’t have the luxury of superior depth on their team – but what Tippett created this season really helped augment the team’s dynamic and provided the team with stability, something that was lacking the previous two seasons.
After all, the lethal tandem of McDavid and Draisaitl dominating is nothing new. They had combined for 221 points a season ago. Draisatl registered 1.28 points per game in the 2018-19 season, while McDavid recorded 1.49 points per game. Despite their offensive firepower, the Oilers finished seventh in the Pacific with a mere 79 points.
Sure, Draisatl built upon his breakout campaign by upping the ante in terms of production – to the tune of an absurd 1.55 points per game. And McDavid was his typical self, accounting for 1.52 points per game, but something about this specific Oilers team was different than the top-heavy ship that struggled through obstreperous waters just a season ago.
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McDavid and Draisaitl were great. But they’ve been great in the past and that hasn’t necessarily translated to team success – through no fault of their own. So what part did Tippett play in getting the Oilers back to the show?
Just a season ago, under the direction of Todd McLellan, who was fired 20 games into the year after an underwhelming 9-10-1 start, and Ken Hitchcock, who finished the remaining 62 games with synonymous levels of mediocrity, 26-28-8, the Oilers finished ninth in power-play percentage (21.17 percent) and 30th in penalty kill percentage (74.80 percent).
Now, under the direction of Dave Tippett, who preaches an aggressive, five-on-five type of mentality with his team shorthanded that also allows for a high quantity of shots against with a concentrated effort on limiting shot quality, the once-abysmal penalty kill that ranked second-last in the league blossomed to the second-best in terms of percentage (84.42 percent).
Moreover, their ninth-ranked power play a season prior was far-and-wide the most effective this year, boasting a success rate of 29.5 percent with the man-advantage – a full four percent better than the team in second place (Bruins).
Overall Differences and Final Thoughts
Overall, they scored 3.14 goals per game this season and allowed 3.03 goals against. Much better than their 2.79 goals per game and 3.30 goals against in the 2018-19 season (per NHL Stats).
Their point percentage a season ago (.482 percent), which was far below the league average of .553 percent, improved to .585 percent this season (ahead of the .558 percent league average).
Unfortunately, there can only be three finalists for the Jack Adams Award. And though Tippett helped Edmonton get back in the playoff picture, the jobs done by the other three coaches deserved to be recognized for this prestigious award.
Fans of the organization shouldn’t be too upset that he was slighted as a nominee, as outside of a run in the 2016-17 season, this is the first time this team has shown a semblance of sustainability moving forward – in large part due to the coaching acumen of one Dave Tippett.