Jack Adams

NHL awards: Why Mike Sullivan could sneak up on Alain Vigneault for Jack Adams honor

NHL awards: Why Mike Sullivan could sneak up on Alain Vigneault for Jack Adams honor

Make no mistake, Alain Vigneault's body of work this season is front-runner worthy for the Jack Adams Award.

During 2018-19, the Flyers decided to embark on a massive shift within their hockey operations department and coaching staff. The team finished 22nd in the league at 37-37-8 with 82 points, its fewest over a full season since 2006-07.

In just one season (and not even a full one), Vigneault turned the Flyers into a top-six club. Through a shortened 2019-20 regular season, the Flyers went 41-21-7 with 89 points in 69 games. According to Hockey-Reference.com, the team was projected to finish with 104 to 105 points, which would have been its most since a 106-point 2010-11 campaign.

With the abbreviated regular season because of the coronavirus outbreak, only four teams improved their point totals from 2018-19. The Flyers made the biggest jump with a seven-point increase despite playing 13 fewer games compared to last season, while the Oilers improved by four points (79 to 83), the Avalanche by two (90 to 92) and the Rangers by one (78 to 79).

When it comes to Coach of the Year in 2019-20, Vigneault should be right there with anyone.

Bruce Cassidy, head coach of the NHL-best Bruins, of course will be up there, but ESPN's Greg Wyshynski made a great point, noting the coach of the Presidents' Trophy-winning team has won the Jack Adams honor only twice in the past 20 years.

Jared Bednar (Avalanche) and John Tortorella (Blue Jackets) should be in consideration, as well.

One coach who could sneak up and snatch the award away from Vigneault and the rest: Mike Sullivan.

The Penguins have had better regular seasons in the recent past, but Pittsburgh found a way to finish seventh among the league (three points behind the No. 6 Flyers) in the face of losing:

Brian Dumoulin for 41 games
Jake Guentzel for 30 games
Sidney Crosby for 28 games
Patric Hornqvist for 17 games
Evgeni Malkin for 14 games
Bryan Rust for 14 games
Kris Letang for eight games

Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, Rust, Hornqvist and Letang were six of the Penguins' top seven scorers this season and last season. For sake of comparison, the Flyers' top seven scorers this season missed six combined games.

That does not at all take away from the job Vigneault and the Flyers did in their resurgent 2019-20 season. It's also not to say the Flyers didn't deal with their share of significant injuries (Oskar Lindblom, Nolan Patrick, Scott Laughton, Shayne Gostisbehere, Michael Raffl). But Sullivan's work around those losses will make him a serious challenger to Vigneault for the Jack Adams hardware.

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With the 2019-20 NHL regular season concluded, Alain Vigneault should win the Jack Adams Award

With the 2019-20 NHL regular season concluded, Alain Vigneault should win the Jack Adams Award

In general manager Chuck Fletcher’s first offseason with the Flyers, he had quite an extensive to-do list before October came around. While adding depth and a few new faces to the roster were toward the top of the list, nothing was more important than the task of bringing in a new head coach.

Many had their sights set on Joel Quennville, who was fired by the Blackhawks early in the 2018-19 season. It was a shock to the hockey world, considering he helped Chicago bring home three Stanley Cups over the course of 10 years. Ultimately, he chose to go to Florida. No, not to retire. Quennville was off to his new team the Panthers to be their bench boss. 

Eventually, news broke that Alain Vigneault was coming to town. Like every other offseason acquisition, the response was all over the place. Little did Philadelphia know at the time, but it just received a perfect fit for its city, its team and the organization.

It is an honor to be selected as the next head coach of the Flyers," Vigneault said following his hire. "The history they have established and the passionate fan base has made this a first-class franchise. I am excited to work with Chuck, the talented group of players and prospects coming up through the system, in order to return Philadelphia to the top of the NHL landscape.

Who knew that in just a few short months, the Flyers would in fact be near the top of the NHL landscape once more. Again, a lot of this is owed to Fletcher and his moves in the offseason and around the trade deadline — but when you look at the team’s overall success on a nightly basis? That’s all Vigneault.

There was a mentality tilt this season in comparison to prior ones. The locker room had a different vibe right from the jump and you could sense how it has positively affected the Flyers' overall game. Vigneault has also shown he is not afraid to speak up and be honest to his players and the media to give his team a kick in the right direction.

The abrupt halt to the NHL season has been rough for many — especially Flyers fans, as they had been anticipating a season precisely like this one for quite some time. The official word was released that if hockey does return, the league will go straight to the playoffs, meaning the 2019-20 regular season has concluded. Now, since that’s the case, league awards will have to be given out based on the condensed season — all the more reason to name Vigneault coach of the year. 

A few key examples

• From the beginning of training camp, he didn’t hold back when discussing his thoughts on Travis Konecny and the need to have him here to get familiar with the new faces and systems in the organization. Thankfully for the Flyers, Konecny and the team came to terms, he arrived shortly after and is having the best season of his young career. 

• Vigneault has not been afraid to call out the veterans on the team, either. Knowing what his players are capable of, it’s important for him to get the best out of them.  

• When the Flyers released a statement that Oskar Lindblom had been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, it was a difficult time for everyone. Sports aside, the human aspect of it all is mentally draining. Lindblom has received such overwhelming support from players, fans and especially Vigneault — always referencing his “great smile” when the 23-year-old forward attends a game or practice.  

• Looking at a near-complete season without Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder), a shortened season from Lindblom and injuries that popped up throughout the whole season — James van Riemsdyk with a broken hand, Shayne Gostisbehere’s knee injury, Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl’s broken fingers and Konecny missing a handful of games because of a concussion … it’s safe to say it never looked like this team was missing a key player. That’s all due to call-ups and how Vigneault adjusted his lines every time the Flyers hit the ice. 

Vigneault has been everything the city could want in a coach and more. And while there certainly are a handful of other coaches within the league that are also deserving of this award (John Tortorella in Columbus, Travis Green in Vancouver), nothing comes close to the case the new bench boss has made in Philadelphia.

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