The regular season is winding down and the playoff picture is becoming clearer. Now that we have a huge sample size in 2021, I think it’s appropriate to rank each head coach based on their chances of winning the Jack Adams Award this year. Some coaches have exceeded expectations, some have failed miserably and others have reached the levels expected of them.
I think it’s possible that we see fewer coaches lose their jobs after this season for a couple of pandemic-related reasons. First, teams have lost a lot of their revenue stream this year and they may not want to shell out the cash necessary to send a coach packing. Second, the condensed schedule wasn’t easy to deal with in 2021.
So, even coaches lower on this list could survive the off-season.
Here's the list:
1- Dean Evason – Minnesota Wild:
I love what Evason has done with the Wild in 2021. Not only have they clinched a playoff spot, they’re challenging the Colorado Avalanche for second place in the West Division. Evason has found a way to utilize a lot of his skilled young players, including rookie-of-the year favorite Kirill Kaprizov.
2 - Joel Quenneville – Florida Panthers:
Wherever Quenneville goes, success usually follows. The Panthers missed the playoffs last year, but they’ve had a really positive 2021 season. Florida has already clinched a playoff spot and they’re second in the league in goals scored, with 175. The Panthers are a young group, but their coach has been through many playoff battles in his career.
3 - Rod Brind’Amour – Carolina Hurricanes:
The Hurricanes’ identity is speed, speed and more speed. That’s been a recipe for success for this group. Brind’Amour was a heart-and-soul kind of guy when he played and he appears to give off the same vibe as a coach. Carolina should be good for a long time and their coach has a lot to do with that. Stopping them in the playoffs will be tough.
4 - Mike Sullivan – Pittsburgh Penguins:
The Pens have dealt with significant injuries and a general manager change this season, but they find themselves in first place in the East Division. Sullivan doesn’t seem to get credit because he coaches Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and others, but he’s a really good coach. He could easily be one of the finalists for the Jack Adams this year.
5 - Barry Trotz – New York Islanders:
Trotz continues to get the job done behind the bench for the Islanders. The Isles only have one offensive star in Mathew Barzal, but they keep having success because of the buy-in to Trotz’s (boring) system. He’s clearly one of the top coaches in the league.
6 - Peter DeBoer – Vegas Golden Knights:
We rarely give coaches on great teams credit for their team’s success, but DeBoer has done a good job in Vegas this season. The Golden Knights are at the top of the Western Conference and it looks like they’re going to be a tough out in the playoffs.
7 - Jared Bednar – Colorado Avalanche
The Avs are one of those teams that everyone expected to be good and they’ve lived up to the hype. Bednar has a lot of talent at his disposal and he’s found a way to utilize most of his players effectively. Colorado will likely finish second in their division, but they’re talented enough to hoist the Stanley Cup.
8 - Bruce Cassidy – Boston Bruins:
The Bruins started the year without David Pastrnak and they’ve had to deal with injuries to their goaltenders as well. They got off to a hot start, but cooled off in the middle of the season. They still find themselves in a playoff spot despite the fact that they didn’t make a major splash in the off-season. Adding Taylor Hall at the deadline has worked out though.
9 - John Hynes – Nashville Predators:
Early on, it looked like the Preds were going to miss the playoffs. But their goaltending got better and they started receiving more production from some key players in their lineup. Nashville is hanging on the final playoff spot in the Central Division and Hynes deserves credit for keeping the ship afloat through the early-season storm.
10 - Sheldon Keefe- Toronto Maple Leafs:
The Leafs have pretty much been at the top of the North Division from start to finish. Keefe has put all of his players in a position to succeed, but he and the team will be judged on what they do in the playoffs. It’s still encouraging to see that Keefe can handle stars, veterans and youngsters on a good Toronto team.
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11 - Dave Tippett – Edmonton Oilers:
Yes, Tippett has Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but this isn’t a very deep group. He’s also found a way to get them to play at a respectable level without the puck. It looks like Edmonton is going to finish second in the Canadian Division and Tippett deserves credit for that.
12 - Jon Cooper – Tampa Bay Lightning:
Cooper and the Bolts have avoided the Stanley Cup hangover and they’ve done so without Nikita Kucherov. The Lightning’s coach isn’t getting much Jack Adams love from the national media, but he should be in the mix because his team has been in the top five of the league standings all year.
13 - Peter Laviolette – Washington Capitals:
Laviolette’s first year as head coach of the Capitals has been relatively uneventful which is good. The Caps are currently second in the East Division and they can go on a long playoff run. The veteran bench boss has done pretty well with this veteran squad.
14 - David Quinn – New York Rangers:
The Rangers are still young, but their rebuild has gone really well. Once they get more out of Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko, this team will be a force. They also have a nice blend of talented veterans and quality youngsters. Quinn should be able to get more out of this group as they mature together. There’s no reason to believe he can’t handle this job.
15 - D.J. Smith – Ottawa Senators:
Smith may be higher on the list than some people anticipated. If you only look at the standings, you probably won’t understand why he’s this high, but if you watch the Sens play you’ll get it. Ottawa has a young squad that hasn’t picked up many points, but they play hard for their coach every night. This team is trending in the right direction. Don’t be surprised if they become a force in the East in the next few years.
16 - Paul Maurice – Winnipeg Jets:
The Jets were competing for top spot in the North Division fairly recently, but they’ve now dropped six games in a row and they could potentially fall to third. Maurice is a smart coach, who isn’t shy about thinking outside the box. He needs to find answers in a hurry though with the playoffs approaching.
17 - Craig Berube – St. Louis Blues:
The Blues have had an up-and-down year and their playoff spot was seemingly in jeopardy at one point, but they seem to be back on track. It would be shocking to see them upset Vegas or Colorado in the opening round though.
18 - Rick Bowness – Dallas Stars:
Bowness deserves a lot of credit for getting his team within striking distance of a playoff spot. The Stars were ravaged by Covid-19 to start the year and they also missed games because of the frigid temperatures earlier this year. If the Stars get into the playoffs, Bowness will be higher up on the list.
19 - Rick Tocchet – Arizona Coyotes:
The Coyotes had a disastrous off-season and no one really expected them to challenge for a playoff spot. Despite the distractions, Tocchet has helped bring the young players on the roster along nicely. The Yotes will likely miss the playoffs, but Tocchet should continue to get an opportunity to build on this season.
20 - Jeremy Colliton – Chicago Blackhawks:
Colliton would’ve been higher up on this list if the Hawks would’ve been able to hang on to a playoff spot they were in earlier this season, but things have fallen apart down the stretch. But it looks like the 36-year-old can coach at the NHL level, which is encouraging for this Blackhawks team.
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21 - Dominique Ducharme – Montreal Canadiens:
Ducharme took over behind the bench when the Canadiens decided to fire Claude Julien earlier this season. He’s brought a bit of a different approach to the table, but he hasn’t been able to get his team to play with any kind of consistency. Whether or not he gets to shed the interim tag will depend on how successful Montreal is in the playoffs.
22 - Darryl Sutter – Calgary Flames:
The Flames made an in-season coaching change earlier this year when they replaced Geoff Ward with Sutter. As you’d expect, Sutter forced his team to focus on shutting down the opponent with sound defensive hockey and grit. Calgary got themselves back in the playoff mix, but it looks like they’re going to fall just short of a postseason berth this year. Also, Sutter’s style is brutal to watch.
23 - Todd McLellan – Los Angeles Kings:
The Kings won a lot over the last decade, but they’re now re-tooling for the future. McLellan had them within striking distance of a playoff spot a few weeks ago, but they simply weren’t good enough to sneak in this year. Their farm system is stocked and they could turn things around in a year or two.
24 - John Tortorella – Columbus Blue Jackets:
Tortorella came into this season as a lame-duck coach and it sure looks like he and the Blue Jackets are headed for a divorce. He’s clashed with two of the major acquisitions this season (Max Domi and Patrik Laine) and the team hasn’t looked as good as it did in previous seasons. It might be time for a fresh start somewhere else.
25 - Bob Boughner – San Jose Sharks:
The Sharks are in a bit of an awkward spot as a franchise right now. They should go through a rebuild, but they have so many expensive veterans under contract. The Erik Karlsson trade has turned out to be a disaster, as it cost them a shot at a high-end draft pick. Boughner probably won’t be the head coach of this team when it becomes competitive again. It’s not his fault, but this is a tough situation.
26 - Travis Green – Vancouver Canucks:
Look, the Canucks had some success in the playoffs last year and they’ve had a bunch of injuries this year, but they’ve been a disappointment. Covid-19 outbreak aside, the Canucks got off to a brutal start and they were almost out of the playoff race from the beginning. Shame on me for thinking they’d win the North Division this year.
27 - Lindy Ruff – New Jersey Devils:
Ruff and the Devils are going to have to be patient. Yes, they have some good players on the roster but they’re still a relatively young group. How quickly can they figure this all out? I’m not sure because they’re definitely missing a few key players. Ruff will get some more time to work with this group. He has to show some improvement next year.
28 - Don Granato – Buffalo Sabres:
The Sabres are in the basement of the NHL standings, but they were bad before Granato became their interim coach. Nothing worked under Ralph Krueger, but Granato seems to be getting a little more out of this group. It’ll be interesting to see if management decides to give him the job on a full-time basis next season.
29 - Dallas Eakins – Anaheim Ducks:
The Ducks are in the basement of the Western Conference, which is exactly where most people expected them to be this late into the season. It’s tough to blame Eakins for the team’s lack of victories though. This squad just isn’t good right now and they know that. Anaheim is heading in the right direction, but this will be a long rebuild.
30 - Jeff Blashill – Detroit Red Wings:
The Red Wings are paying the price for all the success they’ve had over the years. They’re in the middle of a long rebuild and they aren’t close to becoming competitive. How much longer will GM Steve Yzerman stick with Blashill? How soon will he want to bring in his own coach? There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered in Detroit this off-season.
31 - Alain Vigneault – Philadelphia Flyers:
It’s tough to pin the blame on Vigneault, especially when goalie Carter Hart struggled as badly as he did this season. But that’s the way coaching goes. When you get saves, you look like a genius and when you don’t, you don’t. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not he gets to keep his job after this season, but he should get the benefit of the doubt for now.