How much weight should the Jack Adams Award really carry for NHL coach assessment?

The Jack Adams Award given to the NHL’s best coach each season has typically been one of the most hotly debated NHL awards, with many questioning the voting process and criteria used to picked the winner. It’s one of the only NHL awards that someone can win and then be completely out of the NHL the following season due to lack of performance.

We’ve seen plenty of examples in recent seasons of coaches winning the award only to find themselves out of a job in the near future. I’m sure you’ll find your fair share of Flames fans using Darryl Sutter’s 2022 Jack Adams win as a reason he should be given a longer leash this season, but given the history of the award and its winners how much weight should winning it really have? Is the award more or less a case of which team has the most luck that season? Let’s take a look at the last decade of Jack Adams winners and where they are now.

New coaches are typically favoured

SeasonWinnerTeamSeasons with team at time of winStatus with team
2021–22Darryl SutterCalgary Flames1Current head coach
2020–21Rod Brind’AmourCarolina Hurricanes3Current head coach
2019–20Bruce CassidyBoston Bruins6Fired in 2022
2018–19Barry TrotzNY Islanders1Fired in 2022
2017–18Gerard GallantVegas Golden Knights1Fired in 2020
2016–17John TortorellaColumbus Blue Jackets2Fired in 2021
2015–16Barry TrotzWashington Capitals2Resigned in 2018
2014–15Bob HartleyCalgary Flames3Fired in 2016
2013–14Patrick RoyColorado Avalanche1Fired in 2016
2012–13Paul MacLeanOttawa Senators2Fired in 2014

Right away we see some obvious trends. Nearly every winner was recently hired by the team they won with. Very rarely do we see a winner who’s been the head coach of their team for awhile. Out of the last 10 Jack Adams winners, nine of them were in their first three seasons as head coach with their team. Bruce Cassidy is the only exception to that, as he was in his sixth season as head coach of the Boston Bruins when he won in 2020.

Past that, seven of the past 10 winners were in their first two seasons as head coach of their team. If we look even further, four of the past 10 winners won the award in their first season coaching their team. 40% of coaches being in their first year certainly pushes a certain trend when it comes to where voters are placing their votes.

It’s clear that the voters of the Jack Adams favour new coaches when voting. I mean it does make some sense. Teams with new coaches have just fired their previous coach after poor seasons. When a new guy comes to town and brings his team back to the top, it’s easy to credit them for the improvement.

A perfect example of that is Darryl Sutter’s win last year. Taking a team from outside the playoffs to tops in their division seems like the perfect criteria for winning coach of the year. In the end, Sutter earned 54 first place votes and won the award by a wide margin.

This season however, we’re now seeing that perhaps Sutter’s Jack Adams win was more a case of two elite top-10 wingers in Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk having career seasons in contract years, and less so Sutter’s actual coaching. His player usage, deployment, and lineup decisions have been highly questioned this season and the Flames are likely to miss the playoffs after winning their division a year ago.

A Jack Adams win doesn’t guarantee a job

Another alarming trend with previous Jack Adams winners is just how quickly the winner typically gets fired within the next couple seasons. You’d think the winner of the coach of the year has a job locked down for the foreseeable future but that typically hasn’t been the case.

SeasonWinnerTeamStatus with teamSeasons after
2021–22Darryl SutterCGYCurrent head coach1 and counting
2020–21Rod Brind’AmourCARCurrent head coach2 and counting
2019–20Bruce CassidyBOSFired 2021–222
2018–19Barry TrotzNYIFired 2021–223
2017–18Gerard GallantVGKFired 2019–202
2016–17John TortorellaCBJFired 2020–214
2015–16Barry TrotzWSHResigned 2017–182
2014–15Bob HartleyCGYFired 2015–161
2013–14Patrick RoyCOLFired 2015–162
2012–13Paul MacLeanOTTFired 2014–152

Of the past 10 winners, eight have been fired. Of the eight that were fired, six of them didn’t even last another three seasons as they were all fired within the next two seasons after winning the award. The two exceptions are John Tortorella who lasted four more seasons before getting fired and Barry Trotz who lasted three more seasons.

Of the past 10 winners, Bob Hartley is currently the only case of the winning coach getting fired the very next season after winning the award. The Flames look well on their way to adding another name to that unfortunate list. If they do miss the playoffs, there’s a good chance Sutter is relieved of his duties this summer just one year after winning the award.

Fun fact, among the 47 winners of the Jack Adams award since the 1973–74 season, there have been just six instances of the winner getting fired the next season. If the Flames were to fire Sutter this offseason, they’d own two of those seven names and join the Blues as the only franchise to achieve the feat twice.

The PDO award for the best coach

A popular claim surrounding the Jack Adams award has been that the award simply goes to whoever’s team is the luckiest that season, or sees their luck improve after a year of bad luck. Looking at the numbers, there’s definitely some weight behind that claim. Let’s take a look at the last 10 winners of the award and where their team ranked in terms of PDO the year they won, and the year prior.

As a refresher, PDO measures the sum of a team’s shooting percentage and save percentage multiplied by 10. It’s typically a good indicator of whether or a not a team should expect to see a regression or improvement naturally based on their percentages.

A low PDO indicates bad luck, while a high PDO indicates good luck. A sky-high PDO indicates a team is being floated by good goaltending and fortunate shooting luck. A low PDO indicates a team that can’t get a save and is having bad shooting luck. In other words, a team with a super high PDO is probably not as good as they seem, while a team with a super low PDO is probably better than they appear.

Numbers are 5v5, score- and venue-adjusted courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com

SeasonWinnerTeamPDO rank
season prior
PDO rank
season of win
2021–22Darryl SutterCGY15th10th+5
2020–21Rod Brind’AmourCAR25th10th+15
2019–20Bruce CassidyBOS10th3rd+7
2018–19Barry TrotzNYI10th2nd+8
2017–18Gerard GallantVGKN/A11thN/A
2016–17John TortorellaCBJ15th4th+11
2015–16Barry TrotzWSH11th4th+7
2014–15Bob HartleyCGY26th4th+22
2013–14Patrick RoyCOL26th3rd+23
2012–13Paul MacLeanOTT13th18th-5

PDO applies to the Jack Adams award because more often than not we see the winner of the Jack Adams award coaching a team that would’ve naturally improved year over year just based on the numbers and overall luck alone. Instead this improvement is typically credited to the change behind the bench. Very rarely do we ever see a coach of a consistently good team win the award which doesn’t make much sense when you think about it.

Once again some clear trends stand out. In nine out of 10 years the winner of the Jacks Adam saw their team’s overall PDO increase by a wide margin. The only outlier to this situation was Paul MacLean in 2012–13 as his Senators actually saw their PDO go down the year he won the award.

Of the 10 winners, eight finished the season top 10 in PDO and six saw their PDO rank top four in the NHL the season they claimed the award. The biggest such cases were Rod Brind’Amour’s win in 2020–21 that saw the Hurricanes move up 15 spots and John Tortorella’s win in 2016–17 that saw the Blue Jackets move up 11 spots.

Lastly the two most famous cases of this are Bob Hartley’s win in 2014–15 and Patrick Roy’s win in 2013–14. Both the Flames and Avalanche saw their PDO go from near the bottom of the league to near the top, rising 22 and 23 spots respectively. Unsurprisingly both teams fell off following their coaches Jack Adams win, and both were out of a job within two seasons.

Another name on the list soon?

There’s currently a very good chance Sutter becomes the seventh coach in NHL history to be fired the year after winning the Jack Adams award. He’s certainly not at fault for all of the Flames’ struggles, but he’s played a bit part in the team sitting outside of the playoffs. It certainly brings into question how much Sutter truly deserved the award last year if his job is already in question less than a year later.

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