On the surface, the Jack Adams Award is straightforward enough. Voted on by broadcasters, the honour goes to the league’s best coach, or more specifically the one “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success”. Pretty simple, right?
But over the years, it’s become clear that the Jack Adams is given out based on a very different set of standards than the ones applied to virtually every other league award.
Voters rarely honour guys like Mike Babcock or Joel Quenneville who are consistently good year in and year out, instead preferring candidates who’ve seen their teams make unexpected jumps in the standings. While other award voters tend to like to see winners who’ve “paid their dues” before being honoured, the Jack Adams often goes to coaches who have just stepped into new jobs, even including rookies making their NHL debuts.
And while other awards can be dominated by the same guys year in and year out (see Wayne Gretzky, Nicklas Lidstrom or Martin Brodeur), the Jack Adams almost never goes to a repeat winner – just one coach has won multiple times for the same team, and only one has won more than twice overall.
None of that is to say that the criteria used to select the Jack Adams is wrong. It's just very different. Which leads to a fun thought experiment: What if we voted for the other awards the way the broadcasters vote for the Jack Adams?
Let's find out. We're going to go back over the last 25 years of Hart Trophy winners as league MVP and re-award them based on that weird Jack Adams criteria. That means:
- We'll give a strong preference to guys who have recently joined teams (including rookies)
- We'll almost always insist on rewarding candidates whose team made a major leap in the standings
- We'll try really hard to avoid repeat winners, especially for the same team
Will this tell us anything useful? Honestly, no, not a thing. But will it give us something to argue about for a day or two? Only one way to find out. Going back 25 seasons takes us to 1990-91, so let's start there.
1990-91Real winner: Brett Hull, who scored 86 goals for the Blues.
Our winner: Hull's a strong candidate, pushing the Blues to a 22-point jump in the standings in his third full season with the club. But in our Jack Adams-inspired universe, he loses out in a close vote to a newcomer: rookie Eddie Belfour, whose first season in Chicago sees the Blackhawks make a big jump of their own.
1991-92Real winner: Mark Messier, winning his second Hart in three years.
Our winner: In real life, Messier won handily. But our Jack Adams-inspired voters probably would have made him even more of a landslide, after he joined the Rangers days into the season and immediately helped turn them into a Presidents' Trophy winner. Even with one previous win under his belt (for the Oilers in 1990), voters would make him a shoo-in.
1992-93Real winner: Mario Lemieux, who ran away with the scoring title despite missing a chunk of the season battling cancer.
Our winner: Man, it's awfully tough to take the trophy from Lemieux, whose comeback was one of the most inspiring stories in sports history. But he'd already won the award, and his Penguins were back-to-back Cup champions at this point, so our voters are going to look elsewhere. It's a tough vote, with Boston's Adam Oates and Winnipeg super-rookie Teemu Selanne making for a stacked field. But our winner is Doug Gilmour, who turned the Leafs from utter laughingstock to Cup contender in his first full season in Toronto.