Patrick Roy has won a lot in his career. From his days as a player in both Montreal and Colorado, he earned the Stanley Cup four times, the Conn Smythe trophy three times, and the Vezina Trophy three times. He is a winner, through and through. Now, in his first year as coach of the Colorado Avalanche, he turned a struggling team into a winner as well and may add yet another trophy to his impressive resume. Patrick Roy stands alone as the favorite for the Jack Adams trophy, the NHL’s “Coach of the Year” award, but his competition could pull a surprise upset.
The former player has had coaching success in the past. For many years after his retirement, he coached the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). His first year as coach of the Remparts, he coached the team to a Memorial Cup win, the first rookie coach to accomplish the feat since 1997. While the team consistently found success over many seasons, Roy’s tenure with the Remparts was marred by incidents involving his sons, who were players on the team. The sons seemed to inherit the same fiery temper that their father had when he was a player, leading to over-the-top on-ice brawls and one of the sons being charged with assault by the Saguenay courts.
These incidents were considered isolated and did not deter the Avalanche from hiring Roy as their coach in May of last year. The new coach led the Avalanche to a 12-1-0 record to start the season and only built on that success as the season progressed. Only one year removed from finishing 29th in the league, the Colorado Avalanche have turned their fortunate around this year, locking in a playoff spot and possibly a shot at the division title. Though the development of many of their young players like Duchene and Landeskog helped the “Avs” accomplish this goal, many are pointing at Patrick Roy as the reason many Avalanche players are finally playing up to their potential.
The competition for the Adams will be a tough one. Though the Avalanche coach has long been considered a virtual lock for the trophy since the team’s quick start, Roy was not the only coach that elevated his team to a different level. Alain Vigneault was hired by the New York Rangers in this past offseason, hoping to bring an offensive flair to a Rangers team that always seemed to have the talent, but never the production to match it. The Rangers took some time to adjust to Vigneault’s new system, causing them to fall behind the rest of the Metropolitan division early in the season. However, the players eventually picked up on their new roles, causing a quick turnaround in January that allowed the Rangers to make up on lost ground. Vigneaults’ Rangers will finish either second or third in the division, not much different from their fate last season. However, the offensive production from the Rangers’ players mean their playoff run this season could be much more successful than last year’s.
Finally, there is the coach of the Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock. Babcock always seems to be in the conversation for the Adams trophy, because the Red Wings always seem to make the playoffs. And that’s no exaggeration; the Red Wings have made the playoffs for 22 straight seasons, with Babcock being the coach for the last nine. Yet, he has never won the Adams trophy, simply because of that line of thinking. The Red Wings always make the playoffs, they always have the talent to make the playoffs, so a coach leading that team to the playoffs should not come as any surprise. This year is different. The Red Wings have been demolished by injuries, most of them to their key players. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have missed about half the season each and the ever-steady presence of Nicklas Lidstrom retired from the game last year. This is a brand new team from previous Red Wing incarnations, led not by veterans of the game, but instead by one player: Gustav Nyquist.
After scoring only four goals in his career before this season, Nyquist has exploded for 28 goals this year, most of them coming in the second half of the season, when Detroit needed that playoff push. It was Babcock’s handling of Nyquist that allowed this young player the opportunity to have such success, and it has ultimately put the Red Wings in a position to defy odds and extend that playoff streak to 23 years.
Patrick Roy will likely win the Jack Adams trophy. As is typical for these kind of awards, the first impression is always more important than the finish. The Colorado coach made one hell of a first impression, while his competition struggled out of the gate. Though Vigneault and Babcock eventually coached their team out of the early hole, Colorado has been steady all season long. Patrick Roy is the favorite for the Adams, but the accomplishments of many other coaches this year should ensure that he does not stand alone.
This article is one in a daily series, providing coverage, analysis, and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner