When it comes to NHL awards, it tends to be an uphill climb for any Edmonton Oilers’ player or personnel. An obvious example was when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was decisively edged by Gabriel Landeskog in 2011 for the Calder, in spite of having a superior points per game to Landeskog.
Moving forward a few years, the Oilers are enjoying their best season since 2006. When the wins are counted in May, this could be the Oil’s first 100 point season since 1987. Now that’s improvement. And improvement in point totals over the previous year, relative to the team’s potential and expectations, is generally what draws the most consideration for the Jack Adams.
But in spite of the fact that the Oilers are near the top in the most improved category, there is not the slightest acknowledgment in the media that McLellan be considered for the Adams. And it is clearly unfair.
But to see why it might be unfair, we would need to consider who the early favorites are for the Jack Adams and how what they have done compared to McLellan’s accomplishments in 2017. To this point Bill Peters in Carolina, Bruce Boudreau with the Wild, John Torterella in CBJ, and Mike Babcock in the big smoke, are the front-runners. How does McLellan stack up?
Looking at the current standings it’s a little surprising Çane’s head coach Bill Peters is getting any Jack Adams reference. He does have a low talent team, that lost their heart and soul in Eric Staal. So based on their improvement, he has, somewhat, made NHL’s version of a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. However, it’s not a designer one.
The team has slowed down recently and is on pace for 83 points, far from a playoff spot this season, and probably in deep rebuild mode for the next 2 – 3 years.
McLellan’s other competitor for a spot would be Bruce Boudreau. Bruce has success wherever he has went (just no Stanley Cup) and has taken the Minnesota Wild up a notch. But has the turnaround been that dramatic? Boudreau is taking over a team that was already in the playoffs, so there is improvement, however, I’m not sure it’s so dramatic he should supplant McLellan in voting.
Mclellan vs Babcock: Pragmatically speaking, there is no way McLellan can win this battle. But when you look at this contest objectively, far from the haze of T dot, McLellan has the edge in my mind. Last year the Maple Leafs finished with 69 points, the Oilers 70. If both teams maintain their current pace, the Oilers will crack the century mark while the leafs will be around 93 points, a number that could have the leafs on the outside looking in come playoff time. If the leafs do miss the playoffs, that should remove Babcock from best coach consideration. If that total does see them squeak in, is that really good enough? The argument for Babcock is how much he’s done with a bunch of rookies. In reality he has very good stable of young players supported by some solid veterans. Matthews is not as good as Mcdavid (let’s get that straight), but he is one of the top young players in the league and practically the same age as Mcdavid. He’s supported by players like James Van Riemsdyk and Nazim Kadri up front, Morgan Reilly and Martin Marincin on the blueline, and a goaltender on the rise in Frederik Andersen. So he’s really not in a much different position than the Oilers, McLellan has simply done a better job of getting more from what he has. In my mind Babcock is somewhat over-rated. The truly great coaches of our time have managed more than one cup, and to this point, Babcock, has not.
The verdict: The GTA and eastern media will push overwhelmingly for Babcock to win if the Leafs make the playoffs. If they don’t win the playoffs, it could be a different story, and yet more pouting in Maple Leaf land.
McLellan vs Torterella: The amazing reinvention of John Torterella in nearly unprecedented in NHL history, and, to be fair, if the Columbus Blue Jackets carry on at their current pace, Torts would be the most deserving winner. Not only for how he rejuvenated the Blue Jackets, but how he has turned his professional career around, which seemed to be on life support. The team is far from all-star laden and they finished last season with virtually the same position as the Oilers, So they’ve gone from nearly worst to almost first in less than a season. Very impressive. But in spite of their record challenging win streak, the Columbus Blue Jackets have cooled down considerably. Do they have the depth to maintain success.
Verdict: Torterella has done a great job but I think he has run out of the magic Kool-Aid he has been feeding his players. One or two key injuries in the home stretch will allow McLellan to potentially over-take Torterella in team performance. If the Blue Jackets drop significantly, McLellan’s Jack Adams consideration in relation to Torterella should improve.
So Can it Happen?
If the Maple Leafs continue to improve and come even close to 100 points, Babcock will win this award. Not because he outright deserves it, but because he lives in hockey’s center of the universe and the GTA media will beat the drum louder and louder until it happens.
As for Torterella, if Columbus continues on their present pace, he deserves the award. However based on what McLellan has done with the Oilers, and the results on the ice and in the standings, he should be among the last three in consideration. That perspective is coming from a Oilers fan (me) who thought the Oilers should have kept Todd Nelson on permanently, based on the good work he had done to that point with the team, especially with problem children like Nail Yakupov and Anton Lander. So I’m not a McLellan fan per se.
But there’s no taking away from the team’s improvement on the ice. The Oilers needed a dedication to structure and a defensive awareness that allowed offensively talented players to flourish. And that appears to now be the case. Now if he can just alter his shoot-out choices I’ll be 100% on board, as should a Jack Adams nod.