The Jack Adams Trophy (best coach in the NHL) might be John Tortorella of the Philadelphia Flyers to lose at the halfway point of the season.
Tortorella took a team that was expected to be in the Metropolitan Division basement and turned them into a real playoff contender. Signs point to what the Flyers are doing being sustainable, making a second-half collapse unlikely.
Even if they fall short of the playoffs, Tortorella remains the favorite. There will be two other nominees when finalists are announced and Kris Knoblauch of the Edmonton Oilers should be one of them. Knoblauch has led a stunning turnaround for the Oilers.
Panic set in Oil Country at the beginning of the season when the Stanley Cup favorites got off to a start that placed them dead last in the Pacific Division.
The NHL coach of the year award could go to many different people
Edmonton fired then-head coach Jay Woodcroft and replaced him with Knoblauch, who had been coaching the New York Rangers AHL affiliate in Hartford.
Knoblauch was named “best addition” for the Oilers in ESPN’s latest NHL power rankings, with Kristen Shilton perfectly summing up Knoblauch’s abbreviated resume this season:
"Edmonton's numbers speak for themselves: The Oilers were 3-9-1 when Jay Woodcraft was fired; they are 21-6-0 since Kris Knoblauch took over. That's the league's third-best record overall since Nov. 12, and no doubt Knoblauch has played a key part in righting Edmonton's ship before it completely capsized."
If Tortorella was not having success, and also a full season’s body of work in the city of brotherly love, Knoblauch could just as easily be the Jack Adams Trophy favorite.
Three coaches have won the award as mid-season replacements. Bill Barber won with the Flyers in the 2000-2001 season, Bruce Boudreau won with the Washington Capitals in 2007-2008, and Ken Hitchcock won with the St. Louis Blues in 2011-2012.
For reference, Boudreau was hired at the 21-game point in the season and Hitchcock at the 13-game point. Knoblauch was hired at the 13-game point as well.
Adding to Knoblauch’s case is the extreme-ness of Edmonton’s turnaround. The Oilers being preseason cup favorites and going from division basement dwellers to historic win streaks only adds to the drama.
Edmonton’s turnaround is similar to St. Louis’ during their historic “worst to first” Stanley Cup championship season of 2018-2019.
Just like the Oilers, St. Louis had an interim head coach in Craig Berube. Unlike the Oilers, they also had rookie goaltending sensation Jordan Binnington saving a lot of problems in the net.
Edmonton may not have found a goaltending fixer, but Knoblauch has gotten the most out of his star players during disappointing starts.
Knoblauch was a coach of McDavid during his junior hockey days. In the first 18 games under Knoblauch, McDavid had 10 goals and 24 assists for 34 points after scoring two goals and 10 points in 11 games under Woodcroft.
Yes, McDavid was injured, missed some time, and played through injury, but that doesn’t change the fact he reached a new offensive gear under Knoblauch.
In that 18-game sample size, McDavid was scoring 1.89 points per game. During last year’s Hart Trophy-winning effort, McDavid was scoring at 1.87 points per game.
Maybe he won’t reach 200 points this season like some spectated, but with how the season has gone Oilers will gladly take a McDavid on par with last year’s.
Tortorella isn’t Knoblauch’s only competition. NHL.com writers see Rick Tocchet of the Vancover Canucks as the favorite. Just like Tortorella, Tocchet was on the job last season and was able to start implementing his system, so “longevity” is once again putting Knoblauch at a disadvantage
This year is still a personal triumph for Knoblauch. In the span of a few months, he got plucked from the AHL and led a dramatic turnaround of one of the NHL’s most talented teams. A nomination might not result in a win but it’s an acknowledgment of all Knoblauch has accomplished.