His peers—Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy and Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper—are certainly worthy of their respective nominations, but to suggest that they are as deserving as Babcock of this particular award is to dismiss what the award represents in the first place.
Lest one think that this assertion smacks of any kind of Detroit Red Wings-bias, consider a few facts before passing that particular bit of judgment.
The Jack Adams Award, as per the NHL’s announcement, recognizes the coach who has “contributed the most to his team’s success” during the season in which it is awarded.
Now, assessing who among the finalists substantively contributed more to his team’s success than any of his peers is hardly a scientific exercise, but there are some nominal formulas that can be applied.
In recent years, the award seems to favor those coaches who’ve led a team through a particular rough year due to injuries, such as last year’s winner—Ottawa Senators head coach Paul MacLean. Alternatively, those coaches who come in as in-season replacements and proceed to dramatically turn their team around—such as 2012 winner, St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock—also seem to shake out as top candidates for Jack Adams honors.
This year, only Babcock seems to fit one of these two obvious molds as the Detroit Red Wings amassed a franchise-record 421 man games lost to injury this season.
However, that, in and of itself, does not set Babcock ahead of his fellow finalists in Roy and Cooper.
Patrick Roy led a young Avalanche squad to the top of the Western Conference standings this season in his rookie season as Colorado’s head coach. This dramatic turnaround from the 2012-13 season in which the Avalanche finish 29th overall is certainly due in large part to Roy’s leadership.
However, when looking at some of the 2014 NHL Award finalists, one sees Roy had some considerable talent to work with along the way. Indeed, Colorado goalie, Semyon Varlamov, is a Vezina Trophy finalist as the league’s top netminder, and forward Nathan MacKinnon led all rookies in scoring (63 points) to emerge as the odds-on favorite to win the 2014 Calder Trophy.
Babcock, by contrast, had a 41-year-old Daniel Alfredsson as his top point-producer with 49 points and his starting goalie, Jimmy Howard, managed to turn in the worst performance of his NHL career.
Jon Cooper, like Roy, was also a rookie bench boss in 2013-14 that oversaw a similarly dramatic turnaround in Tampa Bay. Tampa finished the year second in the Atlantic Division after sputtering to a 28th-place finish in 2012-13. Cooper also had to deal with losing his best player in Steven Stamkos for most of the season (45 games) due to a broken leg and saw his captain, Martin St. Louis, acrimoniously demand a trade out of town.
Keeping a team so afflicted focused on winning long enough to finish the year as a top-three seed is certainly worthy of high praise.
However, Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop certainly deserves some praise of his own as he backstopped the Lightning to 37 of their 46 wins on the year.
In contrast to the Avalanche and the Lightning, Detroit has no players even remotely worthy of individual recognition this season, yet it still managed to extend its playoff streak to 23 years.
Mike Babcock is the only reason that streak is still alive; for it seems impossible to imagine any other coach—including Patrick Roy or Jon Cooper—doing so much with so little.
When it comes to team success, there’s no coach in the NHL who contributed more to his team than Mike Babcock did to the Red Wings this season.
As such, there’s no question who among Babcock, Roy or Cooper should win the 2014 Jack Adams Award.
*All stats courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.