Mike Sullivan was asked many times during the season about his coaching job in 2019-20, navigating through so many injuries, and whether it was his most challenging season or even his best season. He always deflected, saying things to the effect of it all being a part of coaching and needing to handle whatever each day brought.
Perhaps the Pittsburgh Penguins coach should have bragged just a little bit.
In what surely will be perceived as a snub in some quarters, Sullivan was not among the three finalists named Wednesday for the Jack Adams Award, which goes to the NHL’s coach of the year. The finalists are Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins, John Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Alain Vigneault of the Philadelphia Flyers.
The award is determined by a vote of members of the NHL Broadcasters’ Association. It would seem there was a strong field of contenders. In St. Louis, there was a push for Craig Berube, for example.
Sullivan, 52, who guided the Penguins to Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017, began just one game this season with his full complement of players – Nov. 2 when Edmonton visited – but that lasted less than a full game as winger Patric Hornqvist left because of an injury.
The Penguins not only were plagued with a seemingly never-ending string of injuries, but those also ranged from nagging problems to multiple surgeries, and they included top players, including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Jake Guentzel.
Still, the team was 40-23-6 in the 69 games it got in before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season. The balance of the games will not be played, as the NHL is gearing up to resume with the playoffs next month. The Penguins are participating in a training camp in advance of a play-in series against the Montreal Canadiens next month.
Dan Bylsma is the only Penguins coach to win the Jack Adams Award, in 2010-11. That team also was ravaged by injuries.
Here are the descriptions of the finalists’ qualifications from the NHL’s news release:
Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins
Under Cassidy, the Bruins (44-14-12 in 70 GP) topped the NHL in both points (100) and points percentage (.714) to claim the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best club during the regular season. Boston posted a League-best 44 wins, including 22 victories as both hosts (22-4-9) and visitors (22-10-3). The Bruins, who reached the 40-win milestone for the seventh consecutive season, also posted an NHL-best +53 goal differential while ranking in the top three in both power play (2nd; 25.2%) and penalty kill (3rd; 84.3%) efficiency. Cassidy is a Jack Adams finalist for the second time in the past three seasons, finishing as runner-up to Vegas’ Gerard Gallant in 2017-18. He is vying to become the fourth Bruins coach to capture Jack Adams honors, following Don Cherry (1975-76), Pat Burns (1997-98) and Claude Julien (2008-09).
John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets
Tortorella guided the Blue Jackets to a .579 points percentage at the time of the pause (33-22-15), landing in the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 9-ranked team. The Blue Jackets recorded points in 33 of their final 41 games after Dec. 8 (22-8-11), highlighted by a pair of double-digit point streaks in that span: 12 games (8-0-4 from Dec. 9 to Jan. 2) and 10 games (9-0-1 from Jan. 11 to Feb. 7). Columbus committed the fewest minor penalties in the NHL (180 in 70 GP), tied for second in the League in shutouts (seven) and had an NHL-high seven skaters score their first career regular-season goal. Tortorella has garnered a Jack Adams finalist berth for the fifth time; he is a two-time winner of the award (2003-04 with Tampa Bay, 2016-17 with Columbus) and has finished second twice (2002-03 with Tampa Bay, 2011-12 with NY Rangers).
Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia Flyers
In his first season behind the Philadelphia bench, Vigneault led the Flyers to a .645 points percentage (41-21-7) at the pause, their best since a .646 mark in 2010-11 and third-best in 30 years. The Flyers vaulted into the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and a spot in the seeding Round Robin of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers with a nine-game winning streak from Feb. 18 to March 7, eight of which were decided in regulation. Vigneault is a Jack Adams finalist for the fifth time, with his fourth club. He captured the award in 2006-07 with Vancouver and finished second in 1999-2000 with Montreal, 2010-11 with Vancouver and 2014-15 with NY Rangers. He is vying to become the fifth Flyers coach to capture Jack Adams honors, following Fred Shero (1973-74), Pat Quinn (1979-80), Mike Keenan (1984-85) and Bill Barber (2000-01).