It’s been a tough couple days for Canadian NHL head coaches.
The Montreal Canadiens fired Dominique Ducharme on Wednesday and replaced him with former NHLer Martin St. Louis, the latter move being the far more surprising of the two as St. Louis is without coaching experience at any professional level, although he enjoyed a Hall of Fame playing career.
About 24 hours later, the Edmonton Oilers axed Dave Tippett after another disappointing loss, this time to the lowly Chicago Blackhawks by a 4-1 count. The Oilers have struggled mightily following a hot start to the season, and in Canadian markets heads need to roll if the team isn’t winning.
It would appear now is a good time to get back looking to Jack Adams Award futures. There’s a healthy dose of strong candidates, but let’s look into the one sporting the most value at prevailing odds.
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
Sheldon Keefe (Maple Leafs, +1100)
When I did my first Jack Adams piece of the season, Keefe was suggested as a strong value play at +1800. While the odds have shortened to +1100, there’s still seven coaches sporting shorter odds than the Maple Leafs bench boss. As a side note, it’s probably best to ignore the Tippett suggestion in that piece from early December at this point.
Currently the NHL’s hottest team in winning six in a row, the Leafs sit third in a difficult Atlantic Division with a 30-10-3 record on the season. From a broader perspective, Keefe’s Leaf sit fourth in the NHL in terms of points percentage at .733, behind only Colorado, Carolina and Florida.
Since taking over for Mike Babcock in November of 2019, Keefe has compiled a 92-39-15 record as an NHL head coach. The postseason success remains elusive, however we’ll keep in mind this a regular-season award. It’s also worth noting that he’s enjoyed major success wherever he’s coached as he went 134-55-5-10 (last column is shootout losses) with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds before going 200-89-22-9 in parts of five seasons with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
It helps that Keefe coaches arguably the NHL’s best goal-scorer in Auston Matthews, but in the pressure-cooker that is Toronto, Keefe has shown a maturity beyond his years, holding his team accountable and navigating the highs and lows with a firm, steady hand. He’s happy to praise his team when warranted, but also call them out when the club underperforms as we witnessed following a loss to the Rangers on Jan. 19 at Madison Square Garden.
“I just thought we got exposed today for being a team that was just soft… soft and purposeless.”
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe reacts to blowing a 3-1 lead and losing on Wednesday night pic.twitter.com/V9b4TIsZOu
— Tim and Friends (@timandfriends) January 20, 2022
One factor that could swing this value one way or the other is the fact Keefe has yet to face the Panthers and has three games remaining against the Atlantic foes from here on out. If the club is able to use its four games in hand and narrow the six-point difference in the standings, those head-to-head contests could very well determine the winner of the division, albeit with Tampa very much in the mix as well.
With the club trending in the right direction despite an uphill climb within the Atlantic, Keefe remains a solid value look at these odds.
Jared Bednar (Avalanche, +1200)
Right behind Keefe on the board is Colorado’s Jared Bednar, now in his sixth season at the helm.
The last coach to win the Jack Adams with the NHL’s best record was Bruce Cassidy for the 2019-20 Boston Bruins while last year’s winner Rod Brind’Amour’s Carolina Hurricanes fell two points short of sharing the league lead a season ago. There are many previous winners that arise from outperforming expectations, but Bednar’s Avalanche are a powerhouse and his chances certainly improve if they end the season as the league’s No. 1 seed.
Sure, the roster is stacked, but Bednar’s track record is quite good, at least of late. The team tied for third overall in the league two seasons back and tied for the league lead last season alongside the Vegas Golden Knights but won out on the first tie-breaker (regulation wins). Finishing first overall in two straight years should get Bednar right in the thick of the conversation if the club continues at their current pace.
The roster is indeed stacked, but he appears to be getting the most out of his players. He could very well have the Norris Trophy winner on the back end in Cale Makar and Nazem Kadri is having a monster season and challenging for the Art Ross. We should also give him his due for the career-year that Devon Toews is having with 32 points in 33 games, already a career-high over the 31 he posted under Bednar a season ago when he finished 11th in the Norris voting.
Devon Toews: Calm, cool & collected. pic.twitter.com/XV5mK4QziQ
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 2, 2022
At the rate his team is winning right now, it appears Bednar has a strong case for a Jack Adams nomination.
Dean Evason (Wild, +1600)
Evason was a Jack Adams nominee a season ago when he led the Wild to a 35-16-5 record and a share of eighth overall alongside the Tampa Bay Lightning, so his inaugural full campaign behind an NHL bench went swimmingly.
The Wild also posted a .670 points percentage a season ago, a mark they’ve eclipsed through the first 42 games of this season as they sit sixth in the league in that department so far this time around.
Through the first 110 games of his NHL coaching career, Evason has gone a cool 61-31-8. Like Keefe, the former NHLer coached an AHL affiliate prior to the hiring, going 242-161-29-24 in six seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals, the farmhand of the Nashville Predators.
Evason certainly gets the most out of a roster that seemingly lacks star power. Outside of sophomore Kirill Kaprizov, the Wild are essentially a blue-collar hockey team that gets production up and down the lineup as well as getting significant contributions from the back end.
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 8, 2021
The club surprisingly sits third in overall offense as a result, something we did not expect from this roster. Coming together and producing the way they are has plenty to do with Evason as the Wild are one of the more difficult teams to play against in the league this season.
The problem with his chances are Bednar’s Avalanche who sit nine points ahead of the Wild with Minnesota holding two games in hand. It’s not an insurmountable deficit with just under half their season remaining, but if the Avalanche run away with the division it’s going to be awfully difficult for Evason to edge Bednar in the vote. Keep in mind John Hynes’ (+800) Nashville Predators are out-performing themselves at second in the Central and one point ahead of Minnesota, but with the Wild sporting five games in hand. Nonetheless, Nashville remains in the conversation within the division.
The club won nine of 10 entering the All-Star break, but unfortunately the Avalanche did as well, so no ground was made up despite the torrid stretch. That’s simply a great example of the fight they face in upsetting the powerhouse Avs.
He’s likely facing an uphill climb, but the Wild are a threat and if they keep playing the way they have of late, Evason will get plenty of credit come season’s end.