Since 2013 when he became the Coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jon Cooper has won two Stanley Cups. In addition, Cooper had led his Lightning teams to four Cup Finals, six Eastern Conference finals, winning four of those. In 2018-19, Cooper coached his team to the NHL record for most wins. Despite all this success, one recognition has proved elusive to Cooper. The Jack Adams Award given annually to the league’s best coach.
It’s been conventional wisdom for some time in the NHL that Scotty Bowman is the best coach in league history. Some may argue but of the 2141 games he coached, Bowman coached 329 more games than anyone else. That’s four regular seasons. He also won 275 more games than any other coach. That’s almost three and a half regular seasons. Bowman possesses the requisite coaching bona fides including being a two time winner of the Jack Adams Award.
Don’t look now but Cooper has steadily climbed up the all-time NHL coaching ranks. After the Lightning beat the Arizona Coyotes on New Year’s Eve, Cooper earned his 457th NHL win. Those wins mean Cooper has won more NHL games than every coach in history except 33 coaches.
According to NHL.com, there have been 789 coaches in league history. Cooper is 34th in wins. That puts him in the top 4% of winningest NHL coaches of all-time. Of the top 34 coaches in wins, nobody, including the estimable Bowman, has a higher winning percentage than Cooper. He has won 60% of the games he’s coached. Bowman is second winning 58% of his games. Most of these coaches have a winning percentage of between 50-52%. Some even are less than 50%. Basically, even these great coaches were a coin toss behind their benches. Not Cooper though.
Where’s He’s Headed
Think about this. Cooper is 55 years old. He can easily coach another ten years or longer in this league if he wants. Even if his winning percentage drops to 55%, he will win about 450 more games. That’ll put Cooper at 4th all time in league history. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was still no Jack Adams Award on his mantle. The accomplishments by Cooper and his teams continue to be laudable. This is rare air for an NHL coach. To be mentioned with Bowman is an achievement few have ever done. In my mind, Cooper is the best NHL coach over the last 20 years and possibly one of the best all-time. He’s the longest tenured active coach in the NHL for damn good reasons. Yet, he hasn’t won a Jack Adams Award.
I have wracked my brain to figure out why a coach with the record that Cooper has wouldn’t be recognized with the Jack Adams Award. Maybe he’s not well liked by the NHL Broadcasters Association who vote on the award. I’m sure if asked, Cooper would say he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about this personal trophy. I’m also sure he’d say it more lawyerly and gentlemanly than I just did. Maybe not because he has a fire inside him to win. If the past is truly prologue, Cooper would go on about how in this team game, individual awards mean nothing.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 4, 2022
Who knows why one of the winningest coaches in the league hasn’t been considered for the Adams? Guessing that most of the voters feel that any coach could have led this organization to the level of success. They must figure that with Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, NIkita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy any Tom, Dick and Harry would have the success Cooper has. We know better. This is the old chicken and egg quandary. Has Cooper succeeded because of the talent? The voters must be of this mindset: This team is too good to put it all on Cooper’s shoulders.
To them I say this: It is at least viable that the talent succeeds because of Cooper? You see, Cooper has won championships at every level he’s coached. Did he have the most talent in all of these leagues? From the Michigan High School through the North American Hockey League he won championships. Then to the United States Hockey League where he won another championship. Cooper over the last few years employed the 11 forwards 7 defensemen configuration. Strategy enters his game plans like any good attorney.
Then Julien Brisebois hired Cooper to coach the Norfolk Admirals in the Lightning organization. Not only did Cooper win another championship in the AHL but he led the Admirals to a 28 game winning streak. That still is the North American record for any hockey team. From there, Cooper replaced Guy Boucher with the Lightning. Clearly, Cooper’s success has endured almost a quarter century and five different leagues. At least two of those leagues recognized him as Cooper won coach of the year honors in the USHL and the NAHL.
Irrelevant Jack Adams Award
With the parity in the league that exists now in the NHL, playoff teams aren’t the same year after year. Two years ago, the Lightning beat the Canadiens in the Cup Final. This season, Montreal is second from the bottom in the Eastern Conference. Of the 16 teams that made the playoffs a mere 8 months ago, four are out of the playoffs almost halfway through the current season. Another three are hanging onto a wild card spot. These three could be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Yet, here is Cooper and his team. Of his previous nine full seasons leading this franchise, they have made the playoffs eight times. At this point I’ve given up the thought that the NHL Broadcasting Association will ever award Cooper the Jack Adams. This is why I feel this particular award is irrelevant. If a coach with Cooper’s resume cannot be considered worthy of being the coach of the year, then what is the point? If the failure of those responsible for voting continue to ignore Cooper, this proves that the Jack Adams Award is sheer nonsense. Just get rid of this annual award altogether.
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