Leafs' Babcock Should Win NHL's Coach of Year Award, but Probably Won't
It's going to Tortorella. Don't trust the voters to get it right.
Photo by Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Congratulations to Mike Babcock on being named the 2016-17 NHL coach of the year!
That's the award I give out at the event I hold in my basement, which Babcock doesn't care about and no one attends. He's probably not going to win the Jack Adams Award, which he probably doesn't care about either because that almost always goes to the wrong coach.
Looking at you, John Tortorella.
The Jack Adams tends to be the Coach Of The Year That Had A Team With Low Expectations Entering The Season And A Very High PDO At The End Of The Season Award, which fits Tortorella better than either Babcock or Todd McLellan, the other two finalists this year. The Blue Jackets had the fourth-highest PDO (101.4) and the league's best goaltender (Sergei Bobrovsky), and that's why they didn't finish with the worst record in the league like we all thought.
When Tortorella is fired in a couple years, people will ask, "How can you fire a guy who won the Jack Adams in 2017?!" Just like they did with Bob Hartley. And Patrick Roy. But hey, congrats to Tortorella on winning this award, probably.
The award should really go to Babcock. And it may, but I have no faith in voters getting this right two years in a row.
While Tortorella leaned on Bobrovsky and McLellan leaned on Connor McDavid, Babcock transformed the Leafs from a team that went from a tank to the playoffs in one year and didn't rely on one player or insane goaltending to get it done.
The Leafs went from 69 points to 95; they bumped their score-adjusted Fenwick from 49.3 (19th) to 50.5 (13th); they had the seventh-youngest team in the league, with an average age of 26.7; they had six rookies play at least 77 games at no fewer than 16 minutes per game and did it all with a No. 1 goaltender posting a perfectly fine .918 save percentage in 66 starts.
This isn't to say Babcock didn't have a wealth of rookie talent on his roster with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Connor Brown, but there was no guarantee this would lead to a playoff berth or even anything close to it. Usually a group this young will hit a wall, but it never happened with Babcock pulling the strings.
In fact, the Leafs finished stronger than they started.
Here is their record in 20-game stretches:
Over their final 62 games, the Leafs played to a 102-point pace.
The Leafs got tougher to play against as the season progressed while the Blue Jackets faded after feeding on the league's weaker teams. Columbus was carried by the presumptive Vezina winner while Edmonton was carried by the presumptive Hart winner (and Cam Talbot was pretty good, too).
Yeah, the Leafs had Matthews, but he wasn't a difference maker in the same vein as Bobrovsky and McDavid, and the Leafs didn't have the same luck as those teams.
If Babcock doesn't get the Jack Adams, he can sleep easy knowing he'll get a Stanley Cup in Toronto in a few years.