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Kings coach Todd McLellan snubbed in NHL's Jack Adams Award race

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The NHL announced the three finalists for the Jack Adams Award on Thursday, with Andrew Brunette of the Florida Panthers, Gerard Gallant of the New York Rangers, and Darryl Sutter of the Calgary Flames earning the nods for the league's top coach.

Brunette started the 2021-22 season as an assistant, but was named the Panthers' interim head coach in late October after Joel Quenneville's resignation. In what was his first gig as a head coach at the NHL level, he led the Panthers to their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy thanks to an outstanding 58-18-6 record.

Gallant was hired by the Rangers last offseason and led them to a 52-24-6 record, which was good enough for second in the Metropolitan Division. It was a massive improvement from the 27-23-6 record the team posted a season prior.

Last but certainly not least is Sutter. The longtime NHL bench boss is highly considered the front-runner for this award given how he helped turn the Flames around this year. The 63-year-old was hired mid-season in 2020-21 after a slow start, with the hopes he could turn things around immediately. While it didn’t happen as quickly as some had hoped, he managed to convert the Flames into one of the most complete teams in the entire league in 2021-22. Most viewed this club as a borderline playoff candidate back in October, and it instead went on to win the Pacific Division with a 50-21-11 record.

All three of these candidates certainly have a case to be in the running, as they each helped lead their teams to very successful regular seasons. With that being said, there was one very deserving candidate who was snubbed from this list in Todd McLellan.

Todd McLellan steered the Los Angeles Kings to a surprise third-place finish in the NHL's Pacific Division. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)
Todd McLellan steered the Los Angeles Kings to a surprise third-place finish in the NHL's Pacific Division. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

McLellan had little-to-no success in his first two seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, missing the playoffs by a significant margin in each. That was no fault of his own, as his rosters simply weren’t good enough to compete. More of the same was expected this season, as their roster on paper seemed quite underwhelming compared to other teams in the Pacific.

To the Kings' credit, they battled hard all season long, and ended up capturing third place in their division with a 44-27-11 record for a 60.4 points percentage. That was a gigantic improvement over McLellan's first two seasons, where the Kings posted points percentages of just 45.7 and 43.8, respectively.

Their goals per game from this season compared to last jumped from 2.54 to 2.87, while their goals against per game dropped from 3.02 to 2.83. While that improvement was impressive in itself, what made it even more special was the fact they were able to do so despite facing a number of injuries to key players throughout the season.

The most notable injury this team had was to defenseman Drew Doughty, who was back to playing like his former elite self this season before being forced to undergo wrist surgery. Prior to being hurt, the 32-year-old was averaging nearly 26 minutes per game, causing many to believe his injury would result in the Kings' downfall.

Thanks in large part to McLellan’s leadership, they managed to continue scratching and clawing their way to victories. There were several other key players who missed significant chunks of time as well, including Viktor Arvidsson, Dustin Brown, Andreas Athanasiou, Sean Durzi, Matt Roy and Alex Edler.

As the Vegas Golden Knights proved this season, even the NHL’s most talented teams can have things go terribly wrong when bitten by the injury bug. That should have been the case for the Kings, as their roster didn’t appear to have the depth needed to overcome all the injuries they sustained, but somehow they were able to, and McLellan deserves a ton of credit for that.

Who Should McLellan Have Replaced?

As mentioned, Sutter is the heavy front-runner in this race, and rightfully so. While the other two are both deserving of some recognition for their teams’ great seasons, it is hard to argue either should have been nominated ahead of McLellan.

Heading into the 2021-22 season, the Panthers were viewed as one of the league's best teams, and they proved that early on, jumping out to a 7-0-0 start prior to Quenneville’s resignation. While Brunette by no means hampered them, there is an argument to be made they would have kept things rolling regardless of who was behind their bench.

As for the Rangers, this was a team most believed would improve significantly from the season prior due to its top-tier talent. Not only do the Rangers possess weapons like Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad up front, but they have the reigning Norris Trophy winner in Adam Fox on the back end. Perhaps the most important piece of all for this team is between the pipes in Igor Shesterkin, whose fantastic 2021-22 campaign made him a finalist for both the Vezina and Hart trophies. Though Gallant certainly did some great things, he had plenty more to work with than McLellan.

Though he would never say so publicly, McLellan is likely peeved he didn’t get nominated. The 54-year-old has coached over 1,000 games at the NHL level but has still yet to win a Jack Adams Award. There have been several years where he certainly had a case during his lengthy stint with the San Jose Sharks, as well as the 2016-17 season with the Edmonton Oilers in which he was a runner-up. With that being said, this season felt like perhaps his best opportunity yet, and he instead failed to even be nominated.

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