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$FML's NHL Coach of the Year: Futures Update - 3/13

NHL Coach of the Year: Futures Update

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Current Coach of the year Odds:

It’s been a minute since we gave an update on this futures pick! Let’s check the latest odds (courtesy of Bet365) and discuss possible outcomes:

  • Jim Montgomery / Boston Bruins (-700)
  • Lindy Ruff / New Jersey Devils (+1000)
  • Remaining Field (+1400 or longer)

Before we dive in – it’s very important to understand that most sportsbooks yanked this futures market off the board. Bet365 is the only operator still offering bets, as far as I know. The lack of a true “market” speaks to the uncertainty surrounding this year’s award. Said differently, there’s no true “consensus,” because if there were: more books would offer bets.

That said, let’s analyze Bet365’s odds starting with the favorite. They’ve pegged Jim Montgomery (Boston Bruins head coach) as the clear front-runner (-700), which is consistent with the latest NHL.com “Trophy Tracker.” It’s worth noting the NHL.com “Trophy Tracker” is based on simple a survey of 15 staff writers though; whereas the actual award will be voted on by the NHL Broadcasters’ Association, which includes 130+ members.

The Case for Jim Montgomery:

Pros

  • 5 of the last 15 winners (33%) were 1st year coaches who took “a recently great team to the next level” (source: TSN), and Montgomery fits the bill
  • Bruins on pace to win Presidents’ Trophy (awarded to team with most standings points)
  • They’re also on pace to break NHL records for most points and wins in a season
  • Bottom Line: his team might literally go down as the best in NHL history

Cons

  • 13 of the last 15 winners did not coach the best team in the league. Example: Last year’s Florida Panthers led the NHL with 122 standings points (behind a 1st year coach, similar to Montgomery); however, the Jack Adams Award went to Darryl Sutter, whose Calgary Flames finished 6th in the NHL with 111 points.
  • The Bruins were arguably an elite team before Montgomery took over. It’s true: they started the year with multiple key injuries (example, Brad Marchand; however, he returned 1-2 months ahead of schedule). They also opened the season with one of the softest schedules in the league, as measured by strength of schedule. By the time the schedule got tough, Montgomery’s superstars were back in the daily lineup.

The Case for Lindy Ruff:

Pros

  • 10 of the last 15 winners (67%) were coaches who “rapidly improved a team’s fortune” (source: TSN), and Ruff fits the bill
  • Devils on pace to finish with 117 standings points (+85.7% vs. last year)
  • Only 2 coaches in the last 15 years improved their team’s standings points by 60%+ Y/Y
  • 1 of them won the Jack Adams (Patrick Roy, 2012-13), while the 2nd (Jared Bednar, 2017-18) was overshadowed by an unprecedented feat (Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant led his group to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season as an expansion team)

Cons

  • Ruff’s been coaching the Devils for multiple seasons
  • An argument could be made that assistant coaching hires were the real difference in New Jersey (for example, they hired Andrew Brunette, who was a Jack Adams Award finalist last year with Florida)
  • Like Jared Bednar in 2017-18: Ruff’s success might be overshadowed by an unprecedented feat (for example, if Boston breaks the NHL records for points and wins in a season)

Final thoughts / conclusions:

I can’t argue against Montgomery being the odds-on favorite because his team – quite literally – might go down as the best in NHL history (as measured by regular season wins and points).

That said, and I can’t emphasize this enough: recent history suggests this is a much closer race than odds indicate. Only 2 of the last 15 Jack Adams Award winners coached the #1 team in the league. This simple fact speaks to potential bias among voters. I believe this is important to understand, because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re trying to predict, right? Who will they vote for? Looking at this table: it’s pretty clear voters prefer the underdog narrative, as opposed to rewarding the coach with the most talented roster.

$FML

If they keep pace, the 2022/23 New Jersey Devils are projected to finish Top 3 in the league with the 2nd best year-over-year improvement in the last 15 seasons. And for what it’s worth… I didn’t look back further than that.

$FML

It’s a different sport, but I see parallels between this race and the 2022/23 NFL Coach of the Year. You may recall Philadelphia Eagles’ coach Nick Sirianni was the odds-on favorite to win AP Coach of the Year this season based on his team’s standings position. However, New York Giants’ coach Brian Daboll ultimately won thanks to year-over-year comparisons, which showed immense improvement. He took his team from the bottom of the barrel to a playoff spot. The same can and should be said about Lindy Ruff this year. Just see New Jersey’s year-over-year change compared to Boston:

Bruins

  • Last year: 107 points (10th in league)
  • Current Pace: 132 points (1st)
  • Projected Change: +23.4%

Devils

  • Last year: 63 points (28th)
  • Current Pace: 117 points (Top-3)
  • Projected Change: +85.7%

If I were making these odds, I’d have Montgomery closer to -250 and Ruff closer to +300 right now, all things considered. In the event New Jersey holds and finishes 2nd in the NHL (ahead of Carolina), I’d re-price to a practical coin flip (-110 apiece). In either case, I still see insane value on Ruff to win at +1000. I didn’t double down (yet), but it’s tempting. Even if New Jersey finishes 3rd, bringing a team from the bottom of the barrel (28th in the league) to Top-3 in a 1-year span deserves recognition, right? I’ve been wrong before, but this feels like a no-brainer to me.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard rumors starting to swirl that Lindy could retire after this season. He’s earned the 5th most coaching wins in history (826) but has never been recognized with the Jack Adams Award. If the NHL Broadcasters Association voters are inherently biased, which I think they are, I think Lindy could legitimately steal this award from Jim Montgomery, even if he doesn’t technically deserve it.

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