Thursday, 16 July 2009

Jack Adams: Bench Legend

It's usually the players that get the credit when a team experiences a large degree of success, and, for the most part, it's credit that is well-deserved. After all, they score goals and stop pucks, and that's entirely how games are won and lost. However, putting the players on the ice on compatible lines is entirely up to the man behind the bench, and the head coach usually shies away from the limelight when it comes to accepting credit for his team's success. However, the NHL doesn't allow the best coach each season to avoid the limelight. The NHL awards the Jack Adams Trophy annually to the NHL coach "adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success". So who was this Jack Adams fellow? What did he do to warrant a trophy named after him? And what interesting facts are there about this award?

John James "Jack" Adams was born on June 14, 1895 in Fort William, Ontario. Adams was a solid young hockey player as a child, and eventually joined his hometown Fort William Maple Leafs by age 14. A year later in 1910, he was playing for the Calumet Miners. He spent five years with the Miners before joining the Peterborough 247th Battalion of the Ontario Hockey Association. By 1917, Adams was playing for the Sarnia Sailors.

By age 22, Adams was signed by the Toronto franchise, later called the "Arenas", of the newly-formed National Hockey League. Adams earned the reputation as a bruising, hard-hitting forward who didn't shy away from playing rough. The Arenas battled hard all season long, and made the playoffs. Toronto defeated the Montreal Canadiens in the first NHL Final in a two-game, total-goals series by a 10-7 count. This allowed Toronto to advance to the Stanley Cup Championship against the PCHA Champion Vancouver Millionaires.

Adams was the third centerman on the depth chart for Toronto, so he didn't see the ice in the Stanley Cup Championship due to the teams carrying only enough players as necessary. However, Jack Adams is listed on the Stanley Cup as a member of that Toronto team that won the first Stanley Cup in the newly-formed NHL.

Adams was lured west to the Vancouver Millionaires, and signed with the club in December 1919. It was in Vancouver where Adams really came on as a player. His success was highlighted by his leading the league in scoring in 1921-22. In the Stanley Cup Championship in 1922, Adams scored six goals in five games, leading all players in goals during that series.

He moved back east in 1922, however, and joined the Toronto St. Pats. Adams played alongside legendary St. Pats' forward Babe Dye, and led the NHL in scoring in 1925-26. He played four seasons with the St. Pats before joining the Ottawa Senators for the 1926-27 season and won his second Stanley Cup as the Senators captured the NHL Championship. The Stanley Cup Championship would be his last NHL game as he retired at the age of 32. He scored 83 goals and added 32 assists in 173 career NHL games.

Frank Calder, President of the NHL, suggested that the Detroit Falcons hire Jack Adams to be their general manager in 1927-28. Adams had little management experience, but it was thought that his hockey playing experience would benefit him as he could bring in talented players. However, the limited budget of the Cougars proved to be a major stumbling block in bringing in talent. Adams, unhappy with head coach Duke Keats, fired him after only 11 games as the Cougars sat at a mediocre 5-5-1 record. They finished the season with 44 points, and missed the playoffs. This didn't sit well with Adams, but his hands were tied in terms of attracting talent with money.

Adams did an admirable job despite the handicap he had. A name change to the "Falcons" in 1930 didn't do anything to help them in the standings, but things changed considerably when James Norris bought the Detroit Falcons in 1932 and renamed them as the Detroit Red Wings. Norris poured money into the franchise, and Adams was allowed to pursue and retain talent with money. Being a coach allowed him a rinkside seat for scouting, and this combination made the Red Wings a powerhouse for years to come.

Adams won three Stanley Cups as the coach of the Red Wings - 1935-36, 1936-37, and 1942-43 - before stepping down to concentrate on his general manager's duties in 1947. Adams' coaching career ended with 413 wins, 390 losses, and 161 ties. He is still the winningest coach in Detroit Red Wings history. He was the first coach to be suspended in the Stanley Cup Final after his rage bubbled over in what he thought was biased penalty calls against his team, and a referee was punched in Game Three of the 1942 Final. However, his greatest achievements had yet to been seen.

Much like what Frank Selke had done in building an amazing feeder system for players in both Toronto and Montreal, Adams had built a phenomenal system for the Red Wings. Players like Alex Delvecchio, Ted Lindsay, Red Kelly, and Terry Sawchuk made their way through this system. After the New York Rangers passed on a young player named Gordie Howe, it was Jack Adams who went out and signed the rugged winger to a deal and brought him into the Red Wings family.

Thanks to his incredible eye for talent and the feeder system he built for the Red Wings, Adams and the Wings went on to win four more Stanley Cups while finishing first overall in the NHL from 1948 until 1955. Because of these Stanley Cups wins, Jack Adams became the only man to have his name on the Stanley Cup as a player, as a coach, and as a general manager in NHL history. That still stands today.

Adams, however, was from the old-school ways of doing things, and he continually moved players in and out of the lineup via trades and demotions to the minors in order for them to avoid complacency. Because of his penchant for trading players who he thought had gotten too comfortable, he earned the nickname of "Trader Jack". This was certainly an accurate nickname considering the number of moves he made.

In fact, one of those moves caused significant friction between himself and a number of players. Ted Lindsay was involved in a movement in 1957 to get a players' union organized. This angered Adams beyond belief as he saw it as a rebellion by players. He traded Ted Lindsay to Chicago in order to curb the union movement. He told the media that the trade was necessary because Lindsay had been critical of his teammates, and Adams wouldn't stand for that. Adams discovered that there were a number of players in his dressing room who were onboard with Lindsay and the union movement, and, rather than trading them all, he demoted them to minor-league teams as punishment.

His actions were viewed as reprehensible by the affected players, and they began to leave the Red Wings as soon as their contracts had ended. Because of the mass exodus of players due to Adams' punishments, he was fired in 1963 - 36 years after he first moved into the role of general manager. His 36-year tenure is still the longest employment by one team in NHL history.

After being fired by the Red Wings, Adams founded the Central Hockey League, serving as its first President. Adams held that position until he passed away on May 1, 1968 at the age of 73. Adams was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1959 as a builder due to his work with the Red Wings. The NHL created a trophy in his memory in 1973, and first awarded the Jack Adams Trophy at the conclusion of the 1973-74 season. Fred Shero, head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, was the first coach to receive the honour.

Adams was clearly an interesting man, and there are a number of interesting facts about his trophy. Here are some of those facts:

  • The Jack Adams Award has been awarded 35 times since its introduction to 30 individuals.
  • Pat Burns has won the Jack Adams Trophy three times, earning the award in 1988-89 with Montreal, 1992-93 with Toronto, and 1997-98 with Boston. His three wins are the most by any coach in NHL history.
  • Burns is also the only coach in NHL history to win the award with three different teams.
  • Four coaches have won the award twice with two different teams. Pat Burns, as stated above, did it; Jacques Lemaire won it twice with the New Jersey Devils ('93-94) and Minnesota Wild ('02-03); Pat Quinn won it twice with the Philadelphia Flyers ('79-80) and Vancouver Canucks ('93-94); and Scotty Bowman won it twice with the Montreal Canadiens ('76-77) and Detroit Red Wings ('95-96).
  • Jacques Demers is the only coach to have won the trophy in consecutive seasons, winning it in 1986-87 and 1987-88 with the Detroit Red Wings.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings have had the most Jack Adams Trophy winners with four each. St. Louis and Phoenix/Winnipeg follow with three winners each.
  • There have only been two winners of the Jack Adams Trophy who didn't start the season as an NHL head coach. Bill Barber replaced Craig Ramsay in Philadelphia in 2000-01, and went on to win the trophy. Bruce Boudreau replaced Glen Hanlon in Washington in 2007-08, and went on to win the Jack Adams Trophy.
  • 19 franchises are represented on the Jack Adams Trophy since it was first awarded. The only Original Six team without a Jack Adams Trophy winner? The New York Rangers.
  • Only three coaches have won a Stanley Cup in the same season that they earned the Jack Adams Trophy. Fred Shero and the Philadelphia Flyers did it in 1973-74. Scotty Bowman did it in 1976-77 with the Montreal Canadiens. John Tortorella did it with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04.
There's the history about Jack Adams, the trophy named after him, and the trivia you may want to know about this trophy. While Adams was the face of the Red Wings for nearly four decades, his legacy will live on forever with the trophy named after him.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think he was inducted into the Hall as a player in 1959 - not as a "builder".