Leading up to the Awards show on June 22nd, we will be making a case for each nominee for the major awards as to why they should take home the hardware. Today, we continue with the Jack Adams, given to the top head coach. Dan Bylsma By Carolyn Christians
After achieving a playoff berth in his first three seasons with the Penguins as bench boss to some of the most enviable talent in the NHL, Dan Bylsma had built a solid reputation for his ability to teach these young stars how to compete and win at the highest level. In his first season (hired at mid-season), he brought the Stanley Cup home to Pittsburgh.
By November of this season, his third in the NHL, Bylsma’s crew again looked like champions, with a 12-game winning streak (and 14-0-1 over 15 games). The magic in the room was captured by the HBO series ‘24/7’ that took us behind closed doors in the weeks leading up to the Winter Classic game that had the Penguins hosting Bruce Boudreau’s Washington Capitals on New Year’s Day. The contrast between these two head coaches was striking, with Bylsma the more heroic by far.
Then, the hit to the head of Sidney Crosby, a footnote to that game, emerged as the biggest story in the NHL for weeks. Other injuries that had nagged the team in the fall began to pile up to the point that they dominated coverage of the Penguins’ season. While Selke nominee Jordan Staal returned at last on January 1, the big trophy winners, Crosby and later Evgeni Malkin, saw their season cut short.
Bylsma didn’t miss a step as he cobbled together a makeshift roster each night, heavily populated by AHLers who were called up to deal with the 350 man-games lost on the season.
Despite the injuries that forced constant shuffling of the lineup, the Penguins finished their season with 106 points, only one point behind the Caps, who earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Bylsma’s success in retooling his lineup and re-inventing the system on the fly, without the luxury of 87 and 71 flying down the ice, has raised his reputation to a new level. The Jack Adams nomination was obvious given the achievement. No one else in the East came close.
Barry Trotz By Ryan Porth
For a long time, Barry Trotz has been known league-wide to ‘get a lot out of a little’ from his team. The Predators bench boss has finally started to receive the national recognition that he deserves, as this will be Trotz’s second trip to Las Vegas in as many years. Is this his year to win the Jack Adams? To be frank, he could win it every year.
You can make the statement that Trotz does the same (or very similar) coaching job every season. Every September, the pundits look at the Preds’ roster on paper and pick them to finish outside of the top eight. By mid-season, those same people realize that they were wrong.
Ever since the lockout, Trotz has dealt with it all – whether it’s injuries, players lost in the off-season, or individuals not living up to potential. And every year, the Preds are in contention. This past season was no different.
In the first half of the year, the Preds saw Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter, David Legwand and Matthew Lombardi (among others) go down to injury. When Mike Fisher was acquired, Marcel Goc hurt his shoulder and didn’t come back. Francis Bouillon and Steve Sullivan were also injured down the stretch. In total, the Preds had 348 man-games lost to injury. Not to mention, Colin Wilson and Patric Hornqvist – two important offensive cogs – underachieved. Additionally, the team was the youngest in the league in March.
Despite all of that, Trotz pushed the right buttons and steered his Preds to a playoff spot and the fifth seed in a treacherous Western Conference. When his team had its backs against the wall, their character shined.
It was another great coaching job, start-to-finish, by Barry Trotz – the man deserving of this year’s Jack Adams.
Alain Vigneault By Chris Tremulis
Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault won the Jack Adams Trophy in 2007 with a less successful season. While Stanley Cup champion remains to be seen, Coach Vigneault has managed to put together a Presidents’ Trophy team – 54 wins and 117 points – and has been able to transform a few of his excellent players into championship-caliber performers this year.
That takes coaching, which contributes to success; the only standard necessary to earn the Jack Adams Trophy.
His Canucks this year ranked first in goals per game (3.15) and goals against (2.20) during the regular season. When your team is excelling on both the offensive and defensive side of the rink, and to be the best at both in the entire league, it takes hard work and a coach that can get his players performing as a team rather than individuals.
While professional athletes have talent, they still need coaching. In this writer’s opinion the best barometer to determine a good coach in the NHL, and perhaps who is the best coach, is to look at the special teams. This area of the game is what separates the best from the rest in coaching. How did coach Vigneault and the Canucks fair this season? Well he put together the league’s best power play unit converting at 24.3%, while also excelling on the penalty kill, tied for second at 85.6%. These are the areas in which coaching can directly lead to success.
One aspect of coaching I don’t want to fail to mention is the mentoring and individual coaching that some players desperately need to get better. Coach Vigneault this past year has managed to turn a good player into a great one: Ryan Kesler.
Kesler’s attitude towards the game, his work ethic, and maturation between this season and last is telling. A few areas of improvement in Kesler’s game are directly attributed to A.V., including his increase in offensive production (25 goals in 09-10 to 41 goals this season); and maybe most importantly, a decrease in PIM from 104 to 66, as well as an increase in hits from 95 to 124. These are stats that show a different approach to the game that only can come from the right coaching.
Whether Vigneault coaches his way to a Stanley Cup or not, consider him a great candidate for the Jack Adams.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.