It's the best time of year!
Well over halfway through the NHL season, there are numerous coaches that deserve consideration for the Jack Adams Award, given annually to the best coach of the year. Who are some of the top candidates to take home the award this season?
Ken Hitchcock, Blues
Since replacing Davis Payne in early November, Ken Hitchcock has turned the Blues’ season around. The record has been night and day between Payne (6-7-0) and Hitchcock (24-7-7) this year. They are getting some great goaltending from both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, while the defense is holding up just fine. Statistically, they lead the NHL in goals-against average.
Most importantly, this young Blues club is finally fulfilling its potential after the coaching change served as a wake-up call. Over the last three years, we’ve been waiting for this team to break out. Led by David Backes, the Blues are now in contention for the Central Division. Would they be in this position without Hitchcock? Probably not. He’s the leader in the clubhouse at this point in the season.
John Tortorella, Rangers
Before the season started, some pundits viewed the Rangers as a potential sleeper in the Eastern Conference. But this good? Not a chance. With the Blueshirts sitting atop the conference, John Tortorella has his team playing the best hockey this organization has seen in almost two decades – since the franchise won the Cup in 1994.
There really isn’t much difference from this year’s Rangers and last year’s. Brad Richards was a big addition, but has he had that much of an effect? What that signing did do was put everyone else in their place, which has allowed the Rangers to be uber-effective on both ends of the ice. It also helps when you have an all-world goaltender like Henrik Lundqvist. If the Rangers don’t slip at all, Tortorella should be one of the Jack Adams finalists.
Barry Trotz, Predators
It’s that time of year when the experts annually ask the question: How does Barry Trotz do it year after year? It’s simple: Players love playing for him. Trotz, the ultimate player’s coach, demands a lot from his players, but he doesn’t put them in unfavorable positions. At this point in his coaching career, it’s hard to believe he has yet to win the award.
Trotz’s Predators, the NHL’s youngest team, didn’t have the best start, but are 20-6-0 since Dec. 8. The power play, normally a weakness in Nashville, is ranked second in the NHL. The team is also fifth in the West in goals per game. With Trotz pushing all of the right buttons, the Preds are playing at a high enough level to compete for the Stanley Cup. When’s the last time you could say that in Music City?
Paul MacLean, Senators
When Paul MacLean was hired last off-season, it was thought that he would be one to steer the Senators’ rebuild in the right direction. What rebuild? MacLean’s club is in playoff contention in the East on the strength of its timely goal-scoring. Before a recent six-game skid, the Sens were sitting in sixth place in the conference; pretty good for a team that most pegged as the worst in the NHL before the season started.
Due to the three aforementioned coaches, MacLean hasn’t gotten much love for the Jack Adams. But if the Sens hold on to their playoff spot, they could go down as one of the more unlikely teams to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With MacLean being a rookie head coach, in most cases that would be good enough to win the Jack Adams.
Honorable mention: Mike Babcock, Red Wings; Dan Bylsma, Penguins; Kevin Dineen, Panthers
Photos credit: Getty Images
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