This morning, the NHL named Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues, Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators, and John Tortorella of the New York Rangers as the three finalists for the esteemed Jack Adams Trophy. The award, which honors the best head coach in hockey, will be announced at the 2012 NHL Awards on June 20th.
And even though all three coaches exemplified the standard of "contributing the most to his team's success", the exclusions are certainly glaring. Let's take a look at the three finalists as well as another three that are fully deserving of consideration.
The Jack Adams Finalists Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis BluesHitchcock came to the Blues in early November after the club struggled out of the gate. Despite a young core which only continued to improve with age, former coach Davis Payne simply could not motivate his team enough to perform at both ends of the ice. When Hitchcock took the reigns, the Blues boasted a below average 6-7-0 record which placed them 14th in the Western Conference. Nevertheless, Hitchcock quickly installed his defensive-minded system en route to St. Louis taking the Central Division for the first time since 2000.
Yet, for all of his accomplishments, there are detractors of Hitchcock's impact. First, he inherited a very good team which could have worked against him in the voting process. Second, his team was not that bad in the 13 games before he joined the organization. Over that span, both their Fenwick and Corsi percentage -- two advanced metrics which track offensive-zone pressure-- were well over 50 percent, sitting at 55.3 percent and 53.8 percent respectively. In other words, he inherited a young, promising, and snake-bitten team.
Nevertheless, for leading his squad to the second seed in the Western Conference and a 43-15-11 record, 'Hitch' is more than deserving of the award. In fact, he, in my opinion, should be considered the front runner to win it.
Paul MacLean, Ottawa SenatorsMacLean, as a rookie coach, achieved the unexpected. Not only did his team buy into his system, they executed it perfectly.
Entering the season, the Senators were in a rebuilding mode. The organization received the 6th overall pick for their troubles last season, and, by all means, were expected to contend for a lottery pick this season. MacLean was expected to make the best of a lost season by developing some younger players and keeping the morale higher despite the losses. However, the former Red Wings assistant coach surpassed all expectations by teaching his team not to quit.
And quit they did not as reliable veterans like Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Sergei Gonchar all had bounce-back seasons. Furthermore, MacLean found a way for young players like Nick Foligno, Colin Greening, Zack Smith and Jared Cowen to not only play important roles but become impact players while doing it. Moreover, he got the absolute most out of Erik Karlsson, as the offensive defenseman turned in one of the more dominant regular seasons in the last decade.
In short, the Senators would not be where they were without MacLean; he's the Guy Boucher of this season.
John Tortorella, New York RangersUnlike both the Blues and the Senators, most people thought the Rangers would succeed this season. After signing the top free agent available in Brad Richards, the Blueshirts looked solid up front, in addition to boasting a young and improving blue line and an elite starting goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. But somehow Tortorella found a way to make the Rangers greater than the sum of their parts.
For the past two seasons, Tortorella has revamped his 'safe is death' system. Back in his days with the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he both won the Jack Adams and a Stanley Cup, 'Torts' was known for his uptempo offensive system. However, that system failed after the lockout with the Lightning and looked even worse on Broadway. Therefore, Tortorella went back to the X's and O's and found a system that puts an emphasis on defense and mistake-free hockey. And out of the reworking came a new, hybrid system affectionately dubbed by Rangers fans as 'Ranger hockey'.
Speaking strictly of the requirement -- contributing the most to his team's success -- Tortorella has gone above and beyond in not only leading his team, but making them better in the process. And for that, my heart says Tortorella deserves the award even though my brain foresees Hitchcock as the victor.
The Jack Adams DeservingAs is the case with any award, there are plenty of snubs. Following the announcement of the three finalists, WB Philp of HockeyIndependent.com commented, via Twitter, that both Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes and Kevin Dineen of the Florida Panthers were incredibly deserving of finalist consideration. By that same token, Adam Proteau of The Hockey News also argued, over Twitter, that Barry Trotz of the Nashville Predators was a serious snub. And in an attempt to be a voice of reason, Dustin Leed of The Fourth Period, opined, again via Twitter, that some of these awards should have more finalists.
And while we can barely keep up with those who could/should/would win the award, we can make an argument for those who were deserving.
Dave Tippett, Phoenix CoyotesTippett took over the messy situation in Phoenix with aplomb. Back in 2009, the Coyotes were an afterthought. Their attendance continued to plummet while their playoff chances looked even worse. The team failed to qualify for the playoffs in six consecutive seasons before Tippett came aboard but they've made it for three straight years with Tippett behind the bench.
Tippett won the award back in 2009 after his transformation first got the Coyotes into the playoffs which might explain why he didn't make the final three. However, even if you expected the team to make the playoffs without Ilya Bryzgalov and several vital members of last year's team, did you expect them to win the Pacific Division?
In this case, voters may be split after voting for him two years ago. Nevertheless, Tippett deserves merit for taking a pretender and making them a force.
Kevin Dineen, Florida PanthersDineen was absolutely robbed! Or so you would think by reading the linked article. But in all seriousness, Dineen did a great job bringing respectability back to Florida.
When GM Dale Tallon took over the Panthers organization, he made wholesale changes. The cupboard was restocked with young players and picks, most veterans were quickly ushered out and many younger free agents were overpaid in the well-publicized 'race to the salary cap floor' last offseason. Yet his biggest move might have been installing taskmaster Kevin Dineen as the bench boss. In fact, those who watched the Panthers all season find his snub a joke.
Still, whether you agree with the Panthers fanbase, or beat writers, or not, the Panthers took great strides this season by capturing the Southeast Division. And they took that success even further by almost advancing into the second round. None of those steps could have been made without the excellent work of Dineen behind the bench.
Barry Trotz, Nashville PredatorsTrotz, as the only head coach in Predators history, deserves a ton of credit for his team's success. As Proteau mentioned, Trotz took the 7th-worst payroll, and in turn, led his team to the 5th-best record. His system just works, and has for years, which is probably why he didn't make the cut in the final three.
Last season, a tremendous second-half push awarded Dan Blysma with the award. The year before, Tippett burst onto the scene by transforming a lottery pick into a poised, confident playoff contender. And this year, well, this year everyone expected Trotz and Nashville to succeed. So when he did everything asked of him and more, for the 14th consecutive season, it just was the norm.
Don't get me wrong, Trotz is a fantastic coach. If we were to poll every writer on this site, he would certainly receive a mention, or four. But did he take a team from last to first? Did he turn a lottery team into a playoff contender? Did his team lose the President's Trophy during the last game of the season? Unfortunately, Trotz, while deserving, just is not that sexy of a pick this season.
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