Thankfully, the Jack Adams Award is one NHL trophy I don’t get to officially vote on. That honor is bestowed to members of the NHL Broadcasters’ Association. They can have the headache. Once again this season, the list of suitable candidates for the NHL’s coach of the year award is in double digits, in my opinion. Some real good coaches won’t make the final cut of three when the NHL announces the nominees. My job here today was to cut the list down to five names, which I found incredibly hard.
1. Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues. There are terrific candidates for coach of the year, but it’s going to be hard to beat a man who has gone 40-12-8 since taking over the Blues on Nov. 6. He’s maximized the talent on the Blues’ roster and instilled a disciplined game. Hard to believe Hitchcock has never won the Jack Adams (he was runner-up in 1997 to Ted Nolan). That’s going to change this season.
2. Paul MacLean, Ottawa Senators. The organization itself in September was making no bones about the fact it was rebuilding and not expecting to make the playoffs. The fact the Sens are challenging for the Northeast Division lead is nothing short of surprising, and the man behind the bench is a gigantic reason. A quality hire by GM Bryan Murray. MacLean deserves recognition for what he’s done with a very young team, led by the sparkling development of Norris Trophy candidate Erik Karlsson.
3. John Tortorella, New York Rangers. Few people had the Blueshirts contending for first place in the Eastern Conference this season. The Rangers are one of the hardest-working teams in the NHL, and that work ethic comes straight from their coach. He pushes the right buttons and gets the most out of this roster. Torts won the award in 2003-04 with Tampa.
4. Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators. Like Hitchcock, it’s somewhat mind-blowing that Trotz has never won this award (he was runner-up in 2009-10 and was third in voting last season). The Preds are having another great season, and the way in which they play, a responsible two-way game, is a testament to the man behind the bench. One day Trotz will get his name on this trophy.
5. Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins. Last year’s Jack Adams winner might have outdone himself by again coaching the Penguins into contention, despite missing superstar Sidney Crosby and other key players with injuries, not the least of which was two absences from his top blueliner, Kris Letang. He’d be my pick to coach Team USA at the 2014 Olympics.
Honorable mentions: And we mean it when we say honorable because these guys also deserve to have their names brought up in the Jack Adams talk: Dave Tippett, Phoenix; Glen Gulutzan, Dallas; Peter Laviolette, Philadelphia; Pete DeBoer, New Jersey; Alain Vigneault, Vancouver; Kevin Dineen, Florida; Joe Sacco, Colorado.