Cross Checks: AlainVigneault
1. John Tortorella, New York Rangers
Notwithstanding Tortorella’s off-base suggestion that on-ice officials were conspiring against the New York Rangers in Monday’s Winter Classic (which he subsequently apologized for), the heart-on-his-sleeve coach has been at his best this season with a New York Rangers squad that had lots of excuses for underachieving. In spite of starting with games in Europe and then embarking on a long road trip while renovations to Madison Square Garden were completed, and then dealing with the presence of HBO cameras for most of the last month, Tortorella has kept his team on track. With their win in the Winter Classic, the Rangers moved into the top spot in the Eastern Conference percentage points ahead of defending Stanley Cup champion Boston. Tortorella has been adept at getting the most out of a lineup that has also been without top defenseman Marc Staal for the first three months of the season. The team ranks second in the league in goals allowed per game. His use of Brad Richards has been exemplary, as he didn’t force a marriage between the top free-agent signing of last summer and star winger Marian Gaborik, and both have prospered, just not with each other.
2. Alain Vigneault, Vancouver Canucks
Vigneault, like Tortorella, has kept his team on track despite distractions and a slow start that threatened to derail the season early on. The Canucks have ridden out some rough patches from starting netminder Roberto Luongo while Ryan Kesler seems more himself after offseason shoulder surgery. The Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, are at or near the top of the NHL scoring list, and in spite of last season’s gut-wrenching loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, the Canucks once again seem determined to assume top spot in the Western Conference, if not the entire league.
3. Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues
There is no disputing the impact the former Cup-winning coach has had in St. Louis. Since taking over, the Blues are 16-5-5 and sit two points back of Detroit and three back of the Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks as the NHL approaches the midpoint of the season. The Blues have rebounded from a bit of a sideways turn before the new year and continue to be the best team in the conference in terms of goals allowed per game. The race in the Central Division (Nashville is just three points back of St. Louis) is going to be a dog fight, and coming out on top might mean the difference between a long playoff run and a short one.
4. Claude Julien, Boston Bruins
Everyone knows about the Stanley Cup hangover. Everyone knows the Bruins seem immune to it. And credit goes to Julien, who is essentially coaching the same lineup that plowed to the team’s first Stanley Cup victory since ’72, for getting his team back to an elite level of play. Tyler Seguin has blossomed under Julien -- remember the criticism Julien got back in the playoffs for not using the top prospect enough? -- and Brad Marchand has emerged as a top point-producing pest. The Bruins are a runaway leader with a plus-55 mark in goal differential. And along with the Rangers, the Bruins look to be the most complete team top to bottom in the Eastern Conference and that includes the work done by Julien.
5. Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings
The Wings have the top plus/minus in the Western Conference, at plus-40, and are almost unbeatable at home, where they are 15-2-1. They’ll get a healthy dose of home cooking in the second half of the season, which is bad news for St. Louis and Chicago , etc. and while the team needs to be better on the road (it is 10-11-0 away from Joe Louis Arena), is there anyone who doesn’t think the Wings have the tools to still be playing come May and June? The fact that the demanding Babcock is still getting maximum point production out of his team after continued forays deep into the playoffs in recent years suggests he’s still got it going on.
Honorable Mention: Darryl Sutter, Los Angeles Kings; Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks; Kevin Dineen, Florida Panthers; Paul MacLean, Ottawa Senators; Claude Noel, Winnipeg Jets
Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma, Nashville's Barry Trotz and Vancouver's Alain Vigneault were named this season's Jack Adams Award finalists Friday. Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun make their picks, even if the award is voted on by the NHL Broadcasters Association:
Burnside: No slight to defending coach of the year Dave Tippett, who did another outstanding job in Phoenix, or John Tortorella or Barry Trotz or any of the eight to 10 coaches who deserved a look for this award. But we figure the Penguins' bench boss deserves the hardware. Dan Bylsma kept his squad afloat and near the top of the Eastern Conference standings despite the long-term absences of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Enough said.
LeBrun: Luckily, I don't have to vote on this one for real. It is again a deep list of worthy candidates, and I don't envy the broadcasters who voted on this. My list includes Trotz, Bylsma, Tippett, Guy Boucher, Vigneault, Todd McLellan, Bruce Boudreau, Tortorella and Lindy Ruff. Tippett and Trotz (Nashville) once again worked miracles with the talent they had. In his first NHL season, Boucher coached the Bolts to a surprising season. Vigneault coached Vancouver to its greatest season in 40 years. McLellan guided the best second-half turnaround in the league. In the end, I saw this as a three-way fight between Bylsma, Tippett and Trotz, but it's hard to ignore the terrific work by a coach who lost two of the best players in the world halfway through the season.
Jack Adams Award: Your vote?
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma led his team to the postseason without stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.