Yes, it is only a wee bit past the midway point of the 2011-2012 NHL Season, but there are quite a few coaches around the league that have contributed to surprising turnarounds for their respective clubs. While it may be a little early to be forecasting predictions and nominations, there are several standouts for the award among the current NHL bench bosses.
This article will focus on why the mentioned coaches deserve to win or at least be nominated for the honor.
Here’s a closer look at the five that were chosen:
5.) Peter Deboer (New Jersey Devils, 26-17-2) - Peter Deboer might be a surprising choice for some at number 5, but the New Jersey head coach makes a strong case for breaking the top 5 list. Just last season, John MacLean illustrated that he was not the man for the job in NJ and ultimately had to be axed in favor of former Devils coach Jacques Lemaire. While Lemaire guided the team to a wonderful finish after a horrendous start, the longtime NHL bench boss decided that a return to the Devils for the 2011-2012 season was not to be written.
The hiring of Peter Deboer raised some eyebrows around the league, but the former head coach of the Florida Panthers has the Devils playing at a pace that might see them return to this year’s playoffs. Deboer’s Devils have been playing motivated hockey and have not had to dig themselves out of an early hole like they did last season. The Devils are in the middle of the pack in terms of goals against (15th), but Johan Hedberg has managed to pull out key victories and make amazing saves when Martin Brodeur has been either injured or shaky. The Devils are also ranked 15th in terms of scoring, but the team owns the number 1 ranked penalty kill in the league at 90.6 percent, a stat that has undoubtedly kept the Devils in contention in the face of undisciplined play.
Many analysts and fans could have overlooked the Devils at the beginning of the season, but the team seems to be consistently performing on a nightly basis. The play of Ilya Kovalchuk, Adam Henrique, Patrick Elias, Zach Parise and Peter Sykora (to name a few) has reinvigorated a Devils team that currently occupies third place in a highly competitive Atlantic Division. Peter Deboer has made the right moves at the right time during the 2011-2012 NHL season and has not been afraid to stir things up when necessary.
If the Devils can keep up their strong play and make a return to the Eastern Conference playoffs, then Deboer will definitely be a nominee for the prestigious award.
4.) John Tortorella (New York Rangers, 29-11-4) – The man known as “Torts” has definitely helped the New York
Rangers elevate their game throughout the current NHL season. The Rangers are tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the lead in point totals (62), but New York still has three games in hand on their original six rival. For years, the Rangers have bought talent off of the free agent market only to be upset during postseason play. However, John Tortorella deserves credit for turning the Rangers into a top tier contender this season.
The Rangers have excelled in categories such as scoring, penalty killing, and goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron have backstopped the Rangers to a league best goals against and players such as Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards have not failed to deliver on the offensive side of things this season. The difference between this year’s Ranger team from past teams seems to be the element of clutch scoring. New York has found a way to win games and grind out points, despite starting their season on a long road trip and having lost Marc Staal for an extended period of time.
The New York Ranger defensive core of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, and Michael Del Zotto more than stepped up during Marc Staal’s absence and have been one of the main reasons for the Ranger’s success this season. Tortorella has gotten the most out of his players when it has counted and has done a very respectable job of line-managing during the current campaign.
Some may argue against Torts’ nomination for the Jack Adams Award, but the NHL requires a headstrong coach to handle the various egos and personalities on a professional hockey team. Regardless of the amount of money that the Rangers have spent in acquiring talent, John Tortorella has shown that he possesses the skills and attitude to guide the New York Rangers back to hockey greatness.
Barring an epic meltdown, John Tortorella should be strongly considered for the Jack Adams Award. While he may not be a shoe-in to win the award, Torts will definitely give the other nominees a run for their money.
3.) Paul MacLean (Ottawa Senators, 26-16-6) - The Ottawa Senators were supposed to be in a rebuilding phase this season, but the team has surprised everyone with incredibly consistent play after a lackluster start. Contributions from Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza have definitely helped to spark the Ottawa offense, but other parts of the Senators seem to be flourishing as well. The emergence of defenseman Erik Karlsson (6 Goals, 38 Assists) has bolstered the offensive firepower of the Senators and the d-man is a big reason for Ottawa’s offensive success.
MacLean has been at the center of Ottawa’s re-emergence and has provided a great atmosphere for the players to perform under. While MacLean acknowledges the fact that the Senators are far from a finished product and are very much in their foundational stages, it is hard to ignore the fact that Ottawa is playing extraordinarily tough, consistent, and exciting hockey on a nightly basis. The Senators could use some help on defense, but nobody is expecting a finished product overnight.
Even Jason Spezza indicated that coaching has been the main reason for Ottawa’s surprising success:
“He’s made a huge impact,” said Spezza. “He’s come in and made us a really hard-working, competitive team, but also let us have fun and enjoy being together, being on the ice and he’s really created a good atmosphere around the rink…That’s been a big difference — him being able to read the room, when to have days off and when to push us and when to have fun. He’s done a great job of managing the emotions that come with every season.”
MacLean has done a respectable job of managing the veterans on the Senators as well as the developing youth that will be an integral part of the team’s future. Craig Anderson has certainly not played up to Vezina Trophy standards, but the American netminder has delivered when counted upon and has more often than not been a victim of sub-par defensive work. It is safe to say that nobody expected the Ottawa Senators to be in the position that they are in at this point of the season and credit must be given where it is due.
As previously mentioned, Paul MacLean deserves much of this credit and if the Senators continue their strong play and make a playoff push, then MacLean might just be a dark-horse candidate for the Jack Adams Award.
2.) Ken Hitchcock (St. Louis Blues, 27-12-6) – The only headlines that the St. Louis Blues were making at the
beginning of the season were those that had to deal with their sub-par play under head coach Davis Payne. Since he took over, Hitchcock has guided the Blues to the number 5 spot in the Western Conference playoff picture with a 19-5-5 record. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot are proving to be a fantastic duo between the pipes for the Blues while Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo, Carlo Colaiacovo, and Barret Jackman have solidified the St. Louis defensive units.
Maybe the Blues were a bit sluggish under Davis Payne, but the hiring of Ken Hitchcock has ignited a fire in a team that wasn’t playing to its full potential at the beginning of the season. For a team that was drastically under-performing at the beginning of the season, Hitchcock has been a miracle worker. The Blues are currently two points behind a very potent Chicago Blackhawks team and only one point behind an equally impressive Detroit Red Wings team.
Ken Hitchcock’s resume speaks for itself as the coach has been nominated for the Jack Adams Award three times in his career (1997-1999). Hitchcock’s hiring has greatly helped the Blues and the veteran bench boss has done a great job of transcending his coaching abilities into the post-lockout NHL.
Hitchcock’s savvy and immense understanding of the game will not only make the coach a nominee for the Jack Adams Award, but it will allow the St. Louis Blues to be a tough team come playoff time.
1.) Kevin Dineen (Florida Panthers, 21-14-10) – It is no secret that the Florida Panthers have not been able to sniff out a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference since the 1999-2000 season. GM Dale Tallon brought in talent during the offseason that has helped guide the Panthers in their playoff positioning. The additions of Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, and Jose Theodore have greatly helped the Panthers, but head coach Kevin Dineen should also be given credit for handling this Florida Panthers team so well.
Brian Campbell is enjoying a wonderful campaign (3 Goals, 31 Assists) and fellow defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Jason Garrison are shouldering a lot of responsibility for the surprising Panthers. The Panthers have been able to gel very quickly under Dineen and the head coach has the team playing great two-way hockey. Dineen has also put out formidable line combinations without having an elite scorer/sniper and the line of Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann has been producing enough offense for the Panthers to stay in the playoff hunt and near the top of the Southeast Division.
It is yet to be seen how the Panthers will finish off the 2011-2012 NHL season, but Kevin Dineen has his team playing at a very high level. Dineen has instilled confidence in his team and the Panthers are sure playing like a determined group. Even Scott Clemmensen and Jacob Markstrom have been steady behind veteran Jose Theodore and the team seems to be comfortable with whoever Dineen chooses to start.
If the Florida Panthers make the playoffs, then Kevin Dineen should be the coach walking away with a chicken dinner and the honorable Jack Adams Award. Dineen has been at the forefront of all of the current success in Florida and should be given his credit if he is to guide the Panthers back to a land that they haven’t visited in more than a decade.
Claude Julien (Boston Bruins, 29-13-1) – The Bruins had a woeful start to the 2011-2012 NHL season, but rebounded in extraordinary fashion as the team won 23 of 27 games played at one point. Julien has the Bruins playing solid two-way hockey and the team is constantly viewed as a group of hard-working “lunch-pail” players. Julien deserves credit for his work and could be a candidate for the Jack Adams Award if one of the aforementioned coaches happens to fall from grace.
Ron Wilson (Toronto Maple Leafs, 22-18-5) - The Maple Leafs haven’t been to the NHL playoffs since the lockout and would like to make it to the postseason sooner rather than later. There have been line changes, promotions, and demotions in Toronto, but Wilson has managed to keep the Leafs in contention in the Eastern Conference. If the Leafs get solid goaltending down the stretch and make the playoffs, then Wilson could definitely be considered for nomination.
Peter Laviolette (Philadelphia Flyers, 27-13-4) – After all of the offseason moves and speculation, the Flyers are right where they thought they’d be. The loss of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards was thought to be the start of the demise of the Flyers, but head coach Peter Laviolette is playing all of his cards correctly. Despite having a shaky situation between the pipes, the Flyers have been able to assert themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Credit is due to Laviolette for motivating a team that was expected to flounder after their offseason losses.
Alain Vigneault (Vancouver Canucks, 28-15-4) – Much like Claude Julien’s Bruins, Vigneault has kept his reigning Western Conference champs from falling into a lull. Vigneault has done a good job of managing his lines and credit is always due to a coach that keeps his team competitive after having a Stanley Cup letdown.
Mike Yeo (Minnesota Wild, 22-17-7) – Even though the Minnesota Wild are dropping like flies from the Western Conference playoff picture, Mike Yeo had the team off to a spectacular start. Injuries have ravaged the team, but Yeo has done everything in his power to keep the Wild in the playoff picture without having to sacrifice future talent for mid-season rentals. Yeo also brought in J.B Spisso to help strengthen locker-room ties and it greatly benefited the team in the early going. If Yeo can guide the Wild back to the playoffs and out of their current misery, a Jack Adams nomination could also be on the horizon.