Jim Neveau, NHL Correspondent
On Friday morning, the NHL announced their candidates for the Jack Adams Award, given to the coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.” The three contenders for the award, which will be given out in Las Vegas at the end of June, are Alain Vigneault of the Canucks, Dan Bylsma of the Penguins, and Barry Trotz of the Predators. Bylsma is considered by many (and rightfully so) as the favorite for the hardware, but Trotz and Vigneault both have strong cases of their own, making this one of the most hotly contested awards this year.
With the announcement of the nominees, as it is with any major NHL award, there are several men who weren’t nominated who had legitimate cases to be among the final three. They coached teams to playoff berths amid difficult circumstances, and above all else, contributed in a big way to their team’s ultimate successes in the 2010-11 season.
Without further adieu, here are the four coaches who have the most legitimate beefs about not being nominated for the Adams:
Randy Carlyle, Anaheim Ducks
In what turned out to be hockey’s toughest division, the Anaheim Ducks survived the losses of key players like Ryan Getzlaf and Jonas Hiller and ended up grabbing the fourth seed in the Western Conference, thanks in large part to Carlyle’s coaching.
Under his tutelage, the Ducks’ defense has remained a strong suit even through personnel changes since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007, and he has also helped their offense remain strong, with Corey Perry becoming a viable Hart Candidate and Bobby Ryan becoming an elite offensive talent.
Carlyle often is overlooked in the discussions of the league’s best coaches, but if this season is any indication, he belongs in that group.
Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay Lightning
Perhaps the biggest snub from the Adams nominees. Whereas Steve Yzerman, the General Manager who brought Boucher into the fold in July, was nominated for GM of the Year this season, Boucher’s contribution to a team that rose to fifth in the Eastern Conference was ignored by the nominators.
Under his guidance, the Lightning improved quite a bit on defense over the course of the season, and they also got some great production out of offensive stalwarts like Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. They also managed to win a playoff series for the first time since they won the Stanley Cup in 2004, and even though that technically wouldn’t be admissible in Adams discussion, it lends credence to the belief that Boucher was a big contributor to the team’s successes this season.
It will be interesting to see moving forward whether Boucher can continue the successes he has had in his first season at the helm of the Lightning, but with Yzerman making the team into his image and Boucher’s no nonsense approach, this could be the beginning of a renaissance in Tampa hockey.
Lindy Ruff, Buffalo Sabres
The longest tenured coach in the NHL helped his team make a comeback from the outside looking in to within a game of upsetting the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. He did this while dealing with injuries to several of his key players, and he was also able to help the Sabres turn from a strictly defensive team to one that packed a decent scoring punch.
During the regular season, the Sabres were the 9th best offense in the league, scoring 2.93 goals per contest, and they were the 8th best team at even strength as well, scoring 1.14 goals for every one that they gave up. They also had 32.8 shots per game, good for 4th in the league. All of these numbers speak to a change in mentality for the Sabres, and it was Ruff who enabled them to play to their strengths, and helped propel them to the playoffs.
Ruff won the award in 2006, and it was his continued solid performance that earned him a contract extension this week. Ruff has pretty much locked down the Buffalo job for as long as he wants it, and rightfully so. He will certainly be a big part of the Adams debate for years to come.
Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes
Last year’s winner of the Adams had another stellar season this year, proving that last year was no fluke by competing until the very end of the season for the Pacific Division title and leading his team to the playoffs for the second consecutive year. He did all of this even with the specter of an uncertain ownership situation hanging over the team, and it is Tippett’s greatest asset that he is able to get his players to focus on the task at hand even with distractions like that looming.
Tippett is also skilled at keeping his team competitive by preaching a defensive mentality and emphasizing fundamental hockey over flashy play. He can also tailor that approach when a player necessitates it, as was evidenced by his handling of defenseman Keith Yandle this season. The blue liner had 59 points (11 G, 48 A) in 82 games with the Coyotes this season, and he was one of the few Phoenix players to have a productive playoff as well, picking up five assists as the ‘Yotes were swept out of the playoffs by Detroit.
Even with back-to-back playoff failures against the Red Wings, Tippett’s bunch continues to exceed expectations in a less-than-ideal situation, and so long as Dave is keeping his team focused and playing this brand of hockey, he will be a perennial Adams contender.