Earlier this week, the finalists for the 2012 Jack Adams Award were released. John Tortorella, Ken Hitchcock, and Paul MacLean were all nominated as finalists for the honor, but it seems as though a couple of coaches could have vied for one of the finalist slots.
Here’s a look at who was snubbed:
The Rat Race
Kevin Dineen guided the Panthers to a 38-26-18, which was good for 94 points and third place in the Eastern Conference standings. Dineen guided the Panthers to their first postseason berth since 2000 and helped the team win the Southeast division after GM Dale Tallon acquired a few key pieces that helped the big cats compete for the entirety of the 2011-2012 season.
The Florida Panthers and Dineen might have had an easier time playing in the Southeast division with some weaker competition, but that shouldn’t take away from what Dineen and the Panthers did this year. Many weren’t counting on the Panthers to win their division and if you told a hockey fan at the beginning of the season that the Panthers would be the number 3 seed in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, they might’ve laughed in your face.
Well, the joke is on the naysayers. Dale Tallon pieced together a team during the offseason, but the onus was still on Dineen to make it work. Dineen had the utmost confidence in Jose Theodore for the stretch run and players such as Mikael Samuelsson, Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, and Marcel Goc were all utilized in a fashion that helped strengthen the Panthers during the regular season and the playoffs.
While some might scoff at the Panthers’ finish to the 2011-2012 season, the team gave it their best effort against the New Jersey Devils. Just as they did all season, the Panthers refused to give up and took the Devils to a thrilling game 7 where they were defeated in double OT.
Much like Paul MacLean’s Senators, nobody expected much out of the Florida Panthers. However, Dineen finds himself on the outside looking in when it comes to being a Jack Adams finalist. John Tortorella certainly deserved to be a finalist for the award after he guided the Rangers to the top spot in the Eastern Conference, but Dineen’s accomplishments in Florida should have earned him a finalist nomination for the merit. After all, Dineen did finish above MacLean’s Senators during the regular season and was ousted from the playoffs in the same number of games as the Sens.
The New York Rangers were a very tough opponent for the Senators, but the Devils were no joke for the Panthers either. The Senators and Panthers both fought tooth and nail for their playoff victories, which makes Dineen’s snub even more interesting.
Dale Tallon and Kevin Dineen had to gamble somewhat when relying on their offseason acquisitions during the 2011-2012 NHL season and playoffs. Many did not expect Brian Campbell to have a renaissance year, but his resurgence paved the way for Florida’s regular season success. The production that the Panthers received out of budding d-man Dmitry Kulikov and other players such as Kris Versteeg was just a further illustration of Dineen’s prowess as a rookie bench boss.
On the other hand, one could make a great case for Dave Tippett as the coach has the Coyotes has done a great job after losing the services of Ilya Bryzgalov during the offseason.
Tippett definitely did the most with what he had as the Coyotes ranked 18th in terms of scoring and 29th in terms of power-play percentage. Despite their shortcomings on offense and especially their power-play, the Coyotes managed to finish third in the Western Conference. Much of the Yotes’ success this season has been due in large part to Mike Smith and his Herculean efforts in goal.
Smith wasn’t just a rock in net for the Coyotes this season, he was a boulder. Phoenix held opponents to the fifth lowest goals against in the league and it wasn’t done with smoke and mirrors. Dave Tippett definitely deserves credit in this situation as he was confident enough to hand over the starting goaltending duties to a netminder that didn’t carry much of a proven track record before he put on an amazing show during Tampa Bay’s 2010-2011 playoff run.
Smith does play alongside some good defenders in Phoenix, but his statistics from this year indicate that he has been holding down his own end of the bargain as well. Smith’s .930 Save Percentage and 2.21 GAA could have been used by any team, but Tippett knew what he was getting with Smith when he and GM Don Maloney were mulling over goalie options and preparing for life without Ilya Bryzgalov.
Tippett had coached Smith in Dallas when the goalie served as Marty Turco’s backup and the reunion proved to be a wise decision. Sean Burke worked his magic with Smith just as he did with Bryzgalov and got the goalie to simplify his game and be more comfortable in his own crease. The credit can definitely be dispersed between Tippett, Burke, and Maloney for instilling their faith in Smith, but Phoenix’s bench boss still had to manage his players wisely, especially after Kyle Turris was shipped off during the season and Antoine Vermette was brought in at the trade deadline.
Tippett put together some great line combinations and has received consistent production from his players going into the playoffs. Phoenix’s d-men have been leading by example as Keith Yandle, Rostislav Klesla, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have all been jumping into offensive play. Both Yandle and Ekman-Larsson played solid minutes for the Coyotes during the regular season and were the only two defensemen to play all 82 games for Phoenix. Ekman-Larsson was the sixth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, but Tippett found a way to get the most production out of his young d-man and even entrusted the Swede with top defensive minutes.
With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Coyotes’ future in Glendale, Tippett has taken the focus off of that issue and has made winning the first priority in Phoenix. Tippett has had stellar regular season finishes in Dallas and Phoenix, but it is safe to say that the bar wasn’t set that high for Phoenix after they were unable to retain the services of Ilya Bryzgalov.
Much like Dineen, Tippett could have replaced Tortorella as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, but with so many coaches making their mark behind the bench this year it was probably extremely difficult to choose the three finalists.
John Tortorella definitely deserves to be a finalist for this year’s merit, but it could be easily argued that the spending power of the New York Rangers’ franchise allowed them to purchase essential players such as Brad Richards. In contrast, Kevin Dineen and Dave Tippett weren’t afforded the luxury of receiving star players and had to hope that their General Manager’s intuition would pay its dividends. Brian Campbell and Mike Smith both panned out well for the Panthers and Coyotes, but it was up to the coach to get the most out of his players when the NHL season started.
Tortorella also had to get the most out of his players as he played a huge chunk of the season without star defenseman Marc Staal and received some huge play from Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. However, Dineen and Tippett deserve credit where credit is due.
Dineen took a franchise that hadn’t sniffed out a playoff berth in 10+ years and made them into a very worthy opponent for the duration of the regular season and the team’s playoff run. Meanwhile, Dave Tippett dealt with the losses of Ilya Bryzgalov and Kyle Turris and has coached his team to within 2 wins of a Conference Finals appearance.
The Phoenix Coyotes and Florida Panthers have certainly exceeded expectations this season and that can be directly attributed to the fantastic job that Dave Tippett and Kevin Dineen have done for their respective teams. The Florida Panthers’ players, coaches, and executives might say that they did not exceed expectations because they didn’t win the Stanley Cup, but the 2011-2012 NHL season was definitely a step in the right direction.
On the other hand, Dave Tippett and the Phoenix Coyotes are gaining steam and confidence with every victory. The Yotes’ most recent 5-3 victory over the Predators put the team up 2-0 in their best of seven series, but the game illustrated that Phoenix is hungry and ready to battle for their playoff lives.
Whatever the outcome may be for Tippett and the Coyotes, the coach made a case to be a finalist for this year’s Jack Adams Award. Even though Dineen and Tippett may have been left out this year, they have helped their teams establish an identity and a level of play that could transcend into the coming NHL seasons.
2011-2012 was definitely the year of the coach. All three of the current Jack Adams finalists (Hitchcock, Tortorella, & MacLean) deserved to make the cut this year, but a few other coaches could have easily made the cut as well. Even though Dave Tippett and Kevin Dineen were not selected, other coaches such as Barry Trotz, Peter DeBoer, and Dale Hunter also performed very admirably for their respective teams during the 2011-2012 season.
While only three coaches could be selected, many other bench bosses illustrated that they are guiding their teams in the right direction with their tutelage from behind the bench.
In his third year with The Hockey Writers, Toli covers all things related to the New York Islanders. Focusing on the Islanders, the NHL Draft & draft-eligible prospect goalies, and hockey history, Toli can be contacted on Facebook by searching/messaging Toli Metter and on twitter by searching @ToliMetterTHW.