In an otherwise unpredictable sport, there are some givens in the National Hockey League. Like make-up calls after controversial penalties. Like the Buffalo Sabres and/or Vancouver Canucks redesigning their sweaters. Like needing a decoder ring and a bong hit to begin to decipher the logic of the league's disciplinary process.
Another given, at least in the 2009-10 season: Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes and Joe Sacco of the Colorado Avalanche being nominated for the Jack Adams Award for "the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success." The mystery was who would join them in the Top 3.
That mystery was solved when the nominees were announced Wednesday: Barry Trotz of the Nashville Predators received enough support from members of the NHL Broadcasters' Association to join Tippett and Sacco as finalists.
Cases can be made for Cory Clouston of the Ottawa Senators, Terry Murray of the Los Angeles Kings, Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings, Lindy Ruff of the Buffalo Sabres and Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Especially Clouston, considering the adversity on the roster last summer and with some of the personnel on the ice this season.
Bruce Boudreau, the 2008 winner of the Adams, coached the best team in hockey points-wise; but we imagine his candidacy suffers from the same "but look at the talent he has to work with!" knocks that other Washington Capitals awards candidates suffer through, rightly or wrongly.
Tippett vs. Sacco vs. Trotz ... who takes the Adams?
Why Dave Tippett Deserves The Jack Adams. From the NHL, the skinny on Tippett:
Hired less than a week before the start of the regular season, Tippett led the Coyotes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2002 by posting a 50-27-5 record for 107 points. The club posted an NHL-best 28-point gain over its 2008-09 total, edging Colorado's 26-point improvement, and set franchise records for wins and points in a season, home wins (29) and longest home winning streak (10 games, Nov. 21 to Dec. 29). The Coyotes ranked third in the NHL in team defense (2.39 goals/game), up from 24th in 2008-09 (3.04), and were sixth in the League in penalty killing (84.5%).
Oh, there are a few reasons why Tippett deserves this.
How about coaching the Coyotes to their first 100-point season in a franchise history that dates to 1979-80 (shootout assisted, but still)? How about providing a random collection of homegrown players, castoffs and veteran mercs with the structure to challenge for a division and, briefly, conference title? How about the professional retribution aspect of his journey, going from a casualty for the Dallas Stars to being on Joe Nieuwendyk's television during the postseason?
How about coaching through the overwhelming off-ice drama about the team's future, from NHL ownership to those empty seats at the start of the season?
One point worth making here about Tippett, though: The Coyotes are a hell of a lot better than many believed. Sure, he did what Wayne Gretzky couldn't do behind the bench with this franchise, but Gretzky never had the assemblage of veteran talent that made up the core of this team. So while Tippett could win in a walk, let's not pretend this was an AHL team he was coaching.
Why Joe Sacco Deserves The Jack Adams. From the NHL, the skinny on Sacco:
In his first NHL season behind the bench, Sacco guided the rookie-laden Avalanche to a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 43-30-9 record just one year after the club finished last in the Western Conference. The Avalanche became the first Western Conference team to make the playoffs after finishing last in the conference the previous year since the current alignment was introduced in 2000-01. The club opened the season on a 10-1-2 run and went on to post a 26-point gain over its total from 2008-09 (69 to 95), second in the NHL to the Phoenix Coyotes' 28-point increase.
Dave Tippett's coaching record before this season was 271-156-28-37.
Sacco's was 0-0-0-0. And he was still playing as late as 2003.
What Tippett did was more expected than what Sacco did, especially when you consider how many young players had key roles for the Avalanche this season. His management of players like Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and Chris Stewart was impressive. So was the fact that he kept this team together in a playoff race and earned the No. 8 seed.
Why Barry Trotz Deserves The Jack Adams. From the NHL, the skinny (OK, poor choice of words) on Trotz:
Trotz guided the Predators to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth time in the past six seasons with a 47-29-6 record for 100 points, placing third behind 2009 Western Conference finalists Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings in the tough Central Division. The club played its best hockey down the stretch, posting the NHL's fourth-best record after the Olympic break (14-6-1). Trotz coached his 900th NHL game, all with Nashville, on April 3 at Detroit, joining Al Arbour (N.Y. Islanders), Billy Reay (Chicago), Lindy Ruff (Buffalo), Jack Adams (Detroit) and Toe Blake (Montreal) as the only coaches to reach the milestone with one team.
Were it not for the quality of the other two candidates -- and the fact that all three are in the Western Conference, which could monkey with the voting support -- this would have been a great year for some kind of lifetime achievement award for Trotz.
He's coached the Predators to the conference postseason in five of the last six years, moving pieces around his lineup, managing games well and squeezing contributions out of unlikely players. (Are Joel Ward and Marcel Goc top-10 scorers on another roster?) He earned this nomination this season.
Who Will Win The Jack Adams? Tippett, for the effort, the success and the undeniably compelling nature of his and his team's journey this season.