Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues, Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators and John Tortorella of the New York Rangers are the three finalists for the 2011-12 Jack Adams Award.
The award is voted on by the NHL Broadcasters' Association and given to the head coach that "contributed the most to his team's success." To that end, these are three incredibly worthy candidates … especially because you can point to tangible things they contributed to their teams.
The frustration, of course, is that the field for this year's Adams was particularly crowded. You almost hoped the NHL would open up the category like the Oscars does for Best Picture after "The Dark Knight" was snubbed.
Coach Kevin Dineen, for example, won a division title with the Florida Panthers. Not just a playoff berth — a division title. And yes, the minus-24 goal differential may have undercut his accomplishments, but his accomplishments stand: He took a team that was constructed out of spare parts, some young talent and Stephen Weiss, found a way to complete the jigsaw puzzle and qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2000.
Then you have Dave Tippett (who won in 2010) leading the Phoenix Coyotes to a division title despite the losses of players like Ilya Bryzgalov and Kyle Turris; Barry Trotz (who has never won) leading the Nashville Predators to home ice in Round 1; and Dan Bylsma working more magic with the Pittsburgh Penguins through another year of challenging injuries.
(We'll just assume that Mike Babcock will never win this award as head coach of the Detroit Red Wings if he hasn't already. Until, of course, voters get a chance to enter his mind during next season's HBO 24/7 and he comes off as the smartest man on the planet. More on that in a moment.)
So who wins the Jack Adams?
Why Ken Hitchcock Deserves the Jack
From the NHL:
Hitchcock made his debut behind the St. Louis bench Nov. 8 with the club at 6-7-0 and posted a 43-15-11 record the rest of the way; the 109-point season was the Blues' best since capturing the Presidents' Trophy in 1999-2000. The club broke or tied 13 franchise records, including a 21-game home points streak and 30 home wins overall. The Blues allowed the NHL's fewest goals against by a wide margin (165), the fewest shots per game (26.7) and posted the most shutouts (15). Hitchcock earned his fourth career nomination as a Jack Adams finalist and the first in 13 years; he finished second in 1997 and third in 1998 and 1999, all with Dallas.
You know how most diet products sell millions with "BEFORE/AFTER" images? That's also how you win the Jack Adams. (We swear this isn't a Hitchcock fat joke.) Before Hitchcock took over the Blues, they had the 27th-best penalty kill and a power play that converted at a 7.5 percent clip; he improved both units and realized the full potential of this roster.
Why Paul MacLean Deserves the Jack
From the NHL:
MacLean made his NHL debut as head coach after spending six seasons as an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings and led the Senators (41-31-10, 92 points) to a Stanley Cup Playoff berth and an 18-point improvement over last season's 13th-place East finish. The biggest change was on offense, where Ottawa jumped from 26th to fourth in the League in goals per game. MacLean is the third rookie head coach in the past four years to earn a Jack Adams finalist berth: Washington's Bruce Boudreau captured the award in 2008, followed by third-place finishes by San Jose's Todd McLellan in 2009 and Colorado's Joe Sacco in 2010.
First off, he's an extremely well-liked guy who waited for years to get this opportunity and then excelled in the job. As Nick Cotsonika wrote on Yahoo! Sports last November:
The toxic cloud has cleared under MacLean, a longtime NHL player and coach with a bushy mustache, sense of humor and approachable personality.
One of the first things MacLean did after landing the Sens job was call veteran center Jason Spezza. He asked him about the team. He made him feel important. He told him he was counting on him to set an example for the youngsters. Spezza is off to a strong start with 15 points, tied for fifth in the league in scoring.
MacLean made it fun again for players like Daniel Alfredsson. He gave structure to a team that needed it. He unleashed Erik Karlsson's abilities to record results. Most of all, he gave a personality to this team that never quit late in games; or, as we later discovered, in a playoff series against the best of the East.
Why John Tortorella Deserves the Jack
From the NHL:
Tortorella guided the Rangers to first place in the Eastern Conference with a 51-24-7 record, their best regular-season performance since the Stanley Cup season of 1993-94. The club's goals-against figure (187) was tops in the East, third in the NHL overall and was the fewest by a Rangers club over a full season since 1970-71. The Rangers led all clubs in hits (2,419) and ranked fourth in blocked shots (1,338). Tortorella is a Jack Adams finalist for the third time; he finished second in the voting in 2003 and captured the award in 2004, the season in which he guided the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup.
Our pet theory is that every year there's an HBO 24/7, one of the two coaches will be in the Jack Adams top three. It's like a four-episode infomerical for their candidacy, and both Dan Bylsma and John Tortorella won fans thanks to what the cameras and editors presented on the show.
That said: Tortorella had spent years instilling a pride in blue-collar hockey in this team, and it paid off in an Eastern Conference regular season title. This is a John Tortorella Team, and that's the mark of an outstanding coach.
Who Wins the Jack?
Hitch. He took over an average team and elevated it into a President's Trophy contender, with tangible results the voters can understand. It's his year, unless the support for Paul MacLean as a good-guy-does-great fable was overwhelming among the voters.