With the regular season is coming to an end and the playoffs just around the corner. It seems like a good time to check out the candidates for the Jack Adams Award which is presented to the NHL Coach of the Year.
My candidates are judged by the eye test; which is how they look on the ice and how dominating the team has played. Another factor in this list is how a team has met my expectations for the team coming into the season.
So with the criteria laid out, let’s get to it. I will give you my top three candidates in no particular order.
The Boston Bruins came into the season with expectations of it being a transition year for the team. This season was supposed to be a season where the Bruins introduced their young rookies into the lineup, and build their team up throughout the season. The Bruins would then compete for a playoff spot late in the season.
However, the Bruins had other ideas. Instead of being a team that was just competing for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, they emerged as one of the top teams in the NHL.
The Bruins have managed to infuse their youth seamlessly with their veterans and it has paid dividends for the Bruins. They are poised to finish in the top three in the NHL in points if not win the Presidents trophy. And that is a feat of which seemed like an improbability back in November after their rough start.
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Bruce Cassidy made one move that helped set this in motion. He benched Tuukka Rask in favor of Anton Khudobin for three games. And making that move is what helped the Bruins turn it around; because Khudobin was superb and helped the Bruins get back on track. And the Bruins have not looked back since. The Bruins have gone 43-10-8 since Cassidy benched Rask in favor of Khudobin.
Another thing Cassidy does well is he is not afraid of benching players if they are not performing well. As proven by the Rask benching, Cassidy is not afraid of doing anything it takes to get the most out of his players. Even if that also means switching up his lines, which he has done throughout the season; and with great success.
The Bruins have dealt with several injuries as well to high profile players and they have overcome the injuries. They’ve lost players such as Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy for extended periods of time and have persevered regardless of the obstacles.
It has been a great season in Las Vegas, thanks in large part to Gerard Gallant’s ability to coach his team of thrown together pieces. Gallant also has the ability make up a lineup that produces wins and points while still satisfying the needs of his players.
The Golden Knights came into the season with the media having fairly low expectations. So it was not hard to beat them, but what they’ve done has far surpassed them.
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I think the most impressive part of the winning the Golden Knights are doing is a good chunk of it came without their starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury; who missed 25 games with a concussion. During that span, the combination of Malcolm Subban, Oscar Dansk, and Maxime Lagace backstopped the Golden Knights to a 16-8-1 record.
Gallant also has put William Karlsson and James Neal in spots to succeed. Both of which are enjoying great seasons; the former is enjoying a career year. To empathize that point, prior to this season, Karlsson had a career high of 25 points. This year he has over 40 goals. That is a great turnaround.
Under Gallant, the Golden Knights have taken Las Vegas by storm, and it has admittedly been fun to watch. Now the real challenge will come in mid-April when the playoffs begin. How will Vegas handle the pressure and the challenge of the playoffs? I think they will be just fine honestly.
Jon Cooper has Tampa Bay clicking on all cylinders this season. He has put his team in prime position to be a Stanley Cup contender. Cooper has done a masterful job putting the talent that General Manager Steve Yzerman has acquired and putting them in position to win.
The Lightning, in my opinion, will be the team to beat out of the Eastern Conference. The top three teams in the Eastern Conference are the Lightning, Bruins, and Penguins. And Tampa has the deepest team of the three. They have the coaching staff that is fit to manage all of that talent.
With players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos leading the offense for Tampa Bay you can pretty much rest assured that Tampa’s offense will be fine in the playoffs. At least as long as they can stay healthy. Which has been no problem for the most part. Kucherov did miss time with an injury but he has picked up where he left off.
And as if having those two players wasn’t enough talent for Cooper, they added J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline and they have asserted themselves nicely into Tampa’s lineup.
The bottom line is this, Tampa has a very deep team and the right man managing the team. Jon Cooper’s a coach that can and I believe will get results for the Lightning. At this point he has too, they have done too much and given up a lot of collateral to make themselves a Stanley Cup contender.
If the Lightning fall flat this season it would be a shock to the system. This team has looked great all year long; it would be shocking to see them not at least make the Conference Finals.