MacLean for Jack Adams

The NHL Awards are approaching fast.  All the candidates for the awards have been announced, and once the playoffs end, the focus then temporarily shifts to Las Vegas (seems like a desperate plea for attention to me), the last place anyone would expect to see something related to hockey.  But everyone knows that the Awards are just a huge promotional effort for the NHL to appeal to fans of all ages and interests.  It’s the opportunity for the league to find some of the least intelligent people to announce the winners (and makes some people in charge of the league look smarter, cough cough).  But all in all it’s usually great fun, even when you have a host who hates hockey.  This year should be no exception (that is, if you can get over the fact that Nickelback will be performing…gag).  This year’s nominees for the Jack Adams Award are: John Tortorella – coach of the New York Rangers, Ken Hitchcock – coach of the St. Louis Blues, and Paul MacLean – coach of the Ottawa Senators.


The Jack Adams Award is given to the coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.”  At first glance, I said “Hitch, of course.”  But upon further thought, I realized it wasn’t that easy of a decision.  I gave it some more thought, and came to the conclusion that Paul MacLean deserves the award. But first let’s analyze the three candidates:

3rd – John Tortorella – NYR – Tortorella is the hard-a$$ out of the group (see NHL 24/7 Rangers vs. Flyers, or watch any given Rangers game).  He works his team to death every practice and he has gained much respect from his team.  He is also one of the reasons that general manager Glen Sather made the push to acquire Brad Richards, given the history between the two.  “Torts” was the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2000 to 2008 (first NHL coaching gig if you don’t count his interim position in, hey what do you know, New York) and he led the Bolts to a Stanley Cup championship in 2004.  One of his most talked-about coaching methods includes the heavy reliance on shot blocking.  Every Ranger on the ice has been taught and urged to sacrifice their body to block shots.  Now blocking shots is no easy task.  If a player turns their body too much or too little, than their feet/ankles are exposed, and if a player doesn’t react quick enough to cover their face with their gloves, than the puck could very easily knock out a few teeth or require them to get large amounts of stiches put in.  The Rangers are good at it though.  During the regular season, the Blueshirts blocked an average of 17 shots per game (20 shots/game in the playoffs, but that’s not included in the award).  Tortorella’s defense-first work ethic is shown in the Rangers’ rank in goals against.  New York allowed only 187 goals in the regular season (only St. Louis and Los Angeles had less allowed).  We have also seen the breakout of young forwards Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, and Artem Anisimov this season.  The reason I don’t think Coach Tortorella should win, is the amount of star power he had to work with this year.  Out of the three coaches/teams nominated, his team had the most talent overall.  With Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan leading the way on offense, and Michael Del Zotto, Dan Girardi, and Marc Staal on defense, it’s easy to see why New York finished 1st in the Eastern Conference standings.  And of course, don’t forget netminder “King Henrik” Lundqvist, the Hart, Vezina, and Lindsay Finalist.

2nd – Ken Hitchcock – STL – “Hitch” is by far the most experienced of the three, having 576 wins under his belt.  He also has a Stanley Cup ring as the coach of the Dallas Stars back in 1999. The next year, he again coached the Stars to the Stanley Cup Finals, but they lost to New Jersey in 6 games.  Like Tortorella, Hitchcock is a defense-minded coach.  With Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot splitting time, the Blues were first in the league in goals against with 165.  When Ken was hired to be the head coach in November, the Blues were a mediocre 6-7-0.  From that point on, St. Louis only had 15 more regulation losses for the duration of the season.  GM Doug Armstrong did a great job in stacking the team with the right mix of veterans and young players.  Hitch deserves a lot of credit for leading his team to the Central Division championship, and just missing out on the President’s Trophy by 2 points.  He is one of the most respected coaches in league history, and he sits at #11 all time in coaching wins with 576.  Just last season, St. Louis finished the regular season with only 87 points (11th place).  Talk about a drastic turnaround.  But St. Louis is one of the best young teams out there, and they have the best goaltending duo in the entire league in Halak and Elliot.  Like Tortorella, the table was set with talent before he got there.  He just had to feed their hunger.  And sometimes that’s all it takes to get a struggling team to turn it around, a simple coaching change.  With that being said, I wouldn’t be disappointed if Hitchcock won the award, in fact I expect him to.  But one thing is for sure, it’s not cold in St. Louis.  The Blues are red hot (I said regular season!) and Hitch has ditched the Jacket.

1st – Paul MacLean – OTT – He’s definitely the rookie of the group.  After Cory Clouston was fired at the end of the 2010-2011 season, general manager Bryan Murray turned to the Detroit Red Wings’ assistant coach for help.  MacLean gladly accepted the head coaching position.  He already has a Stanley Cup ring from the 2008 Red Wings championship.  The thing that sets MacLean apart from the other two coaches, is that he didn’t have that high talent level to work with like Torts and Hitch.  And also unlike the Rangers and Blues, the Senators were not predicted to succeed this season.  The Hockey News picked the Sens to finish dead last in the East.  However they proved their critics wrong, and finished in 8th place to secure the last playoff spot.  Craig Anderson proved to be consistently strong in net, and the young corps of Senators led the charge.  21 year old Norris candidate Erik Karlsson finished 2nd in scoring on the team with 78 points (19 goals, 59 assists).  Yes 78 points for a defenseman!  39 year old Daniel Alfredsson once again showed everyone that age is just a number, scoring 27 goals and 32 assists for 59 points.  Those were two of the main question marks at the start of the season: could Karlsson lead the defense at only 21? And could Alfie still score consistently at 39?  The answers to both were clearly “yes.”  For a first year head coach to step in and lead a team to the playoffs (when the team previously finished 13th overall in the 2010-11 season) is no easy task.  I think Paul MacLean has a bright future with the Ottawa Senators, and with the amount of young players currently in the system, the Sens will be a force to be reckoned with next season.  When you take a team from 13th place to 8th place, you know you’re doing something right.

Follow me on twitter @yungspork.

Kevin Sporka

Kevin Sporka

Kevin Sporka is the Senior Media Analyst and Detroit Red Wings beat writer at HOHM. He is also the author of the Fantasy Hockey Fridays, In Retrospect, Milestone Monday, and Legends By the Number segments.
Kevin Sporka

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