Hitchcock, Tortorella, Tippett and Dineen Top Candidates for Adams Award
The NHL presents the Jack Adams Award each year to the coach "adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success."
Usually, the winner is the coach of a team that had a much more successful season than expected.
Last year, Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins won after leading his team to home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs despite not having Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin for long stretches of time.
The front-runner for the Adams Award this year has to be Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues were a game under .500 and playing listless hockey when Hitchcock took over for Davis Payne in November. Since then, St. Louis has looked like a different team on the ice and are battling for the league's best record.
Hitch has won a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999 and has helped improve both the Flyers and Blue Jackets during his stints with those clubs.
He is a defense-first coach who stresses accountability and discipline. While some thought his style was too old school, Hitchcock has really been a difference maker for the Blues.
New York Rangers coach John Tortorella has his club comfortably atop the Eastern Conference.
While the Rangers made the playoffs last year, Torts has done a great job of molding a club with an inexperienced defense and some key new additions into a strong team.
Tortorella may have toned down his act a little bit since his Cup-winning season with the Lightning, but he still knows how to get his point across.
He has helped his team thrive despite the potential distraction that Sean Avery could have become and the loss of top defenseman Marc Staal for three months.
The Rangers are on pace to set a club record for most points in a season.
Nobody expected much from the Phoenix Coyotes this season after the departure of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and a few other key cogs from last year's team like Vernon Fiddler, Eric Belanger and Ed Jovanovski. The Hockey News picked them 14th in the Western Conference.
Add the challenges of a limited budget and the distractions associated with the Coyotes' possible departure from Arizona and you have a very difficult situation for any coach.
Tippett has done a bang-up job with the Coyotes, and they are presently leading the Pacific Division.
Balanced scoring and a very solid season from goalie Mike Smith have helped, but the Coyotes are a reflection of the way Tippett played the game during his NHL career: they work hard, are determined and do the little things the right way.
The Florida Panthers haven't made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2000, the longest current drought for any NHL team. They ended last season losing 16 of their final 20 games, and their best player, goalie Tomas Vokoun, departed during the summer.
The Panthers revamped their entire roster this past summer in a struggle to get above the floor of the salary cap.
Dineen took this group of strangers and helped mold them into a cohesive team.
The Panthers presently lead the Southeast Division despite being picked near the bottom of the standings by nearly every expert before the season started. The coaching of Kevin Dineen is a major reason for their success.
Jack Adams Award
Only five coaches have won the Adams Award more than once: Jacques Demers, Pat Quinn, Pat Burns, Scotty Bowman and Jacques Lemaire.
Tortorella and Tippett would join that exclusive club if they were to be named the winner this year.