Early Rankings for the Top 2013-14 Jack Adams Trophy Candidates

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistNovember 24, 2013

Early Rankings for the Top 2013-14 Jack Adams Trophy Candidates

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    Bruce Boudreau
    Bruce BoudreauGraig Abel/Getty Images

    NHL head coaches are judged on the bottom line.

    If they are going to be successful, they have to teach, motivate, find advantageous matchups and understand each of their players' strengths and weaknesses.

    It's often difficult to judge head coaches because of the disparity of talent throughout the league. Coaches like Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks and Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins piloted their teams to the Stanley Cup Final last year, and they are expected to have excellent seasons in 2013-14.

    Based on expectations and performances, here's our ranking for the Jack Adams Award, which goes to the top head coach in the league.

7. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2013-14 record: 14-8-1, third place in Atlantic Division

    Preseason expectations: The Lightning failed to make the playoffs in either of the last two seasons, and they were expected to be an also-ran again this season.

    Coach's performance: Jon Cooper's Lightning were well prepared at the start of the season, and the team was rolling until superstar Steven Stamkos suffered a broken leg earlier this month.

    The Lightning played inconsistent hockey each of the last two years, and the effort varied greatly from game to game. Even though they had Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and a fast-skating supporting crew, the Lightning seemed to fall apart when they faced adversity.

    This year, they came out like they were the favorites to win their division, and they were aggressive and opportunistic.

    Although they have lost much of their firepower due to the Stamkos injury, the Lightning continue to fight hard and are extremely well prepared every game. Cooper deserves credit for doing an excellent coaching job.

6. Mike Yeo, Minnesota Wild

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

    2013-14 record: 15-5-4, tied for third place in Central Division

    Preseason expectations: After making the playoffs as the Western Conference's eighth seed last year, the Wild were expected to contend for a similar position this year.

    Coach's performance: Mike Yeo is under the gun this year.

    Although his team is in a very tough division in the much-stronger Western Conference, it seemed quite clear at the start of the season that if the Wild missed the playoffs or went out easily in the first round, Yeo's job would be in jeopardy.

    With stars like Ryan Suter on the blue line and Zach Parise up front, the Wild's management and fans may believe their team is good enough to contend with the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues for the top spots in the Western Conference.

    The reason the Wild have played so well, though, is the unexpected performance of goaltender Josh Harding, who has a spectacular 1.48 goals against average and a .939 save percentage.

    Yeo has helped his team build off Harding's outstanding play in the net, and the Wild have an excellent chance to push the Blues and Blackhawks the rest of the season.

    Yeo is fighting hard to keep his job, and he has not taken a poor step yet.

5. Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche

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    2013-14 record: 17-5-0, tied for third place in Central Division

    Preseason expectations: The Avalanche looked like a team with solid young offensive talent, but they appeared to lack consistent play on the blue line and in goal. They were not expected to come close to a playoff spot under their new head coach.

    Coach's performance: Patrick Roy came into the season with very little pressure. Few thought the Colorado Avalanche would win many games based on their non-playoff performance last year. Adjusting to a new coach takes time, so there was little reason to think they would turn things around quickly.

    One thing that Roy always brought with him during his playing days as one of the great goaltenders in the history of the game was a red-hot competitive streak and a willingness to bring his best effort on a nightly basis.

    He has imparted this to his young team. He demands they play hard every shift, and they have responded in remarkable fashion. 

    Roy may have a hard time sustaining because they still appear to have weaknesses on the blue line—although Semyon Varlamov has answered the goaltending questions—but Colorado's hot start has made Roy a legitimate coach-of-the-year candidate.

4. Todd McLellan, San Jose Sharks

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    2013-14 record: 15-3-5, second place in Pacific Division

    Preseason expectations: The San Jose Sharks have been following the same script for years. They play well in the regular season and then lose in the postseason before they have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup; however, they have followed that pattern so many times that there was some thought that the Sharks had seen their window of opportunity close and they would not be as strong this year.

    Coach's performance: Todd McLellan has been an outstanding coach for the Sharks since he was hired prior to the 2008-09 season.

    The Sharks, however, could not merely grind games out this season using the same old pattern and the same old leadership. Instead, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau passed the torch to Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski.

    This has been a subtle move because Thornton and Marleau are still very important parts of their team and they score a lot of key goals. Couture and Pavelski, though, are the emotional leaders of the team, and they appear to have more fire and energy than their predecessors.

    McLellan deserves kudos for pulling off this vital change.

3. Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues

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    2013-14 record: 16-3-3, second place in Central Division

    Preseason expectations: The Blues certainly looked like a top-four team in the loaded Western Conference; however, it seemed they might fall a bit short of the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

    Coach's performance: Although Ken Hitchcock would be the first one to say that you can't truly judge his performance until his team makes its mark in this year's postseason, there is a continued progression in the regular season for the Blues.

    When Hitchcock was hired early in the 2011-12 season, he helped them develop a physical presence. Last year, they became a dominant defensive team. This season, they have become more well rounded and have a dependable offense with exceptional depth.

    The Blues are averaging 3.46 goals per game, and that ranks second to the Blackhawks.

    It's hard to find any weakness in the Blues' game, and the credit must go to Hitchcock for improving his team on a consistent and nonstop basis.

2. Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2013-14 record: 14-5-4, fourth place in Pacific Division

    Preseason expectations: The Coyotes didn't secure their ownership questions until weeks before the start of training camp. Although they had some talent on the blue line, few expected them to have much of an impact in the Western Conference.

    Coach's performance: Dave Tippett has had excellent success with the Coyotes, despite all the limitations his team has faced over the years due to ownership problems and the team's lack of resources. 

    He demands that his team has an airtight defense and that his players compete in a physical manner. There's something about Tippett that always brings out his players' best effort, and that's why they have been so competitive. 

    Tippett depends on leaders like Shane Doan and Keith Yandle to get his message across. The Coyotes may not have the overall talent of the top teams in the Western Conference, but they are a nasty group that is willing to take the hit just to come away with the puck. Tippett's ability to get the best out of his team makes him a prime contender for the Jack Adams Award.

1. Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks

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    Debora Robinson/Getty Images

    2013-14 record: 17-6-3, first place in Pacific Division

    Preseason expectations: The Ducks appeared to be one of the stronger teams in the Pacific Division, but it seemed they would have a tough time overcoming their first-round playoff defeat to the Detroit Red Wings in last year's playoffs. Additionally, the Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks appeared to be formidable competition.

    Coach's performance: Bruce Boudreau has a great understanding of all aspects of the game. He is one of the best motivators, and he excels at picking out the best matchups for his team.

    He is an excellent communicator and he knows how to break the mood if he senses it is getting too heavy in the locker room; however, he keeps his team focused on the task at hand, and that's why his team is in first place in the Western Conference.

    Boudreau's teams have made the playoffs in five of his previous six seasons, but he has never had one advance past the conference semifinal round. Although coming through in the playoffs will be his true test, Boudreau has his team playing razor-sharp hockey early in the season, and he leads the pack in the race for the Jack Adams Award.