Last year, Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau was the runaway winner of the Jack Adams Trophy as the best head coach in the NHL, as voted by the National Hockey League Broadcasters' Association.
Awarded to the head coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success, his quick turnaround of the Washington Capitals from a directionless, disappointing squad into a powerhouse was a no-brainer come voting time.
The fact he won it after taking on the job during the season makes it all the more impressive.
Since the start of a new year is often a time for reflection—either for the year just passed, or the one about to begin—it would appear to be as ideal a time as any to consider the early favourites to win this award.
If the season were to end last night, I would suggest the following would be worthy for consideration:
Claude Julien (Boston Bruins): Sitting atop the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins are a team in transition. Considering their success comes without significant player change suggests that Julien's strategies and motivation are taking root in his team.
With this being only his second year behind the bench, the Bruins seem to have bought into whatever it is he's communicating to them.
Joel Quenneville (Chicago Blackhawks): There is an unquestionable youth movement at work in Chicago, and the talents of players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and rookie scoring-leader Kris Versteeg are a big contributor to that.
Young players, in the formative years of their NHL careers, require solid guidance more than the average NHLer.
The firing of Denis Savard early into the season could have created more confusion in this team, but Quenneville has kept the machine running, bringing the 'Hawks back into respectability and a fourth-place spot in the West.
Alain Vigneault (Vancouver Canucks): They missed the playoffs last year, they lost their captain in the offseason, bid farewell to heart-and-soul leader Trevor Linden, and have lost a significant amount of time from one of the best goaltenders in the League.
And yet the Canucks are sitting in fifth place in the West, despite some recent offense struggles. There isn't an overabundance of talent on this team, despite offseason acquisitions of Pavol Demitra and Kyle Wellwood, but Vigneault is obviously making the most of what he has and is doing a fine job of it.
Todd McLellan (San Jose Sharks): Brand new to the Sharks after Ron Wilson's departure, and his first full year as an NHL head coach, McLellan has steered the Sharks to top spot in the NHL. This alone makes him candidate material.
Patrick Marleau is enjoying arguably his best NHL season ever, Joe Thornton may finally shed his underachieving reputation, and Sharks fans may eventually thank the former Red Wing assistant coach for bringing some respectability to this franchise.
Some honourable mentions that probably just miss out at this point in the season include:
Wayne Gretzky: for helping the Coyotes get back into playoff contention.
Terry Murray: ignore the second-last place standing in the Western Conference; the fact this team is three points out of a playoff spot is a miracle, given their lineup.
Bruce Boudreau: his team is still a force to be reckoned with and is showing that last year wasn't a fluke.
Whether or not this season continues to unfold the way it has presented itself so far is obviously unpredictable, and past seasons have shown us that teams' fortunes can change dramatically from one half to another (read: Ottawa Senators).
The beauty of being a sports fan is the right to ruminate about your team and its place in sport. The awarding of trophies such as the Jack Adams often does not end debate, and sometimes ignites it further.
This article is one of countless opinions at this stage in the game. Please feel free to share yours.