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WD (+ AV) among 5 coaches worthy of Jack Adams


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The 2014-15 NHL season has proven to provide a lot of uncertainty when it comes to NHL awards. There is plenty of room for debate on a number of awards fronts. The lower scoring and surprising seasons for a number of players and teams has created a wide-open field for just about every award including the big team prize at the end of the season the Stanley Cup.

The men charged with leading teams to the ultimate prize are having quite a season as well. Several coaches have helped guide teams from low preseason expectations to great success. That is usually a proven recipe to win the Jack Adams Award, but the decision to be made this year is far from easy.

The Adams can be a tricky one to win. For those of us on the outside, it's tough to know just how much of an impact a coach has on his team's success beyond anecdotal evidence. Coach A may be a great motivator, while Coach B might be a better strategist, but the results may be negligible. That's why it's easier to look at the teams that were not expected to be very good and give the coach credit when they exceed those expectations. That doesn't always make for the best coach, though.

The Adams is voted on by the NHL Broadcasts' Association, which makes sense as that is a group of people that are often conversing with coaches in a much more laidback setting than those asking questions in press conferences or press scrums. Coaches may be a little more chatty in those settings, too. That still hasn't much changed the formula for picking the coach of the year.

Since I'm not in the NHL Broadcasters' Association, my opinion doesn't really matter in terms of who will win the Jack Adams, but if I did, here's a look at who deserves some love:

1. Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers:

The Rangers were expected to be good this year, at least a playoff team and perhaps would challenge for their division's top spot. They obviously have done that and more this season after reaching the Stanley Cup Final last year. Even with that success, the Rangers have been remarkably resilient.

There were several key losses from the team that went to the final. Gone are Anton Stralman, Benoit Pouliot, Brad Richards and Brian Boyle all players that had defined roles on the team and often played them extremely well. New York entered this season with a weaker roster as a result and the salary cap made it difficult to improve in any dramatic way.

That showed early in the season. Since December, however, there has really been no better team in the league. And in the process, they lost their starting goaltender to injury and still kept winning. Weathering the early storm and turning things around to the point where the Rangers look like a team that cant be stopped deserves some sort of recognition.

Vigneault deserves credit for managing the roster, particularly the younger players, to maximize what he's been getting out of it so far. Guys like J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes have been learning on the job and getting better. Cam Talbot was given enough opportunities before Henrik Lundqvist got hurt that when he did need to step in, he was ready.

Everything we knew about the Rangers heading into the season suggested they would take a step back. Now they're competing for the Presidents Trophy and look like a good bet to make a deep run in the playoffs. Just because they were in the Cup Final last year, doesn't mean Vigneault had an easier job this season. He's done some fantastic things with this roster.

2. Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings:

Another team that had lowered expectations, but nonetheless looked like a playoff team, has been impressive. Even though he still does not have a contract for next season, Babcock has shown this season as much as any that he is one of the game's great coaches. That contract issue hasn't been a distraction because Babcock hasn't let it become one.

That Babcock has never won this award is one of the signs that maybe it's time to rethink the whys of someone wins the Adams. Last season, Babcock helped drag the team across the finish line amid historic injury woes and still got skunked. This year, the Red Wings had to fill holes left by departing players without landing any big-name free agents.

Detroit famously struck out swinging on multiple top UFAs to improve the roster. Many (including me) openly mused that this was the year their playoff streak would end. Instead, Babcock has been utilizing younger players in a way that puts them in a position to succeed. And he's used to having veteran guys to play in those areas. Building trust with the youngsters and giving them those chances has made a difference. The younger players like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Danny DeKeyser are all surging and giving the Red Wings great value instead of having those spots filled by more expensive veterans.

The Wings have stayed relatively healthy this year, but the challenges in a lot of ways are similar. They've got a tough division and up until two weeks ago, they were right in the thick of the race for first place. They need a strong finish, but Babcock absolutely should be in the mix again.

3. Peter Laviolette, Nashville Predators:

The Predators have been one of the great stories of the NHL this season, but Laviolette's toughest job may yet be ahead of him. After taking over the team last summer, Laviolette had a new system to implement, young players to try to extract a lot out of and essentially no expectations from anyone outside of Nashville that this season would be so notable.

A lot of the work done in the offseason by GM David Poile in the offseason helped provide Laviolette with a team that was better equipped to score goals than his predecessor, and Pekka Rinne deserves a lot of credit for getting this team over the hump, but Laviolette is undoubtedly maximizing here.

Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Rinne and more are enjoying career years. Rookie Filip Forsberg was given the role needed to succeed offensively. Mike Ribeiro is rebuilding his career in Nashville. No one saw this coming, but Laviolette has been putting a lot of the pieces in place to make this the start of something bigger.

Now the team is struggling and the head coach needs to help his club figure out what ails them and get it fixed before going into the postseason. Thats the big challenge ahead, and one that could help Laviolette win the Adams, if he can pull the team through and perhaps reclaim the top spot in the Central before the season ends.

4. Willie Desjardins, Vancouver Canucks:

Almost across the board last year, Canucks players were in the dumps. Under a somewhat offensively oppressive system utilized by John Tortorella in a disastrous season, Vancouver was downright dreadful at times last season. The experiment lasted a year and now that it's over, things are returning to normal.

Desjardins came in and immediately built a an atmosphere of change. It seemed to instantly translate to the ice, too.

After leading the Texas Stars to the Calder Cup last season, Desjardins has looked more than comfortable in his first NHL head coaching job. The production for most players is returning to at least career norms most notably from Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, who each have 60 points.

Desjardins has also had the duty of juggling a difficult goaltending situation with Ryan Miller and Eddie Lack. He has had to acclimate new players to help contribute and guys like Radim Vrbata and Nick Bonino have helped improve the team.

The Western Conference is a minefield and Desjardins has been guiding the team through it almost effortlessly it seems. They surpassed expectations and have created a clearer path back to the respectability the organization had over the last several years.

5. Bob Hartley, Calgary Flames:

The Flames are doing things no one expected them to. Many believed they'd be in last place in the Western Conference. Yet here the Flame are late in the season still in the playoff hunt and seesawing with defending champions Los Angeles Kings.

However, much like Patrick Roy who won the Jack Adams Award last season, Hartley's team seems to be winning in spite of itself at times. There's no question they're better as a group than they were over the last few seasons, but Calgary is one of the worst possession teams in the league, controlling only 43.3 percent of the total shot attempts in their games this season.

The Flames are riding a high shooting percentage, which is allowing them to score at a higher clip than expected and their goaltending has definitely been a major factor in their success. As have the top defensive pairing of T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano, who is now done for the season.

As we've seen, Roy's Avalanche fell back to earth this year, hard. Hartley's Flames may next year, too. But that's next year. This is a team that may be shooting higher than expected. They may be terrible in possession, but they are winning.

The process absolutely matters, but I don't know that Hartley has the personnel that would make a ton of a difference if the process were different. He's gotten a lot out of what had appeared to be a little and the team has kept right on winning. They're not always pretty, but they're still alive when the numbers say they shouldn't be. When that happens, there has to be more than luck at play.

Others who deserve a long look:

Gerard Gallant, Florida Panthers; John Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning; Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks.

Willie, man is this guy really good at coaching and a breath of fresh air. He's seemingly done the impossible and maneuvered his way in the toughest division positioning the Canucks nicely at a chance to compete in the playoffs - all in his first year, at one point managing the team with a near AHL defense for what seemed to be a long period of time.

I doubt he wins because there's other quality guys too but just seeing his name in the mix and getting league wide recognition and consideration shows how great of a job he's done. He's arguably got the most of his players and the team has bought into his system and are comfortable in it most importantly. Can't say enough good things about Willie. So glad he's in Vancouver and when you look back and see he chose us over Pittsburgh, it's just perfect :)

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I'm not a flames fan but if anyone wins it but Hartley it's a joke.

Anyone with half a brain could have predicted Vancouver being second in their division ... Elite talent through out the lineup.

Calgary on the other hand came out of nowhere.

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A weak little bit on WD. No mention of the most impressive aspect of his team's performance - the fact that he kept them winning games through a stretch where half his key veterans, and particularly his blueline, were out for significant stretches.

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