The best rookie head coach in the NHL today is Paul Maclean, who mans the helm of the Ottawa Senators. Maclean has earned the respect of the hockey press and he has been bandied about by hockey pundits as a potential nominee for the Jack Adams award for this season. Before the Boston Bruins got their groove back it was the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs who vied for the Northeast Division lead. Although they no longer have a viable shot at the divisional title, the Senators still retain their eighth seed rank (and a three-point lead over ninth-seeded Washington) in the Eastern Conference standings.
And yet the question that remains hanging is this: is Paul Maclean Jack Adams award material?
I have my doubts on the issue. Even though he leads all rookie coaches in team points, his coaching performance with the Sens has been streaky and inconsistent at best. The Senators started off poorly before rallying to go slightly above .500; then they slumped again only to rally to their highest mark of 27-16-6. Today, the Senators have gone eight straight games without a victory and are losing ground in the Eastern Conference playoff stakes.
Ottawa this season reminds me of Tampa last season: top-heavy on offense and very weak on defense. The Senators have a scoring triumvirate in Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, and defenseman Erik Karlsson and they rank 7th in offense—but only 28th in defense and 22nd on the penalty-kill. They have a winning goalie in Craig Anderson but their weak D forces Anderson to carry the defensive load alone.
Even if Maclean and the Senators do make the playoffs their style of play will not do them any good, especially against teams like the Rangers and the Bruins where team defense is page one in their tactical arsenal.
Is this really the stuff of a potential Jack Adams nominee?
I say no. If one is looking for potential nominees for the 2012 Jack Adams award one must always keep in mind the determining criteria for nomination: the award is supposed to be given to the NHL coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.” Armed with that standard one must look at Ken Hitchcock’s sterling resurrection of the St. Louis Blues as being worthy of a Jack Adams award nomination and reception—Hitchcock has never won the award; an oversight which should be rectified considering his glorious NHL coaching career.
Darryl Sutter’s jump-starting of the Los Angeles Kings back into Pacific Divisional race competition represents to my mind ample proof of his worthiness to be nominated for the award and to win it—like Ken Hitchcock, Sutter has never won the Jack Adams award although his brother Brian did in 1991.
Another coach who merits consideration in the Jack Adams Award stakes is New Jersey Devils head coach Peter DeBoer. After a middling start to the present season (the Devils were at .500 as late as December 3, the Devils since then have sharpened their pitchforks and kicked their game up several notches (the Devils are presently sixth in the Eastern Conference but are threatening the Flyers fourth slot). If the Devils can maintain their hellish pace then Peter DeBoer will have finally taken a major step in the furtherance of his NHL coaching career which saw leaner, sterner times with the Florida Panthers.
But if the Devils should falter and fail then Barry Trotz of the Nashville Predators warrants another nomination for the Jack Adams award (he was nominated last year). As I mentioned last week, Barry Trotz has kept the Predators at a splendid pace only to be cursed by having to play in the Central division along Detroit, St. Louis, and Chicago. Trotz’s coaching effort stands like a might redwood among other mighty redwoods but glorious nonetheless.
There is still a lot of hockey to be played and a lot of coaching to motivate and guide that playing.
Time will tell which coach is worthy of the Jack Adams award.