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Lightning's Cooper is Adams leader at halfway mark

Friday, 01.10.2014 / 3:00 AM
Brian Compton  - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

NHL.com's midseason edition of Trophy Trackers attempts to project winners of the major individual awards. Today we predict the winner of the Jack Adams Award, an annual award presented by the National Hockey League Broadcasters' Association to the NHL coach judged to have contributed the most to his team's success.

When superstar forward Steven Stamkos broke his tibia in a game against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 11, one had to think the Tampa Bay Lightning were in a whole heap of trouble.

After all, Stamkos had 14 goals in 16 games, helping Tampa Bay race out to an impressive 12-4-0 start after finishing in fourth place in the Southeast Division last season with 18 wins in 48 games.

"For 16 games, I think we were just getting to that point where people were starting to look at us and think that we might be for real," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said a day after the injury. "In the second period [against the Bruins], all those people that thought we might be for real went right back to thinking that these guys are done. That's why everybody in [our dressing] room is saying, 'Let's prove to everybody that we're not a fluke.'

"We're up near the top of the standings for a reason, and we're going to stay there."

Led by Cooper, the Lightning have done exactly that.

Entering their game Thursday against the Washington Capitals, the Lightning were in second place in the Atlantic Division, two points behind Boston. Tampa Bay is 14-8-4 since Stamkos sustained the injury and was 25-12-4 through 41 games, the franchise's best record at the halfway point.

It's for those reasons and more why Cooper finds himself winning the race to the Jack Adams Award midway through the 2013-14 season.

"We're going to be a better team when 91 comes back," Cooper said after the Lightning earned a 4-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

FINALISTS

Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks -- It's getting to the point where it’s reasonable to wonder if Boudreau's Ducks will ever lose a game in regulation at Honda Center this season.

With a 5-2 win against the Bruins on Tuesday, the Ducks improved to 18-0-2 on home ice. Most believed the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings would lead the pack in the Western Conference, but it was Anaheim that sat atop the NHL standings after the win Tuesday with 69 points.

After being fired by the Washington Capitals in November 2011, Boudreau was hired by the Ducks less than 72 hours later. It's safe to say he's landed on his feet and has Anaheim contending for a Stanley Cup.

"Bruce made it pretty clear when he got here that when he was in Washington, he didn't have control over certain things," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf told The Washington Post last month. "He didn't want that to be the case here. I think he learned that he wanted more accountability, and that's been important with our group. It comes with a certain level of respect. I think the respect level has to be there between us in order to have the success that you want when you're putting together a winning organization."

Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Bylsma has kept the Penguins atop the Metropolitan Division for all but one day this season, despite injuries to center Evgeni Malkin, his top four defensemen (Paul Martin, Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik) and goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

Indeed, Bylsma has been fortunate that Sidney Crosby has stayed healthy and provided plenty of offense, but the job the Penguins' coach has done with all the injuries on his blue line can't be ignored. Regardless of the multiple fill-ins the Penguins have received from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, Bylsma's team hasn't missed a beat.

"With Kris Letang out at the beginning of the year for nine games, that's a big void," Bylsma said last month. "That's our leading, or possibly our leading, ice-time getter and that was that way from the start of the season, through those first nine games. So, guys had to step up there with bigger roles.

"For us, our team has the luxury of being very deep at defenseman."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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