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Devils' turnaround makes Lemaire the Adams pick

Friday, 02.25.2011 / 9:00 AM / 2011 NHL Awards

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

At the midpoint of this season, Tampa Bay's Guy Boucher seemed a safe bet to take home the award for the League's best coach in the 2010-11 season. Despite numerous changes on Florida's gulf coast in personnel, ownership and the front office, Boucher had guided the young Lightning to an impressive first-half charge in a division typically ruled by the Washington Capitals.

A lot can change in 20 games, however.

While the Lightning are still bulling their way towards a division title, a midseason replacement has turned the race for this season's Jack Adams Trophy on its head by engineering what could end up one of the great comebacks ever, and it's in the Garden State, scene of that astonishing turn of events, that we find NHL.com's pick for the Adams at the season's three-quarter pole.

Winner:

Jacques Lemaire, New Jersey Devils --
As the calendar turned to 2011, the consensus was the Devils were simply playing out the remainder of their schedule. They would search for a couple of "feel-good" victories down the stretch and would ultimately set their sights on what would be a lottery pick at the 2011 Entry Draft.

"Guys, they don't panic. Last year compared to this year, it's pretty much the same group, but I know at certain times last year we panicked, and I don't see this now. It's the players that take charge, just the way they're talking on the bench. I feel they know what to do."
-- Devils coach Jacques Lemaire

Less than two months later, Jacques Lemaire is NHL.com's choice to win the Jack Adams Trophy as Coach of the Year.
 
Lemaire, who replaced John MacLean on Dec. 23, has orchestrated one of the more remarkable turnarounds in the history of the League. With Tuesday's 1-0 victory at Dallas, the Devils moved within nine points of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It was New Jersey's eighth straight win and its 16th in 19 games (16-1-2).

Sure, there are other coaches certainly worthy of the award. But the fact that the Devils are even mentioned in this postseason race speaks volumes of the job Lemaire has done over the past two months. New Jersey was 27 points out of a playoff spot on Jan. 8.

"The team has good confidence," Lemaire said. "Guys, they don't panic. Last year compared to this year, it's pretty much the same group, but I know at certain times last year we panicked, and I don't see this now. It's the players that take charge, just the way they're talking on the bench. I feel they know what to do."

Runners-up:

Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay Lightning -- Our choice to win the award at the halfway point of the season, Boucher would still be our selection if not for Lemaire's heroics.

As they entered their 60th game of the season, the Lightning found themselves atop the Southeast Division at 34-18-7. Bolstered by the acquisitions of Dwayne Roloson, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Eric Brewer, the Bolts seem primed to make some noise when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get under way in April.

Alain Vigneault, Vancouver Canucks -- It's not easy to go wire-to-wire, but Vancouver has been an unstoppable force in the Northwest Division all season long, and that's a testament to the job Alain Vigneault has done behind the bench.

Despite injuries suffered to five key defensemen -- Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler and Andrew Alberts -- Vigneault has managed to not only keep his team afloat, but also atop the Western Conference standings. Sixty games into their season, the Canucks held a five-point lead on Detroit for the No. 1 seed.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL