There have been quite a few worthy candidates throughout the season in the race for the Jack Adams Award, but three established themselves as the clear-cut candidates when it was all said and done.
Last season, Dave Tippett captured the award after leading the Phoenix Coyotes to their first 50-win campaign, and he once again did a phenomenal job to help his club land the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference.
Of the first-year coaches in 2010-11, none did a better job than Tampa Bay's Guy Boucher, who guided the club to the No. 5 seed in the East after racking up 46 victories and 103 points. Boucher seemed destined to be a finalist earlier in the season, but the job his first-round opponent ended up doing down the stretch will likely knock Boucher out of the mix. Combine that with the performances of a couple of coaches out West, and it appears we have three bench bosses who have separated themselves from the rest.
Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Other teams suffered from having more man-games lost due to injury, but Bylsma played the second half of the season without his top two centers -- two of the best centers on the planet. Despite the losses of Sidney Crosby (who hasn't played since Jan. 5 due to a concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (out since Feb. 4 with a season-ending knee injury), Bylsma's Pens pushed forward and came within a whisker of winning the Atlantic Division (let's also not forget the Penguins played without Jordan Staal for the first three months of the season). Pittsburgh ended up winning eight of its last 10 games in the regular season and secured home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I think we've heard that anybody can coach Crosby and Malkin," Pens GM Ray Shero said. "But coaching without those two guys, and how the team's playing now with work ethic and discipline is something he's said from Day 1. I'm really proud of that for the team and for Dan.
"Dan does a great job representing this organization and this team. We're lucky to have him as our coach. This year you can see it. People can finally see and recognize what a good coach he is, and how he gets it out of his players."
Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators -- The only coach in the history of the franchise did another outstanding job this season, leading the Preds to a fifth-place finish in the Western Conference. Despite lacking a superstar up front (no player had more than 23 goals or 50 points), Trotz managed to tally 44 victories and 99 points in an unbelievably-competitive conference that really deserved to have more than eight playoff teams.
Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes -- Last season's winner once again got more out of his club than anyone could have imagined, as the Coyotes nearly landed the No. 4 seed in the West for a second straight season. Much like Trotz, Tippett's club managed to win more often than not despite leading an offense that boasted only one 20-goal scorer (Shane Doan). What makes Tippett's performance even more impressive is his ability to not allow the Coyotes' uncertain future affect his players in any way. Instead, it seems as if Tippett continues to find a way to feed off it.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL