The National Hockey League reached the first-quarter mark this week of what has already been a memorable 2011-12 season. To celebrate, the NHL.com staff is taking a look at the early favorites for each of the major NHL end-of-season trophies with the first installment of our Trophy Tracker feature. Stay tuned for updates as the season progresses. All statistics for this edition of the Trophy Trackers are as of games completed by Nov. 22.
Can Dan Bylsma become the first head coach to win the Jack Adams Award in consecutive seasons since Detroit's Jacques Demers did it more than two decades ago?
With the way the Pittsburgh Penguins have persevered in the first quarter of the season to remain a top contender in the Eastern Conference despite the absence of Sidney Crosby, it wouldn't be a surprise.
Currently, there are nine active coaches who have heard their name called as the League's finest at the end of the season, including Bylsma, Joel Quenneville, Jacques Martin, John Tortorella, Lindy Ruff, Alain Vigneault, Bruce Boudreau, Claude Julien, and Dave Tippett.
While a few of those coaches might also be in the running at the conclusion of this season, here are the three who deserve the most recognition. As it turns out, all of them are in their first year on the job.
Kevin Dineen, Florida Panthers -- From the moment Dineen was hired as Panthers coach, he was determined to have his team get off to a positive start. He's certainly made good on that promise. In fact, Florida's 6-4-1 finish in October marked the first time since 2005-06 (6-5-1) that the organization sported a winning record in the opening month of the season. On top of that, Dineen has had to do it with as many as 11 new players in the lineup at any given point throughout the season. The Panthers have not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs 10 straight seasons, so Dineen still knows there's plenty of work ahead.
Mike Yeo, Minnesota Wild -- Yeo preached confidence and patience at the start of the year and that message has certainly resonated with the players. His team owns a 12-3-2 mark against foes in the Western Conference and its 1.95 goals-against average is the lowest in the League. Prior to becoming the third coach in franchise history last June, Yeo served as an assistant with the Penguins (2005-10) and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final twice, winning it all in 2009. That bodes well for a team that last played a playoff contest in 2008.
Glen Gulutzan, Dallas Stars -- It's been a roller-coaster start for the Stars, who began the season winning 11 of their first 14 games before hitting a bit of rut in the past few weeks. Through it all, Gulutzan has been a calming influence. The team lost Brad Richards to free agency last July, but Gulutzan has had others pick up the slack, including third-year forward Jamie Benn and off-season acquisitions Sheldon Souray, Michael Ryder and Vernon Fiddler. From the outset, Gulutzan felt this year's team was a lot deeper than in previous seasons. He's stressed strength and structure in the defensive zone but, at the same time, hasn't restricted his top players from countering and attacking effectively. The Stars have missed out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past three seasons and Gulutzan knows that earning a berth for new owner Tom Gaglardi would be something special.