Now is the time when contenders begin separating themselves from the pretenders as conference seeds begin to take shape.
A key to establishing that success is direction from the coach as clubs seek the proper line adjustments and chemistry during the season's second half. It's amazing to think that since the quarter-mark of the season, there have been seven coaching changes (St. Louis, Washington, Carolina, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Montreal, Columbus).
There currently are eight active coaches who have an Adams Trophy on their mantel -- Dan Bylsma, Joel Quenneville, John Tortorella, Lindy Ruff, Alain Vigneault, Bruce Boudreau, Claude Julien and Dave Tippett.
There's a good chance a few of them again will be in the running at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season. In fact, NHL.com considers the Rangers' Tortorella worthy of a real good look. Here are the three who deserve the most recognition right now.
First-year coach Kevin Dineen has the Panthers still in the top spot in the Southeast Division. (Photo: Getty Images)
John Tortorella, New York Rangers -- In addition to the loss of defenseman Marc Staal for most of the first half of the season, Tortorella has had to deal with starting games in Europe, a long road trip while Madison Square Garden underwent renovations, and the glare of HBO's cameras in the run up to the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Oh, and there's the pressure that's associated with coaching in Manhattan, as well. Through it all, his club has remained steadfast and focused -- the Rangers are a League-best 18-1-1 when scoring first. It's possible Tortorella could become the first Rangers coach to win the award.
Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues -- Since taking over in November, all the 59-year-old Hitchcock has done in 28 games is go 18-5-5 to catapult his team into fourth place in the Western Conference standings. The team was 6-7-0 when GM Doug Armstrong replaced Davis Payne with Hitchcock. There's no question the Blues' roster was littered with talent, and with Hitchcock calling the shots, the transition has been a relatively flawless one. In the past, Hitchcock-coached teams have displayed structure, discipline, solid special teams and, most importantly, consistency. On top of that, Hitchcock has helped re-energize the fans at Scottrade Center as the club has won a League-leading 17 games on home ice (17-3-2).