With the first quarter of the 2013-14 season complete, NHL.com looks at some of its biggest storylines and award contenders.
After finishing the 2012-13 season with the second-fewest points (39) in the League, many believed the Colorado Avalanche had their work cut out for them just to be a team that could stay in the race for a playoff spot in the Western Conference into the second half of the season.
So far, it appears the Avalanche will be in that race. What's more impressive is that there could be several teams chasing them in the standings.Colorado entered the weekend with 16 wins in its first 21 games, the most victories in that amount of games in franchise history. Matt Duchene, the third pick at the 2009 NHL Draft, leads the Avalanche with 20 points (12 goals, eight assists) in 19 games.
Certainly, it's helped that Semyon Varlamov has been one of the League's standout goaltenders. In 16 games, the 25-year-old is 11-5-0 with a 2.23 goals-against average and a save percentage of .931.
At the end of the day, though, the bulk of credit has to go to first-year coach Patrick Roy. That's why, at the first-quarter pole of the schedule, Roy has earned NHL.com's nod as the frontrunner for the Jack Adams Award as the League's top coach.
The 48-year-old was hired this summer by new Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Joe Sakic and has been the biggest reason for the Avalanche's resurgence after Colorado won 16 times in 48 games in 2012-13. The Avalanche have already won seven games on the road, three more than they won all last season.
Roy's fiery attitude and passion is rubbing off on his players. While there is still plenty of work to do, what Roy has been able to accomplish through the first 22 games this season is nothing short of remarkable. Should the success continue, it's hard to imagine anyone but Roy winning the Jack Adams.
"When I took this job, and I knew I had to find a coach, Patrick was always my top candidate," Sakic said when he introduced Roy as the new coach May 28. "Patrick has a great hockey mind, he is a tremendous coach, and there is no one more passionate about this game. He'll bring a winning attitude and help this young team grow, and I know he'll get the best out of each player."
Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning -- A midseason replacement for Guy Boucher in 2012-13, Cooper, a former attorney, ran his first training camp with the Lightning in September. This provided him with a genuine opportunity to instill his beliefs and systems into a team that many felt was too talented to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring. Cooper helped the Lightning storm out of the gate to the point where they at one point sat atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Cooper now faces arguably the biggest challenge of any coach in the League -- keeping Tampa Bay in the playoff picture without Steven Stamkos, who sustained a broken tibia in a game against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 11. If Cooper is able to do that, he'll only gain momentum for the Jack Adams down the stretch.
"Sixteen games ago, I'm not sure anybody in this room was picking the Tampa Bay Lightning to be anything but something teams were going to pass on the way to the playoffs," Cooper said immediately following the Stamkos injury. "For 16 games, I think we were just getting to the point where people were starting to look at us and say, 'Hey, I think these guys might be for real.' [Now that Stamkos is out], all those people are back to saying, 'OK, these guys are done.'"
Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes -- Tippett is an annual contender for this award, and he again deserves to be in the mix in the early stages of the 2013-14 season. The 52-year-old has the Coyotes hanging around with the top teams in the Western Conference, despite the notion that each opponent brings more offensive firepower to the rink. Twenty-two games into the season, Phoenix is 14-4-4, two points behind the Chicago Blackhawks for the Western Conference lead. The Coyotes, who don't have a player on the roster with 20 points (Martin Hanzal leads with 19), are 9-0-2 at home and are among the League leaders in goals scored with 76.
"First and foremost, I'm pleased by our ability to find ways to win games," Tippett told Arizona Sports 620. "That's a trait that good teams have. That being said, I think there's still a lot of upside on this team. Some mistakes that we're making that don't give us the best chance to win every night, a lot of those things hopefully we can correct and continue to improve. We'll take the wins, but right now we're focused on how do we get better and how do we get ourselves to an elite status in the League."