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Mishkin's Moments: The Coach of the Year?

by Dave Mishkin / Tampa Bay Lightning

As the regular season nears its conclusion, votes will soon be cast for the league’s various year-end awards.  The NHL Broadcasters get to pick the Jack Adams Award Winner for Coach of the Year.

Broadcasters must submit their three selections (first, second and third) before the first playoff game begins.  In others words, the winner is picked based solely on the strength of his regular season work.

Here are three candidates that definitely will be in the running.

Dave Tippett – Phoenix Coyotes.  Tippett is the front-runner and likely winner.  He deserves it.  The Coyotes will be making their first playoff appearance since 2002 and are still alive for the Pacific Division title and the first seed in the West.  Tippett didn’t even take over the team until the preseason was almost complete.  (The Lightning and Coyotes played two preseason games about a week before the regular season started and Tippett had not yet been named head coach).  While the Coyotes don’t necessarily boast any superstars (although captain Shane Doan is highly-regarded around the league), they have four lines that are all capable of scoring and a rock-solid corps of defensemen.  While Tippett has the reputation of being a defensive-minded coach, his Coyotes lead the league in goals by defensemen.  So he’s not shy about letting his D get involved in the offensive zone.  But the whole team is responsible defensively and goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is getting consideration for league MVP.  It’s Tippett, however, who has brought all those components together to give the Coyotes their best record in franchise history.

Cory Clouston – Ottawa Senators.  Most preseason polls had the Senators struggling just to make the playoffs.  With the departure of Dany Heatley, many felt that the Senators would be offensively-challenged.  Their success, thought the pundits, would hinge on the play of Pascal Leclaire, obtained from Columbus late last season.  But Leclaire has been less than stellar; he ranks 41st out of 44 NHL goalies with a 3.18 goals against average and 43rd with a .887 save percentage.  Overall this year, Ottawa has allowed 10 more goals than it has scored.  Compounding matters, the Sens have endured injury absences to their two best forwards: captain Daniel Alfredsson, who missed 11 games, and Jason Spezza, who has sat for 22 contests.  Their top offensive defenseman, former Lightning blueliner Filip Kuba, also has sat out 24 games due to various injuries (and is currently out of the lineup).  Milan Mihalek, the most significant player Ottawa received in the Heatley deal, is also currently injured.  Yet following their overtime win in Washington on Wednesday, the Senators reside comfortably in fifth place in the East with a 42-30-5 record.  How have they done it?  First of all, goaltender Brian Elliott has won 28 games and grabbed the number one job from Leclaire.  Secondly, the Sens have been more streaky than consistent this year, but their good streaks have been very, very good.  They enjoyed two early-season 5-1-0 runs.  Then, in mid-January, they broke from the rest of the pack in the East with an 11-game winning streak.  Clouston has pushed all the right buttons this year to help the Senators overcome their injury issues.

Joe Sacco – Colorado Avalanche.  The Senators may not have felt much love in preseason polls, they didn’t receive the lump of coal that the Avalanche got.  I read some some polls placing Colorado dead-last in the NHL.  Clearly, the “experts” were way off.  The Avs don’t have many veterans, but Sacco has shown that he knows how to work with young players.  Calder Trophy candidate Matt Duchesne leads all rookies in points.  Paul Stastny, just 24, has a new career high in assists and is on pace to set a new high in points.  Chris Stewart, in his first full NHL season, has netted 28 goals and produced 61 points in 70 games.  Defenseman Kyle Quincey, acquired from LA in the Ryan Smyth deal, leads their team in ice time and is among the team leaders in plus/minus.  He, like Stastny, is 24.  Sacco has relied heavily on other rookies T.J. Galiardi, Ryan O’Reilly, Ryan Wilson and when healthy, injury-plagued Brendon Yip.  At age 28, Craig Anderson isn’t as young as some of his teammates, but with 36 wins and seven shutouts, he has excelled in his first real opportunity to be a number one goalie.  The Avs have dipped a bit in the past week or so and as of Wednesday, held just a four-point lead over Calgary for the final playoff spot in the West.  But even if Colorado misses out on the post-season, Sacco should get plenty of votes for the season he has orchestrated in Denver.

Also earning consideration …

Terry Murray, Los Angeles Kings.  The Kings were in the mix last year to make the playoffs and fell short.  This year, they were expected to improve and they have, currently holding the West’s seventh seed.  With their win at Nashville on Tuesday, the Kings have accumulated more points on the road (47) than at home (45).  Give Murray credit for keeping this team trending in the right direction.

Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators.  Despite one of the lower payrolls in the league, Trotz always has the Predators in the hunt for a playoff berth.  88 points were three points shy of the eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks in 2009 and missing the playoffs last year snapped a four-year consecutive postseason run for the Preds.  They’re going to start a new streak this year.  Goaltender Pekka Rinne is one of the league’s brightest up-and-coming stars and unheralded Patric Hornqvist has 30 goals.

Paul Maurice, Carolina Hurricanes.  Some might raise an eyebrow with a “Huh”?  The ‘Canes won’t make the playoffs this year and spent most of the first half languishing in the league’s cellar.  But of all his seasons behind the bench, this may have been Maurice’s best coaching year.  They won just nine of their first 38 games.  But he didn’t let Carolina give up on its season.  In their next 38 contests, the ‘Canes went 23-13-2.  Many of those wins have come after the deadline, when Carolina traded away the bulk of its veterans.

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