To mark the midway point of the season, NHL.com is running its third installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Jack Adams Award, given annually to the best coach in the NHL as selected in a Professional Hockey Writers Association poll.
Barry Trotz wasn't content with going out on top after guiding the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup championship to close the 2017-18 season.
Instead of retiring after 20 years of coaching, Trotz resigned from the Capitals 11 days after winning the Cup and was hired three days later by the New York Islanders, a team that missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs the previous two seasons and has advanced past the first round once since 1993.
Trotz immediately bought into the mission statement of a culture change and is showing why he's one of the best in the business. Little was expected of the Islanders after captain John Tavares left to sign a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, but they're 23-14-4 and arguably the biggest surprise in the NHL. Trotz's work makes him the favorite to win the Jack Adams Award for the second time (2015-16 with the Capitals) at the midway point of the season, according to a panel of 20 NHL.com writers.
The Islanders won six in a row before a 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday and are one point behind the Montreal Canadiens for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. They've allowed 108 goals, tied with the Nashville Predators for fewest in the NHL, 2.63 goals per game (fourth) and 31.0 shots per game, big changes after giving up a League-high 293 goals (3.57 per game) and 35.6 shots per game last season.
"I'm a builder, I saw this as a great challenge," Trotz told Sportsnet hours before the Islanders defeated Tavares and the Maple Leafs 4-0 in Toronto on Dec. 29. "I told them I just experienced winning a championship, and I wanted them to have the same experience. The way you do that is you play as a team, with accountability, structure and work ethic.
"With [general manager] Lou Lamoriello, everything is about winning. They saw how organized and detailed we were. We told them defense can be fixed, if you are willing to sacrifice the cheating in your game. All the guys bought in."
The Islanders have proven to be greater than the sum of their parts. Reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal leads them with 38 points (12 goals, 26 assists). Even without Tavares centering them, Josh Bailey (31 points; eight goals, 23 assists) and captain Anders Lee (31 points; 15 goals, 16 assists) have remained productive. Goalie Robin Lehner, who agreed to a one-year contract July 4, is 7-0-0 with a 1.22 goals-against average, .959 save percentage and one shutout since Dec. 18.
Trotz earned 76 points from the NHL.com panel, eight more than Bill Peters (Calgary Flames). Phil Housley (Buffalo Sabres) was third with 44 points.
"Especially in the summer, everyone was kind of seeing us in the bottom of the League and it was a little chip on our shoulders there," Islanders forward Anthony Beauvillier said after defeating the Maple Leafs. "We came into training camp, we knew we had a good group and a lot of depth still up front and on the back end. Our goalie has been doing a job, so it's been really good so far. We just want to keep going the way we're playing and I think we're kind of shocking the hockey world a little bit right now."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Barry Trotz, Islanders, 76 points (12 first-place votes); Bill Peters, Flames, 68 points (two first-place votes); Phil Housley, Sabres, 44 points (three first-place votes); Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning, 37 points (three first-place votes); Claude Julien, Montreal Canadiens, 19 points; Todd Reirden, Capitals, 10 points; Travis Green, Vancouver Canucks, eight points; Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins, eight points; Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets, eight points; John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets, eight points; Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights, five points; Mike Babcock, Toronto Maple Leafs, four points; Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche, four points; Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins, one point