To mark the completion of the first quarter of the season, which arrived on Tuesday, NHL.com is running its second installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Jack Adams Award, which goes to the League's best coach.
The New Jersey Devils' start to the 2017-18 season has been a surprise to anyone who was expecting another rebuilding season in Newark.
Those in the locker room and the decision-makers who built a team that is 12-5-3 and tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division are not surprised.
One of the reasons is coach John Hynes, who has been a major influence in helping shape the Devils on and off the ice. A prime example is defenseman Will Butcher. The winner of the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in NCAA Division I men's hockey in 2016-17 agreed to a two-year, entry-level contract as a college free agent on Aug. 28 because Hynes reminded him of Jim Montgomery, his coach at the University of Denver.
Video: NJD@MIN: Butcher roofs a rocket from the circle
Hynes has the Devils in first place despite playing a portion of the season without injured forwards Kyle Palmieri (missed six games), Marcus Johansson (10) and Travis Zajac (17). Center Brian Boyle missed 10 games because of chronic myeloid leukemia.
It's one of the many reasons Hynes is the favorite to win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's best coach after the first quarter, according to a panel of 18 NHL.com writers.
"It's nice we're able to get off to a good start," said Hynes, whose Devils started last season 9-3-3 only to finish 28-40-14, last in the Eastern Conference. "I think we learned a lot of lessons along the way. When you find ways to win it does build a belief that you can do it. You still take lessons from things you have to get better at; even when you win you have to learn lessons. It's not just when you lose. Credit to the guys: They've found ways to stay with it and have executed at key times to come back in games.
"That's something we haven't been able to do the past couple years, so it's certainly an improvement."
The biggest improvement has been scoring, where New Jersey is eighth in the League at 3.25 goals per game after finishing 28th last season (2.20). After a four-game losing streak (0-2-2), the Devils responded by winning three of their next five (3-1-1) while earning five out of a possible eight points on a four-game road trip (2-1-1). Hynes has full control of the locker room and the Devils playing a brand of hockey that's fun to watch.
"That's one of the things we've tried to build here from day one, to try and get faster and be a more aggressive team," Hynes told the Devils website. "We feel like we have that, so it is nice the guys have bought into that and have the skill sets to play fast."
Count Devils general manager Ray Shero among the believers.
"I said it midway through training camp. I said it after the first few practices," Shero told NJ Advanced Media on Nov. 16. "I told my staff halfway through training camp, 'I can feel that this is turning.' I've been through this before. You see it. You see the young players emerging. You see the culture emerging."
Hynes earned 67 points from the NHL.com panel, nine more than Gerard Gallant (Vegas Golden Knights). Jon Cooper (Tampa Bay Lightning) is third with 52 points. Mike Yeo (St. Louis Blues) received 38.
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1- basis): John Hynes, Devils, 67 points (six first-place votes); Gerard Gallant, Golden Knights, 58 (5); Jon Cooper, Lightning, 52 (6); Mike Yeo, Blues, 38 (1); John Stevens, Los Angeles Kings, 30; Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets, 10; Travis Green, Vancouver Canucks, 7; Mike Babcock, Toronto Maple Leafs, 4; Guy Boucher, Ottawa Senators, 3; Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1