To mark the conclusion of the 2018-19 regular season, NHL.com is running its fifth installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Jack Adams Award, given annually to the top coach in the NHL as selected in a Professional Hockey Writers Association poll.
Everything fell into place for the New York Islanders during the 2018-19 NHL season.
Massive offseason changes were made and new systems were implemented after the Islanders allowed NHL highs of 293 goals and 3.57 goals per game a season ago. The results were dramatic: New York finished led the League in goals against (191) and goals against per game (2.33); the Islanders won 48 games to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first season with Barry Trotz as their coach.
"It just feels right the way we play," said Trotz, who joined the Islanders days after winning the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals. "When you play right, it feels right, and you don't really worry about the score as much. … Just play and then we can frustrate teams, we can get on you and the results sort of come."
Trotz is the biggest reason the Islanders are in the postseason for the first time since 2016, guiding a team that defied low expectations after center John Tavares left to sign a seven-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, 2018.
Trotz brought instant credibility after winning the Cup with the Washington Capitals last season and quickly established a new culture. The results were enough to persuade a panel of 21 NHL.com writers to choose Trotz as the favorite to win the Jack Adams Award for the second time. He won in 2015-16 with Washington.
Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Islanders clinch a playoff spot
Trotz earned 93 points, 30 more than Jon Cooper, who won 62 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bill Peters, who coached the Calgary Flames to first place in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference, was third with 52 points.
"I don't think there was a lot of expectations on the Islanders; everybody thought we would fold," Trotz said. "The people that are in the organization, be it the players, obviously the management and the structure, nobody felt that we couldn't be a pretty competitive team. I think the players' mindset is that people are underestimating us. We came in and said, 'Let's have a really good team game,' and a team game makes up for a lot of things. … Everybody contributes, and that's the strength of our group."
The Islanders do not have a 30-goal scorer -- captain Anders Lee leads them with 28 -- nor do they have anyone close to 100 points. But they've won with defense and goaltending, with Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss combining for an Islanders-record 11 shutouts. They held the NHL-leading Lightning to five goals in three games (1-1-1), with four coming in one game, and were 2-1-0 against the Maple Leafs outscoring them 11-3.
A team-first concept breeding success isn't a new philosophy, but it was one that had become foreign to the Islanders for too long until this season.
"We talked about this has to be a little bit of a new era, a new standard and a new everything," Trotz said. "Let's do it our way, let's do it right and let's have success. We want to prove we can have success all the time."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Barry Trotz, Islanders, 93 points (17 first-place votes); Jon Cooper, Lightning, 63 points (one first-place vote); Bill Peters, Flames, 52 points (two first-place votes); Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues, 45 points (one first-place vote); Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina Hurricanes, 23 points; Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes, 20 points; Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins, six points; Travis Green, Vancouver Canucks, four points; Mike Babcock, Maple Leafs; three points; John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets, two points; Claude Julien, Montreal Canadiens, one point; Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights, one point, Jim Montgomery, Dallas Stars, one point; Todd Reirden, Capitals, one point.