At 48-20-10, the St. Louis Blues have become the best team in the NHL under Ken Hitchcock. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
One week from now, the NHL will have one more (half) weekend of regular season action before the playoffs begin. Other than the start of the hockey season – when hope abounds for not only 16 teams, but all 30 – that’s the best time of year for me. I have no adequate segue to take me into this week’s mailbag, but hey, when you’ve made it this far, you have to parcel out your energy wisely to steel yourself for the post-season grind. As always, thanks for your questions.
Adam, There are numerous coaches in the NHL who are in the running for the Jack Adams Award. Which three would you nominate and who do you think will win the award?
Russell Friday, Kashechewan, Ont.
I’m going to delve deeper into this very good question in an upcoming edition of the magazine, but suffice to say, there is no easy answer to it.
Now, I’m sure some of you just read the above sentence and began ranting in your inner voice about Ken Hitchcock and the astonishing job he’s done since taking over for Davis Payne in St. Louis. I’m not here to belittle that at all.
Rather, I want to point out other worthy candidates to show how difficult the decision really is. Are you telling me Nashville’s Barry Trotz – who never has won the award despite making more lemonade out of comparative lemons than all the juice companies on earth – isn’t deserving? What about Red Wings bench boss Mike Babcock? All he’s done this year is establish a new league record for a home winning streak – and he’s also never been recognized for all the excellent work he’s done in Detroit.
But the list doesn’t end there. Ottawa’s Paul MacLean has earned a whole bunch of merit based on his work with the surprising Senators. Phoenix’s Dave Tippett, who won the Adams in 2010, has once again turned a team with low expectations into a playoff contender. Dallas’ Glen Gulutzan has done the same thing with the Stars in his rookie season as an NHL coach and Kevin Dineen has done the same thing with the Florida Panthers. There also are arguments to be made for the Rangers’ John Tortorella, New Jersey’s Peter DeBoer and Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma.
That’s a full one-third of the league with coaches who’ve done praise-worthy work. Hitchcock may indeed wind up winning the Adams, but to say he’s the only one who should get it is to ignore the reality of how competitive the race really is.
Hey Adam. Given the current state of both Montreal and Toronto, which team do you think will make the playoffs first? And which of those teams do you think will be first to win Lord Stanley? Finally, which Canadian team will be first to win the Cup?
Paul Persin, Regina, Sask.
In the pre-season, I picked the Leafs to finish slightly ahead of the Canadiens. I had Toronto sneaking into the playoffs with the eighth Eastern Conference seed and Montreal in ninth. For the first four months of the season, I felt pretty good about that estimate. Then February happened to the Leafs and they completely collapsed the way Minnesota did in the West.
That said, I still think Toronto has more depth on offense than the Habs, who clearly have better goaltending. Saying one team’s defense corps is markedly better than the other isn’t accurate; both squads have good, young blueliners (P.K. Subban in Montreal, Jake Gardiner in Toronto) and veterans (J-M Liles with the Leafs, Josh Gorges with the Canadiens) who have something considerable still to give. Neither franchise has the kind of salary cap space for a complete makeover, so I don’t expect either to vault to the top of the Northeast Division next year.
Regarding your who-gets-the-Cup-first question: So many things can happen along the way that can alter any team’s ability to contend for a championship, so attempting to predict what will come to pass is simply folly. (That said, there is no Canadian team other than the Vancouver Canucks with a genuine chance to win it all, both this year and in the next couple seasons, so they’d be my guess.)
Hi Adam. In the salary cap world, it seems there is a small window for teams to win the Stanley Cup and you need effective, cheap, entry-level talent to do it. As a fan though, it's hard to see talented players, that your team drafted, walk away because of the cap. Do you think there is any chance the new collective bargaining agreement will facilitate a reduced cap hit for players that play on the team that drafted them? Is this something that has ever been discussed?
Cory Smid, Edmonton
I know where you’re coming from, but let’s make this clearer for those who don’t: you’re not suggesting teams pay less money to the players they drafted, you’re suggesting that a percentage of their salary not count against the cap. That’s something like the NBA has done with its “Larry Bird exception,” which allows teams to exceed the upper cap limit in re-signing their own players without penalty.
Will that happen in the NHL? It’s possible, but I don’t know it’s likely. Small-market teams would rightfully see that as a way for big-market teams to unlevel the playing field, but if NHL Players’ Association head Don Fehr can convince that type of move – in return for increased revenue-sharing – there may be a way to make everyone happy.
I agree: you do want to reward franchises that develop their assets wisely. But there are numerous considerations that factor into the bigger picture and I don’t see this one overshadowing all the others.
Adam, I couldn't help but realize that Evgeni Malkin, Hart Trophy favorite and leader of the Penguins, was five slots behind Sidney Crosby in THN’s recent Top 50 NHL players issue. Malkin is on pace for the most points in the NHL, while Crosby has only played in a handful of games. Please explain your reasoning.
Ryan Rozenberg, San Jose
It really isn’t my reasoning, or the reasoning of anyone who works at THN, that made the list look like it did. That issue was an NHL player poll, in which our publication canvassed five players from each team and asked them who their top five NHLers were. Note, the question wasn’t who the top five were this season; it was all about overall talent level.
That’s why Crosby finished ahead of Malkin and why Pavel Datsyuk finished second. Both those players have earned the respect of their colleagues and so has Malkin. If the Russian superstar can continue to dominate, the next time we do a player poll, he’ll finish higher.