Barry Trotz and the Nashville Predators won their first playoff round in franchise history this season. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
If you’ve ever wondered how The Hockey News comes up with consensus picks for items like our Yearbook rankings or playoff winners, let’s just say it’s not always a smooth process. We’re an opinionated bunch and we like to yell, so debates can rage on for longer periods than would probably be recommended by your average marriage counselor or hostage negotiator (and it’s not limited to hockey - mention The Beatles or Seinfeld and prepare for war).
So when it came to discussing the Jack Adams Award, naturally there was dissent. One of the names championed by several staffers was Nashville’s Barry Trotz – the only coach in Predators history. Trotz was the runner-up for the Adams last season and the argument put forth was that he always has the Preds in the playoff race, despite being employed by a franchise that keeps the cap hits closer to the basement than the ceiling.
My personal thought? As admirable as it is to get such a team into the post-season every campaign except one since the lockout, Trotz had never taken the team past the first round. One and done, every time.
So when it came to my preview of the Anaheim-Nashville series for the website, I promptly gave the coaching edge to Randy Carlyle of the Ducks. While Trotz was stuck on the first round, Carlyle had won a Stanley Cup title in 2007, upset the top-seeded Sharks in the first round (’09) and taken another underdog team to the conference final (’06, his first year behind the bench). In the immortal words of Alex Ovechkin, “Cups is Cups.”
But now, ironically, the parameters have shifted. Trotz beat Carlyle’s Ducks in the first round this season and is now the proud owner of a second series, this time facing the Vancouver Canucks. And hey, for some extra credit, he even did it as a slight underdog - Nashville being the No. 5 seed in the West.
And yes, the Preds are already down 1-0 to the Canucks in their second round tilt, but now I am willing to consider Trotz as a legitimate Adams Award candidate. It is remarkable he got to the second round with a team devoid of even a 25-goal scorer and the fact his squad has succeeded based on stout defense in front of a Vezina-caliber goalie means they’ve taken a tough approach to winning, one that requires a lot of discipline.
But without that first-round victory, it’s a different story. Other than the Masterton, NHL trophies are supposed to be about excellence, not great back stories. (And before you mention reigning Adams winner Dave Tippett, remember he completely revamped a terrible Phoenix team in one season and got them into the playoffs. Trotz’s teams have always been his own and have always performed at a similar level.) You may claim it’s easier for Mike Babcock to make it to several Stanley Cup finals, given the cast of excellence assembled for him in Detroit, but San Jose, Vancouver and Washington have similar casts and haven’t made it to the ultimate showdown this decade. Would Babcock behind the bench have lifted those franchises to the next step?
This year, all three of those teams are still alive, so their respective coaches can prove their mettle. And if you’re going to argue that anything can happen in the playoffs and it’s not necessarily the coach’s fault when a team loses, I’ll tell you to sit at the kid’s table. The Cup is the goal of any halfway-decent team and the best rise to the top.
Barry Trotz has taken a step in the right direction this season by breaking his first-round curse and in the process, has proven his supporters right - for now.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays, The Hot List appears Tuesdays and his Rookie Report appears every other Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter on twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.