Dan Bylsma has won a Stanley Cup and led the Penguins to back-to-back 100-point seasons in his three years behind the bench. (Getty Images)
Coaches of teams that consistently perform well don’t get credit when it comes to Jack Adams Award discussions. To wit, Mike Babcock will get little consideration because his Red Wings are an NHL juggernaut, even though his team had the fifth-most man-games lost to injury among playoff-bound teams.
It still surprises me, however, that Washington’s Bruce Boudreau received little consideration in our in-office voting even though he re-defined what that first-place team was about and didn’t benefit from an otherworldly Alex Ovechkin season.
Todd McLellan led a second-half charge in San Jose to bring the Sharks back to where they’re used to sitting in the standings, but because anything less than home-ice advantage would be considered a failure, he also won’t be given much thought.
But the 2010-11 Pittsburgh Penguins are a curious case. Over the past few years, the team has switched top-line wingers like it was a game of musical chairs. They’re built around Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and pretty much every other piece (with the exception of Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal) was replaceable.
The problem this year is the team built around Malkin and Crosby had to do without Malkin and Crosby.
No sweat. The Penguins lost Crosby in early January and Malkin shortly after, but in their absence, Pittsburgh has gone 18-11-4 (or 21-12-6 since Crosby’s concussion) and found a way to move up the standings. A team that has been without its only consistent scorers for half a season is tied for the most wins in the Eastern Conference and has home-ice advantage all but locked up. Heck, the Pens could still win their division.
While much of the credit for this should be placed upon Fleury, who has put together his best season, coach Dan Bylsma’s performance was award-worthy.
Without his all-stars, Bylsma focused on and improved the Penguins’ penalty-kill, ensuring they wouldn’t die shorthanded. It’s difficult to gauge just how much a coach plays into a squad’s success, but the way Pittsburgh’s penalty-kill jumped from ninth to first in a year is a testament to Bylsma’s job well done.
But this wasn’t an easy decision. The Jack Adams Award caused a lot of back and forth debate in THN’s meeting and cases were made for a lot of coaches.
Back in October, it seemed like this award was Guy Boucher’s to lose. He was inheriting a team built with a lot of star power, but one that had greatly underachieved in recent years. The Lightning got off to a running start and that’s the kind of turnaround that usually wins you this award. Until recently, however, they had allowed more goals than they scored.
Starting sometime in February, much consideration was being given to New Jersey’s Jacques Lemaire, who kicked the Devils in the behind to get them back on track. Falling short of the playoffs, however, hurts his case.
Along with our top dog Bylsma, Nashville’s Barry Trotz and Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault got the finalist nods. Trotz did what Trotz always does and got more than he should have out of a budget team, taking them into the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons. Vigneault, though he is in charge of the NHL’s most talented squad, never had a 100-percent healthy defense corps, but the Canucks still have the best power play and third-best penalty-kill. Yes, they have a lot of other talent, but if you’re forced to employ less-than-ideal blueliners, your season can fall apart…just ask the Lightning teams of recent years.
It’s also worth noting the Penguins, Predators and Canucks had the most man-games lost to injury among playoff teams this season.
To be sure, this was a tough call. But our fedora is off to Penguins coach Dan Bylsma for keeping his team among the best in the East - and the entire league - without the players his roster is built around.
THN’s TOP THREE CANDIDATES
1. Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh
Won a Cup in his first year, earned 101 points in his second year and still managed an improvement in his third with Crosby, Staal and Malkin playing only half a season.
2. Barry Trotz, Nashville
This guy is incredible. Nashville’s MVP is not Shea Weber or Pekka Rinne, it’s clearly the coach.
3. Alain Vigneault, Vancouver
Best regular season in Canucks history was accomplished without the defense corps being completely together at any point. Now, can he get past Round 2?
THN.com's Norris Trophy Watch appeared monthly throughout the season. And don't miss out as we'll also announce our winners for the Hart, Jack Adams and Calder this week. Check out our Vezina Trophy winner and our Norris Trophy winner.