By Allan Muir
Think about the levers that Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates had to pull to convince struggling superstar Alex Ovechkin to play the game his way, or how Mike Babcock guided the Detroit Red Wings into the post-Nick Lidstrom era with a rookie-laden lineup. That is a pair of remarkable coaching efforts right there, yet neither was good enough to make the cut for the Jack Adams Award, which is given to the coach who has contributed most to his team’s success. That tells you all you need to know about the quality of this year’s field.
The NHL announced this morning that Bruce Boudreau of the Anaheim Ducks, Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators, and Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks are the finalists for the Adams, as selected by the members of the NHL Broadcasters’ Association. It’s pretty easy to craft an argument in support of any one of them.
Boudreau, who won the award in 2008 with the Capitals, led Anaheim to the finest regular season in franchise history, with a division title and a .688 points percentage. Lightly regarded before the season, the Ducks jumped from 25th overall in 2011-12 to third and challenged the Hawks for the league’s best overall record until hitting a late skid. Boudreau’s impact was most obvious on a power play that vaulted from 21st to fourth, and on the confidence of young players like Emerson Etem and Nick Bonino, who were able to play to their strengths under his system.
Forget the lookalike stationed behind the bench. When MacLean’s life is made into a movie, he should be played by Anne Bancroft. He was a miracle worker this season, guiding an Ottawa squad that lost for extended periods a top-10 NHL scorer, a Norris Trophy-winning defender, and an MVP-worthy goaltender, to the unlikeliest of playoff berths. Over the course of the season, he worked a league-high 14 rookies into the lineup and the Sens still had the best defensive mark in the Eastern Conference: an average of just 2.08 goals-against per game. You cannot overpraise him for this job.
Quenneville had a little more talent to work with, but that doesn’t take anything anyway from what was still a masterful season from the veteran bench boss. His team’s record-setting start to the season and Presidents’ Trophy win were attention grabbers, but the adjustments he made truly proved his worth. He refocused the Hawks’ defensive posture, helping them drop from 2.82 goals-against per game on average to a league-leading 2.02 while boosting the penalty kill from 27th to third overall. He also saw something in Brandon Saad, moving him to the first line and leaving him there even though the rookie struggled in the early going. That savvy move balanced Chicago’s lineup and led to Saad earning recognition as a Calder finalist last week.
Worthy candidates all, but what MacLean did in Ottawa was some loaves and fishes-type coaching. If there’s one sure thing among this season’s awards finalists, he’s it.