Paul MacLean is one of three Ottawa Senators who will be up for awards at the 2012 NHL Awards in Las Vegas next Wednesday. The rookie coach is, obviously, up for the Jack Adams Trophy as the top bench boss in the league, and he's up against John Tortorella and Ken Hitchcock.
MacLean earned his nomination into the final three by leading the Senators, who most had predicted for a league-basement finish, to a playoff spot by instituting an run-and-gun offensive style and letting go of the reins on Erik Karlsson. As a result, he led the Sens to a 41-31-10 record and tied for fourth in the league with 249 goals for--a 57-goal improvement over the previous season. Although many had high hopes for MacLean in the long term, few had such high expectations for him in his first season.
Hitchcock and Tortorella offer stiff competition, though.
With the St. Louis Blues, Hitchcock took over coaching duties in early November, when the Blues were 13 in the Western Conference. His defensive system paid immediate dividends, and the team went 7-1-2 in their first 10 games under Hitchcock. The team finished the season with 109 points, the second-best season in franchise history, and won the Central Division title. The remarkable feat for Hitchcock was the immediacy and the magnitude of his success with the team; he coached them to a 43-15-11 record, a 115-point pace.
Tortorella, who we are more familiar with after watching the Sens play against his New York Rangers in the first round, experienced an even greater level of regular-season success than Hitchcock. Although Torts had a more star-studded lineup to work with, few foresaw the 16-point improvement he led his team to, the Atlantic Division crown, or the first-place finish in the Eastern Conference. Much of the credit for those successes must go to Henrik Lundqvist, but a good degree will fall on the shoulders of Tortorella, too, and for good reason.
Although both Hitchcock and Tortorella had more regular-season success with their teams than MacLean, they also had better teams on paper to work with (at least based on pre-season predictions). No team surpassed expectations as much as the Ottawa Senators this season, and a lot of the credit for that must go to MacLean. But is that enough to get him the Jack Adams Trophy?