Penalty Minutes: Top candidates for NHL coach of the year

Despite having his two best players out for much of the season, Mike Babcock still led the Red Wings to a 23rd straight playoff berth.

Jerome Miron/Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

With the NHL regular season set to end on Sunday, most playoff berths are all but secured and seedings in place. It’s as good of a time as any to judge which coaches have done the best respective job with their teams this year and who is most worth of the Jack Adams Award, which is voted on by the NHL Broadcasters Association and given to the coach who is "adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success."

Here are our selections in order:

The Red Wings qualified for the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive season, the longest active streak in North American professional sports. While the Red Wings were once the league’s gold standard, making back-to-back berths in the Cup Final in 2008 and ’09, winning it in ’08, these are not your older brother’s Red Wings.

Babcock has had his two best players for roughly half the season each. Forward Henrik Zetterberg has played 45 games (16 goals and 32 assists in those he has played) and center Pavel Datsyuk has dressed for 42 (17 goals, 18 assists). Center Stephen Weiss, signed in the offseason to provide depth down the middle as the second- or third-line center, has played in 26 games (none since Dec. 10) and was unproductive in those he did play (two goals, two assists).

Franchise goaltender Jimmy Howard, in the first season of a six-year, $31.75-million contract, has often been injured and hasn’t played well when he has been in. Howard’s numbers have taken a steep dive since last season (his save percentage is down from .923 to .910 and his goals-against average is up from 2.13 to 2.67) but he does seem to be rounding into form, having won four straight and posted a .929 save percentage in those.

At times, Babcock has had to count on a couple of rookies for his biggest minutes at center: Luke Glendening, a 24-year-old undrafted free agent, and Riley Sheahan, a former first-round pick. In all, the Red Wings have had to use 11 rookies this season, including goalie Petr Mrazek.

Were it not for Gustav Nyquist’s emergence on the scene, with 28 goals in 54 games, and the trade with Nashville for veteran David Legwand, who, with 11 of his 51 points in a Detroit sweater, is the team’s leading scorer, the Red Wings might be sunk.

Somehow, Babcock has rallied this banged-up group –€“ the defense corps has had its share of injuries, as well –€“ into the postseason. Despite bringing a team to the Stanley Cup Final on three separate occasions, Babcock incredibly has never won the Adams. This year should put an end to that.

As of writing this, Colorado was two points behind St. Louis for first place in the Central Division and three points behind Anaheim for the top spot in the Western Conference. The Avalanche still have a chance to win both. If they do, then Roy is well worth consideration as the overall winner.

With the worst record in the West last season, the team’s turnaround under Roy is nothing short of remarkable. He has harnessed the talent of a young team and let it flourish. As vice president of hockey operations, Roy made the bold decision to select center Nathan MacKinnon with the NHL’s first overall pick at last season’s draft when many said that defenseman Seth Jones, who grew up an Avs fan in Denver while his father Popeye was playing for the Nuggets, should have been the pick.

For this season, it would be hard to argue with Roy’s selection. With 24 goals and 38 assists for 62 points, MacKinnon leads all rookies in points and is the likely winner of the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year.

Roy’s input into the decision to hire noted guru Francois Allaire as the goalie coach has helped transform Semyon Varlamov into the likely winner of the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender, as well.

Everything Roy has touched this season, it seems, has turned to gold. Even hitherto unknown defenseman Nick Holden has 10 goals (in 51 games), tying him for 16th in the NHL among defensemen. Holden, 26, entered the season with seven NHL games under his belt.

If Roy can keep it up, he will have a contender for years to come.

Yes, his team likely has one of the three or four best rosters in the NHL in terms of sheer talent but, like Babcock, Bylsma has had to deal with a slew of injuries. (In terms of talent, Washington also would appear to have one of the best rosters on paper but the Capitals did not qualify for the postseason.)

Evgeni Malkin missed roughly a quarter of the season. The team’s top defenseman, Kris Letang (one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy last season), suffered a stroke and has played in only 35 games. Forward Pascal Dupuis, who has scored 101 goals for Pittsburgh since coming over with Marian Hossa at the 2008 trading deadline from Atlanta, suffered a season-ending injury and played in 39 games. No. 2 defenseman Paul Martin has played in 37 games, in part because of an injury he suffered as a member of the U.S. Olympic team. Veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi, who averages almost 19 minutes per game, has missed almost 30 games.

In the meantime, Bylsma also deserves credit for helping to develop 19-year-old rookie defenseman Olli Maatta into a viable Calder candidate and getting through much of the season with Matt Niskanen as his No. 1 defenseman.

With Bylsma at the helm, the Penguins have claimed the Metropolitan Division title when they easily could have finished much worse.

While other teams with much more to play for — Toronto and Washington, to name two — have floundered to eliminate themselves from the playoffs, a team with nothing to play for has excelled: the Calgary Flames.

Featuring a lineup that is the envy of perhaps none of the other 29 teams in the league and having traded one of its top two goaltenders at the deadline, the Flames, currently 26th in the league’s overall standings, are 7-3 in their past 10, fifth best in the league during that span. Overall, Calgary has won 19 of its past 30.

Coach Bob Hartley, who took over last season, has done a marvelous job and has helped the Flames to earn a reputation as one of the hardest working — if not the hardest working — teams in the league.

The job Hartley, a Stanley Cup-winner with Colorado in 2001, has done is reminiscent of when he took over in Atlanta in January 2002. That season, he also took over a young team. The Thrashers finished 24th overall in the league but went 19-14-5-1 under Hartley.

"We have a bunch of kids," Hartley told Calgary reporters earlier this week, a reference to the 14 rookies the team has used this season. " . . . I’m not going to raise those kids, showing them that it’s OK to lose. That’s why we’re practicing hard. That’s why the video sessions are the same. We’re going to fight to the last second in Vancouver."

The Flames will rank among the most interesting teams to watch in the offseason. Team president Brian Burke, having dispatched general manager Jay Feaster during the season, needs to hire a new GM. One name bandied about is that of Washington GM George McPhee, if McPhee is relieved of his duties (McPhee also could be a candidate in Vancouver). Former Flames great Joe Nieuwendyk, the former GM of the Dallas Stars, has said he does not have interest in returning to such a role.

Whoever it is could have the Flames contending for the playoffs next season with just a few key moves.

Evander Kane, the No. 4 pick in the 2009 draft and a one-time 30-goal scorer, was a healthy scratch for a Jets last Saturday.

Assuming that Paul Maurice returns as Winnipeg’s coach next season — he is a free agent and he and the team must agree on a new contract — left wing Evander Kane increasingly is taking on the look of a player who will not be in a Jets uniform next season.

Maurice made the 22-year-old, one-time 30-goal-scorer a healthy scratch last Saturday and, without him, Winnipeg went out and defeated a Toronto team 4-2 at the Air Canada Centre that desperately needed to win to keep its playoff hopes alive.

When Kane, the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, met with the media on Tuesday as he prepared to return to the lineup, he was unrepentant, even defiant.

Asked if he had gotten any particular message out of the experience, he said in a video posted on the Jets’ website, "No, not really anything specific."

Neither Maurice nor Kane would give a reason as to why Kane sat out. When a reporter deigned to ask Kane a similar question as to what reasons Maurice might have had for sitting him out, he responded, "Were you not just here for that interview?… Well, he just asked me that and I and I just answered."

Needless to say, it ended up being a brief encounter with the media, the kind that did nothing to help Kane’s reputation for being overly cocky. Perhaps he needs to open his mind a bit to some coaching, particularly on the defensive side.

In his past 10 games, Kane has failed to finish a game on the plus side of the ledger. In fact, over his past 17 games, he has done that only once and is a minus-12 during that stretch. For the season, Kane is minus-10, ranking him 756th in the NHL.

Kane has four years left on a deal that will play him $6 million a year for each of the next four seasons. That’s a lot of money to pay for a player who does not mesh well with the coach and is not producing in a way that is commensurate with his salary.

In 61 games this season, Kane has 17 goals, which is the same amount that he scored last season when he played in a lockout-shortened 48 games (that projects to 29 goals over 82 games). Since Maurice took over on Jan. 12, Kane has scored only three times.

The cautionary tale for Winnipeg is what is playing out in Dallas with Tyler Seguin. Boston could afford to jettison a player like Seguin, having already won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and owning the best record in the NHL this season. Winnipeg has yet to earn a playoff berth since relocating three seasons ago and its fan base is growing increasingly impatient. For general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, trading a player as a young Kane who could go elsewhere and become a dynamic scorer is a situation fraught with danger.

1. Boston

Wins in their final three games will secure the Presidents’ Trophy for the Bruins.

2. Anaheim

The Ducks clinched the Pacific Division, avoiding a first-round matchup with either San Jose or Los Angeles.

3. St. Louis

The Blues have lost three straight, jeopardizing their chances for the top spot in the league, the Western Conference and the Central Division.

4. Colorado

The Avs are 7-1-2 in their past 10.

5. Chicago

Without their two best forwards, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks have won four straight.

26. Calgary

Leading goal-scorer Mike Cammalleri (26 goals) will be an unrestricted free agent in July.

27. New York Islanders

News reports indicate that owner Charles Wang is trying to sell the team before it moves to Brooklyn in 2015.

28. Edmonton

Taylor Hall’s 77 points tie him for eighth in the NHL.

29. Florida

It’s ending poorly for the Panthers, who are 2-8 in their past 10.

30. Buffalo

The season can’t end soon enough for the Sabres, who have lost four straight.

On the last day of the regular season schedule, this game also happens to have the latest start time. It could very well decide the league’s final open playoff spot. All of the spots in the East have been secured and seven of eight have in the West. Dallas began Thursday with a two-point lead over Phoenix for the eighth spot in the West. If the Coyotes win their three remaining games, they will secure the spot. The same, conversely, is true for Dallas if it wins its final two. This game is the swing game. The Coyotes, with No. 1 goalie Mike Smith injured, are trudging towards the finish. They are 3-3-4 in their past 10 without him and Thomas Greiss as their No. 1. Smith (lower-body injury), who has not played since March 24, is practicing with the team but coach Dave Tippett remains uncertain as to whether he will be able to play. Meanwhile, the Stars have lost three of their past five and one of their two wins came via shootout. Whoever wins could become first-round fodder for one of Anaheim, Colorado or St. Louis.

John Gibson (left) stopped 18 shots in his NHL debut as the Ducks blanked the Canucks.

In his NHL debut on Monday, the 20-year-old goalie stopped 18 shots to shut out Vancouver 3-0. Gibson, the 39th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, could have the potential to be a star. He is the reason the Ducks traded Viktor Fasth to Edmonton earlier this season and he also could be the reason that they let Jonas Hiller depart via free agency following this season.

In a 7-4 win over Ottawa on Friday, Pacioretty notched three goals and two assists and went plus-3 in 16:31 of time on ice. He also had five shots and one giveaway. For the left wing, it was his third hat trick of the season. He currently sits at 39 goals, third in the NHL, never having hit 40 in his six seasons.

In a 5-2 loss to Nashville last Friday, the defensemen, who ranks second on the Ducks in average time on ice at 23:04, went minus-4 in 19:35 with two penalty minutes, four shots, three hits and two blocked shots. Anaheim, owner of the league’s second-best record, has struggled as of late, getting behind by big deficits. They have been able to bail themselves out of some but not all. It’s a trend they need to turn around.