Lightning's Cooper deserving of Jack Adams Award

Sunday, 03.02.2014 / 11:54 AM
Brian Compton  - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

With three-quarters of the 2013-14 season behind us, NHL.com attempts to project winners of the major individual awards. Today we predict the winner of the Jack Adams Award, an annual award presented by the National Hockey League Broadcasters' Association to the NHL coach judged to have contributed the most to his team's success.

Nearly four months have passed since superstar forward Steven Stamkos broke his tibia in a game against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 11, yet the Tampa Bay Lightning remain very much in the mix for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Led by Jon Cooper, who is in the midst of his first full season as Tampa Bay's coach, the Lightning entered the Olympic break with 33 victories, good for second place in the Atlantic Division.

Stamkos had 14 goals in 16 games prior to the injury and Tampa Bay got off to an impressive 12-4-0 start after finishing in fourth place in the Southeast Division last season with 18 wins in 48 games.

But Cooper has found ways to get production from other players, especially forward Tyler Johnson. The undrafted rookie had 17 goals and 20 assists through his first 58 games this season. Cooper also has been able to rely upon leaders such as Martin St. Louis and Sami Salo, who returned to the Lightning early from the 2014 Sochi Olympics, rather than taking an extra day off that Cooper extended to them.

"They wanted to get out there and be with their teammates," Cooper told reporters Wednesday. "You can't have enough of those guys around and that's probably a reason we are where we are in the standings because we have a bunch of guys like that in the locker room."

It's also because the players have bought into Cooper's systems and coaching methods. Tampa Bay entered its game Saturday against the Dallas Stars with a record of 21-16-5 since Stamkos' injury.

Indeed, Cooper remains NHL.com's pick to win the Jack Adams Award with a quarter of the season remaining.

"This group has been pretty resilient," Cooper said prior to the Olympic break. "You don't just sail through the season. Teams go through ebbs and flows."

FINALISTS

Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Regardless of the roadblock, Bylsma has not only managed to keep the Penguins atop the Metropolitan Division, they're running away with it. Pittsburgh entered the Olympic break with a 16-point lead on the second-place New York Rangers. The hurdles keep coming for the Penguins, who may have to play the remainder of the season without defenseman Kris Letang, who suffered a stroke. Combine that with the broken hand defenseman Paul Martin sustained at the Sochi Olympics, and Bylsma is once again presented with the challenge of getting the most out of a patchwork blue line that will be led by veterans Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik.

While Martin should be back before the start of the playoffs, Letang may not be back at all. The 2013 Norris Trophy finalist said earlier this week he is not targeting a specific date for his return and is instead "targeting day-by-day." His absence leaves a huge hole on the Penguins' blue line, particularly on the power play. It's simply another challenge Bylsma will have to tackle and overcome.

"There's a few special players in the League. Luckily we have a couple of them here," Bylsma said shortly after Letang suffered the stroke. "Kris is a special player. He has special skills and he can bring something to the game that not every player can bring. His skating ability, his shot, his offensive ability, it's special. And you can't replace that. Have we played many games without him this year and our power play been fine? Yes, we’ve been able to do that. But you can't replace that with filling in another guy or the next guy up."

Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche -- Roy's Avalanche won 14 of their first 16 games this season, then struggled in December and were in danger of losing their grip on a playoff spot. But instead of folding, Colorado is playing well again and entered the Olympic break five points in back of the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues for the Central Division lead. The Avalanche's 34 regulation/overtime wins are the second-most in the Western Conference.

Roy has brought a winning pedigree and attitude to a franchise that won 16 of 48 games last season and has the Avalanche on the cusp of qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2009-10. He's certainly had a huge impact on goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who was 28-11-5 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .924 save percentage through his first 46 appearances this season.

"I didn't think I played that well the first two years [in Colorado]," Varlamov told the Avalanche website. "Thank God the right people came to the team during the summer. Patrick and especially [goaltending coach] Francois Allaire. Those guys helped me a lot. They changed my game."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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