CHICAGO -- As the individual awards start to finally roll in for the Chicago Blackhawks -- Patrick Kane was announced a finalist for the Lady Byng on Thursday -- there's at least one more that should garner Hawks attention.
Coach Joel Quenneville ought to get serious consideration for the Jack Adams Award given out annually to the league's top coach.
It seems like a no-brainer he would get the nod when the league makes the announcement of its three finalists on Friday, but that's not always the case for the coach of the NHL's best team. Voters like the underdogs who produce when least expected. It's why Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean is the favorite to win the award.
Considering where the Hawks were a year ago to where they are now, up 1-0 on the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals, Quenneville should get recognition. As Hawks television analyst Eddie Olczyk put it, Quenneville has done a "masterful" job this season. Juxtaposed with the year he had last season it makes the Hawks turnaround even better.
Quenneville admittedly wasn't on top of his game in 2011-2012. Management was on his back, and he let things slide. He addressed defensive woes too late and bad habits became the norm, especially on the penalty kill. The Hawks earned just the No. 6 seed in the West and were dumped by a less talented Phoenix Coyotes team in the playoffs.
Quenneville vowed to be better, and he has delivered.
Little moves have made big differences. After Dan Carcillo was injured early in the season, Quenneville tabbed rookie Brandon Saad to play on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. That was no slam dunk move.
Even more impressive was sticking with Saad after he failed to record a point in his first eight games. Just over three months later Saad is a Calder finalist for rookie of the year. Saad probably doesn't get that recognition -- and the Hawks don't benefit from his play -- if not for Quenneville's bold move.
When he recognized Johnny Oduya needed to be moved down a defensive pair and Nick Leddy up he didn't hesitate. Even splitting partners Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith wasn't a sure winning move and yet the Hawks thrived. Quenneville handled two goalies -- both of whom deserved the starting jobs based on their play – with immense tact.
And then came "the benching."
It would be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks Carcillo is a better hockey player than Viktor Stalberg right now. Even if they are completely different players, all things being equal, Stalberg brings more to the table than Carcillo. The latter played all of 6:04 in Game 1 against the Wings on Wednesday -- on Stalberg's worst day he saw more time than that.
Now Stalberg might be the type who's ripe for a benching and a poor attitude probably contributed, but it's still the first time in awhile Quenneville has taken a stand like this with a player. It could have hurt the team on the ice in Game 1 but it didn't. And it reminded everyone who's the boss. There's something admirable about standing up for what's right -- at least in the coach's mind -- in the face of criticism.
Just as important are the big picture things Quenneville did. He fired a Stanley Cup-winning assistant coach in Mike Haviland in the offseason and hired friend Jamie Kompon. He tweaked with the personnel on the penalty kill, giving more responsibility to role players, and he challenged his leaders in the locker room. The result was a President's Trophy and five wins in six games in the postseason so far.
Even Game 1 against the Wings was a masterful job in its own way. The Miami Heat had a long layoff between series and got blown out by the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of their playoff series. The San Jose Sharks were off a week and went down to defeat against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. The Hawks faced a similar situation in beating the Minnesota Wild in five games and then having to wait for their next opponent.
When the Wings went to seven games against Anaheim the Hawks had them right where they wanted them -- staring at one day off and two time zones of travel before Game 1. But the league let Detroit off the hook, giving them the extra day and making the Hawks wait one more. That could have been a killer.
"We thought we were actually playing Tuesday night, and we really felt the break was going to help us," Wings coach Mike Babcock said after Game 1. "They were playing at a level tonight we weren't playing at."
Make no mistake that's all about coaching. After long breaks like the one the Hawks had it's usually that team's coach who is looking to find the right pace. Babcock knew Game 1 was the one he could steal. He said as much afterwards as well. Detroit had the right amount of rest while the Hawks could have had the rust. They didn't and as the game went on they began to dominate. Having them ready is a credit to Quenneville.
Even during the struggles of a year ago, the Hawks front office knew they had a Stanley Cup-winning coach behind the bench. They just wanted him to start coaching like one again.
Mission accomplished. And come Friday the league should recognize it.