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Paul MacLean coaching lights-out in Ottawa

There’s no higher compliment in this league than an unsolicited comment from opposing teams.

Four times this past week while I was in conversation with either a GM or a coach, the name of Paul MacLean came up without prompting.

"Can you believe the coaching job by MacLean in Ottawa?" said one NHL GM from another team.

And it was a comment in some form or other repeated by the others.

Well yes, three straight wins for a depleted Senators squad somehow still on its feet despite the losses of Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Jared Cowen and now even star goalie Craig Anderson, who is hobbled by an ankle injury. It’s not clear at this point how long Anderson will be out.

Certainly, if somehow the Senators find a way to make the playoffs despite all the talent on the sidelines, MacLean will win the Jack Adams Award in a landslide.

But it made me think how the rest of the race for coach of the year is shaping up, especially keeping in mind it might be too much for Ottawa to hang in there. That would open up the Jack Adams race.

Other candidates at this hour: Bruce Boudreau in Anaheim, Michel Therrien in Montreal, Randy Carlyle in Toronto, Pete DeBoer in New Jersey, Joel Quenneville in Chicago, Claude Julien in Boston, Alain Vigneault in Vancouver.

The skinny: What’s going to hurt Quenneville, Julien and Vigneault in the voting is that expectations were high for those teams. The voters (NHL Broadcasters Association) on this award traditionally reward coaches whose clubs overachieved or surprised or surpassed expectations.

Hence, MacLean would be a slam dunk if Ottawa makes the playoffs. Boudreau, Therrien and Carlyle would receive heavy consideration if their teams get in because not many picked their clubs to make the postseason. DeBoer’s Devils were seen by most as taking a step backward after losing Zach Parise, but he has his club right back in the mix. He deserves strong consideration as well.

All good choices indeed.

Then it got me thinking that once again many of us take for granted the two standard-bearers who just keep finding a way with their respective teams: Barry Trotz in Nashville and Dave Tippett in Phoenix.

The Predators lost Ryan Suter last summer and some people figured they’d take a step back. The Coyotes’ ownership troubles keep hanging over the club while they keep losing players every offseason, so again the consensus was that Phoenix would slide.

And yet, the Preds and the Coyotes are once again in the playoff mix. They both deserve their own coaching trophies every single season.

"They’re both definitely players’ coaches," veteran forward Steve Sullivan told ESPN.com Thursday.

Sullivan played for Trotz in Nashville for most of his career and now toils for Tippett in Phoenix, affording him a unique perspective on both men.

"They both prepare extremely well, giving their team the best chance possible once the puck drops," said Sullivan. "The way they set out the roles, it makes it very black and white what’s expected of the players. There’s no gray areas. You don’t ever wonder what the coach thinks of you or expects of you; the roles are very clear. There’s no mind games with either coach. It’s very clear and to the point, and that’s very refreshing."

Somehow, both Trotz and Tippett make the most of their rosters every season, no matter the obstacles they face. How do they do it?

"My personal opinion is that they adapt," said Sullivan. "I think that every single year your team changes. The nucleus may still be there, but sometimes you have to make adjustments to how you’re going to play. And I think they’re both really good at understanding what they have in their lineup and making adjustments to get the most out of every player. Sure, the systems may be similar every year, but there are going to be tweaks here and there and that’s the difference that makes them successful."