The three names on the ballot for this year’s Jack Adams Award have all had very different paths, and they were all dealt very different hands by our hockey overlords. Two made history, and the other overcame a crowded injury ward.

Earlier today the NHL announced the three nominees for the Jack Adams, and the names included weren’t surprising. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, Nashville’s Barry Trotz, and Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault will now go door-to-door campaigning for your vote. Yes, we know that’s not really how it works, but we can dream, right?

There’s a tiny wrinkle to the definition of nearly every award handed out by the NHL, one that can fool the casual fan. The most common is the Hart Trophy, which isn’t awarded to the league’s MVP, but instead is given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team. Similarly, while the implication of receiving the Jack Adams is that the recipient was the league’s best coach that year, the criteria is that it’s awarded to the coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.”

This year’s race for the NHL’s most generic looking trophy will be tight, but if we stubbornly follow that rigid definition then Bylsma has the edge, or at least he’ll get my imaginary vote. By now there’s no need to document just how much offence the Penguins lost with both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup for half of the season, but I’ll do it anyway. Crosby and Malkin were the team’s top two scorers last year, both in terms of overall points and goals. They combined for 32 percent of Pittsburgh’s goals in 2009-10.

Throw in Jordan Staal missing the same amount of time as Crosby and Malkin, Chris Kuntiz sitting for 16 games, and key defenceman Brooks Orpik watching 19 games from the press box, and there was often more talent in the training room than on the ice in Pittsburgh. Oh, and don’t forget about Matt Cooke missing 15 games due to injuries and suspensions. That was the last straw.

The standard line here is that injuries are a part of the game that every team experiences and has to overcome. Sure, generic argument-maker, make that argument. But not every team employs superstars named Crosby and Malkin, and after Malkin went down for the year on Feb. 5, the Pens went 16-9-4 and still managed to earn home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

Despite Pittsburgh’s perseverance through Bylsma’s leadership, it’ll still be hard to keep Vigneault off the podium after the Canucks set a franchise record with 54 wins and 117 points. The Canucks bench boss is definitely deserving of consideration, but at some point it’s easy to just turn the key on the ignition of the NHL’s leading offence. And in an alternate world where the playoffs were taken into consideration every June when the NHL awards are handed out, Trotz would have heavy ammunition after leading Nashville to its first ever playoff series win.

The only real argument to be made for a snub is Tampa Bay’s Guy Boucher, the zen master rookie coach who led the Lightning to the team’s first playoff berth since 2007. Boucher inherited a team that went a combined 89-118-39 over the past three seasons, and the end result this year was a fifth overall finish in the East. Offensively Tampa went from scoring 213 goals last year (23rd overall), to 241 this year (8th). The addition of Simon Gagne certainly helped Boucher’s cause offensively, but he was the only significant signing for a unit that sputtered a year ago.

Boucher’s system was consistent and effective, but most importantly, the dude has a nasty scar that’s super cool. He will hurt whoever wins the award and steal it anyway. Fighting this inevitable conclusion is fruitless.

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