Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

He's no ordinary Claude

Jets' Noel is Gary Lawless's mid-season choice for the top coach in the NHL

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He won't generate enough buzz to win but the job Claude Noel has done under the most trying of circumstances certainly warrants coach of the year consideration.

For me, it's more than consideration and Noel is our mid-season Jack Adams Award winner. No, the Jets aren't a playoff team at this writing and that's usually a requirement for the winner of this trophy but Noel has his team above .500 and just on the outside of the playoff picture.

Maybe not so impressive on the surface but considering he's doing it with a roster he was handed this summer, a coaching staff he had to hire in July and in a market that hadn't seen the NHL in 15 years, Noel has done well to beat back adversity.

The Jets have operated in a vortex of change from the moment it was announced on May 31 that the franchise would be moving to Winnipeg. Noel has overseen the move in terms of real and emotional baggage.

The players have had any number of built-in excuses to mail in this season but Noel has pushed all the right buttons to prevent such a letdown and kept the Jets on course.

The first-year coach has altered the culture of the players brought over from Atlanta and instilled a team-first approach that can be seen on most nights from most of the roster.

There are still a few holdouts and Noel's next challenge will be to conclude the revamp and find a way to keep his Jets in the playoff picture. For a team that is among the league's worst on the road there is plenty of work to be done. But a solid home record suggests the Jets have the fixings to be among the Eastern Conference's top eight at season's end.

Mid-season is one thing but Noel will need to finish the project to keep himself in this conversation.

Here's a look at our mid-season award winners:

Jack Adams Award (coach of the year):

Claude Noel, Winnipeg Jets

Noel has handled more adversity than any coach in the NHL and kept his team in the running for a playoff spot.

In the hunt: Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis and Paul MacLean in Ottawa. Hitchcock revived a Blues club on the verge of collapse and MacLean has the Senators sitting fifth in the East.


Norris Trophy (outstanding defenceman):

Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

A runner-up last season, Weber continues to improve and is now the most complete defenceman in the NHL. Punishing in his own end and an offensive threat -- Weber would be the first player I'd want if starting a team tomorrow.

In the hunt: Nik Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara are having excellent seasons but it's Weber's time.

Calder Trophy (top rookie):

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers

Despite a shoulder injury, still leads all rookies in scoring with 13 goals and 22 assists for 35 points. Creative with high hockey IQ, Nugent-Hopkins has had an immediate impact.

In the hunt: New Jersey's Adam Henrique has been excellent and getting better all the time. Philly's Matt Read and Nashville's Craig Smith are also potential winners.

Vezina Trophy (top goaltender):

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

Lundqvist is the MVP of the Rangers and they lead the Eastern Conference. No Lundqvist, no Rangers.

In the hunt: Detroit's Jimmy Howard has been excellent and leads the league with 24 wins. In Boston, Tim Thomas hasn't missed a beat after last season's heroics. Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings is also a contender.


Selke Trophy (outstanding defensive forward):

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

He's a killer in the faceoff circle, careful with the puck and a dogged defender. Toews can eliminate another team's best player on any given night.

In the hunt: Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Kesler. Bergeron does it all in Boston and Vancouver's Kesler, after a slow start, is among the best two-way players in the game.

Hart Trophy (MVP):

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

For my money, the best player on the best team in hockey. The Bruins haven't fallen off after winning the Cup and have to be considered a favourite to win it again. It all starts with Chara and he makes the B's scary at both ends of the ice.

In the hunt: Claude Giroux in Philadelphia has made trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter a non-issue. Phil Kessel in Toronto is second in league scoring with 24 goals and 48 points. Tough to argue with his numbers and he's got the Leafs in a playoff spot. Twitter: @garylawless

jets reports C3

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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