With the 2013-14 regular season rapidly coming to a close, NHL.com looks at some of its biggest storylines and award contenders.
After finishing with the second-fewest points in the NHL in 2012-13, the Colorado Avalanche experienced major changes in the front office and, ultimately, behind the bench last summer.
Two of the greatest players in the history of the franchise were placed in roles that would help change the culture. Joe Sakic, the former captain and all-time leading scorer, was named executive vice president of hockey operations last May.
Less than two weeks later, Sakic named Patrick Roy, the former goaltender who led them to two Stanley Cup championships, as the sixth coach in Avalanche history. He replaced Joe Sacco after the Avalanche missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a third straight season.
Roy was a successful coach at the junior level, leading the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to a Memorial Cup in 2006, but nobody could have expected the turnaround in Colorado to come this fast.
In Roy's first season behind Colorado's bench, the Avalanche have 50 wins and find themselves in a heated race with the Chicago Blackhawks for second place in the Central Division. After a shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday, Colorado had 107 points, two ahead of the Blackhawks. Should the Avalanche finish second, they would be guaranteed home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
That is why Roy is NHL.com's pick to win the Jack Adams Award as the League's top coach.
"We're all in this together, and he made that really clear from the beginning," Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said of his first-year coach. "I think other than that he's a very good teacher and knows how to get messages through to his players and knows how to interact with his players. He's certainly earned the trust and respect that any coach needs for his players to work hard for him."
Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning -- Despite an injury that sidelined star center Steven Stamkos for nearly four months, and some tension within the organization after Martin St. Louis wasn't originally named by general manager Steve Yzerman to represent Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Cooper managed to not only keep the Lightning afloat but also fighting for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Stamkos has 10 goals in 16 games since his return; St. Louis, who was Tampa Bay's captain, was sent to the New York Rangers at the NHL Trade Deadline in a deal that brought former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan to Tampa.
Entering their game Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Lightning are 42-27-9, four points behind the second-place Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay has a game in hand.
"Our goal was to make the playoffs, now it's time to see if we can get home ice," Cooper told the Lightning's website. "If we land in a Game 7, do you want that on the road or at home? I want it to be right here."
Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings -- Yes, the Red Wings always make the playoffs; they're on the verge of clinching a postseason berth for the 23rd consecutive season. But the adversity Babcock and the Red Wings have managed to overcome in 2013-14 to fight their way into the playoffs is downright impressive.
Babcock, who coached the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup in 2007-08, has played long stretches without captain Henrik Zetterberg, forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Darren Helm, and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. Jimmy Howard, their No. 1 goaltender, missed nearly three weeks in December. Zetterberg, who has been out since sustaining a back injury during the Olympics, hopes to return during the postseason; Datsyuk returned last Friday after missing 16 games with a knee injury.
But thanks to Babcock's guidance and a remarkable second half from forward Gustav Nyquist, the Red Wings are where we always find them this time of year -- in a playoff position.
"[Babcock] has done a great job," Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader said. "He expects to win each night, no matter who's in the lineup. It doesn't matter … whoever's in the lineup. He expects us to go out, compete hard and give ourselves a chance to win."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
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