This year's best performance by a coach, however, goes to the Senators' Jacques Martin. Ottawa (44-23-15) improved by 20 points over last season's franchise-record total and finished second to the Devils in the East. The Senators did it with the league's 24th-highest payroll ($22.4) million, only one star ( center Alexei Yashin) and no clear-cut No. 1 goalie. ( Ron Tugnutt and Damian Rhodes shared the job.) Ottawa's calm, efficient and disciplined style is an extension of the 46-year-old Martin's personality. Whether Ottawa hoists the Stanley Cup or bows out in the first round, Martin has made this an elite team, and for that he is SI's coach of the year.
Unfair, Perhaps, But Wise
The NHL rewards each of its six division winners with home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Thus the Hurricanes, who finished 34-30-18, earned the Eastern Conference's No. 3 seed by winning the Southeast Division, despite having the lowest point total (86) of any playoff team in the conference. The Bruins, third in the Northeast Division with 91 points, have to open the playoffs at Carolina.
Many observers have complained that this rule is unfair, pointing out that the Southeast—which also includes the Capitals, Lightning and Panthers—is by far the weakest division in the league. That grumbling is shortsighted. The emphasis on winning the division creates intra-division rivalries and adds welcome fire to the endless and often bland regular season. In the long run, establishing rivalries is the NHL's best hope for boosting regular-season attendance and television ratings.