QOTW answers: Who is your coach of the year?

April, 1, 2009

Simple question this week, but definitely not a simple answer. There are so many good candidates for this season's Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year. The difficult task of picking an official winner will fall on the NHL Broadcasters' Association (not the writers, for once). But first, we polled the ESPN.com puckheads. Here's a sampling:

brunson1234: Claude Julien hands down, he's taken the Bruins, which have almost the same lineup as last year, from barely a playoff team to number one in the east. No one would have thought the Bruins would be number one in the east, but thanks to Julien, the Bruins are prepared for a cup run.

erickj5: How can you not say that Claude Julien should be coach of the year. He has brought a bunch of young players together to go from barely making the playoffs last year to dominating the Eastern conference. Claude Julien is hands down the coach of the year.

Jcerep12: Claude Julien, no doubt. How many of you knew who david krejci and blake wheeler were before this year? He took a team of unknown young players and recent underachievers (ryder, kessel) and turned them into a team that has a legitimate shot at taking home the cup.

My take: Despite the wide-open race this season for the Jack Adams, I would be shocked if Julien wasn't among the three final nominees. He fits that usual criteria of having his team overachieve or surprise. It doesn't get much better than eighth (2007-08) to first (this season) in the East, and Julien is a heck of a coach who deserves the praise. I still can't figure out how two great organizations, Montreal and New Jersey, fired him. The Bruins play one of the more disciplined games in the NHL and that's a direct result of coaching.

motivationtech: Andy Murray should win hands down. He lost his best defenseman, Eric Johnson, before the season started and then lost Paul Kariya and Eric Brewer for most of the season. The Blues have more man games lost to injuries than anyone else this year. Murray has the team believing in themselves and it winning with youth.

caputobd1109: He may not be THE coach of the year, but he better at least be a finalist: Andy Murray. The Blues were not expected to be a playoff team by anyone this year, and when Kariya, McDonald, Brewer and Johnson got hurt early in the season, the team looked hopeless and lost. Here we are today, sitting in the 8th spot in the West after a frantic comeback in the past 2-3 months. It's not locked up yet, as 5 of our last 6 are on the road, but just to be in the hunt seemed far fetched not too long ago even for the biggest of Blues fans. What Andy Murray has done with this club amidst all the injuries, the rookies, the trade rumors, is certainly worth of consideration.

schiffyisme: Andy Murray. Having lost his top guys for the year and being in the cellar the first half of the year, he has formed a seemingly playoff ready squad that is peaking at the right time. I know coaches can come and go, but lets give credit where credit is due: he is leading this team and they are in a position to be in the playoffs. The other aspect of Murray is that he is a true student of the game and has aligned the talent the team has with a how to win attitude. I feel his quote about getting under the defensemen has been very telling as the blues have scored several down low type of goals. Murray gets my pick.

thoran85: Andy Murray and its not even close. Before the season started the Blues best defensemen goes down for the year (Erik Johnson). Then their best young offensive player goes down for almost 25 games (TJ Oshie), then Kariya goes down, then the captain of the team (Brewer) goes down for the year. This was a boarder line playoff team before these injuries, and with all the injuries somehow this team is in contention to make the playoffs. That is what the coach of the year award is all about.

My take: Six weeks ago, Andy Murray probably would not have made this message board. But it just shows you how people have caught on to what he's done with the hard-charging Blues. You'll hear me say this a few times in this blog with a couple of these candidates, but he obviously needs to make the playoffs to get votes. That's a given. But if St. Louis does squeeze in, he's got a heck of a case. The massive injuries this team suffered this season would have suffocated most NHL teams, but Murray adjusted and found a way, especially putting young players in bigger roles and helping them succeed. That's coaching. Of course, it also helps when Chris Mason has the kind of second half he's had in goal!

prashanthiyer: The one that everybody will ignore for I dont know how many years in a row: Barry Trotz. Barry Trotz is the ultimate coach. Somehow every year, Nashville ends up in 13th place at the All-Star break, then roars into the playoffs and fights either the Red Wings or the Sharks till the death. Last year, Nashville was Detroit's toughest round. This year? The Preds lost Alexander Radulov to Russia, traded away Chris Mason hoping Dan Ellis would be good, and have dealt with long term injuries to Jason Arnott (their captain), David Legwand, Martin Erat, Steve Sullivan, Wade Belak, and many more. Trotz has overcome a massive transition of playing style, from the days of Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya to now a team led by JP Dumont and Shea Weber. Year in and year out, I just don't understand how the Predators make the playoffs, and its about time Barry Trotz gets his due.

I_AM_GOAT: Although not a Predators fan, if they make the playoffs, I have to go with Barry Trotz. He has coached a minimally talented team to incredibly competitive heights and deserves recognition for his efforts. With a rookie goalie, single star in Weber, and a leader in points at a mere 59 (Dumont) he has taken the team to the consistent playoff level Nashville has seen for years. With a team not three years ago a legitimate cup contender averaging 3.24 goals per game with a top line of Dumont/Forsberg, Kariya, and Erat and Vokoun in net to a team with three 20 goal scorers, only three (different) players with 50 points, and a goals for of 2.53 (24th in the league), the team has not tanked and the competition level and work ethic remains the same. Barry Trotz has done amazing things with this team and should they make the playoffs yet again, he warrants consideration for Coach of the Year honors.

Top 3 Candidates:
1. Barry Trotz
2. Andy Murray
3. Ken Hitchcock
To me this is a no brainer lebrun, i remember emailing you about this very subject about a month ago and you responded by giving my boy some credit and said if he can get them in that he deserves the Jack Adams Award, Barry Trotz! It should've been Trotzy whenever he got the Predators into the playoffs 03-04 and the 3 seasons after. No offense to Hitchcock, Murray, or any other coach in the league, but I say if either one of these coaches had this team with this payroll and this franchise's problems they've had over the past 3 or 4 years, I don't think any of them could've gotten them into the playoffs. Hitchcock has a couple of great players in Columbus and a lot of young talent as does Murray in St. Louis. The Predators have been able to get into the spot that they've gotten too because of hard and gritty old fashioned hockey, incredible work ethic, and a lot of TEAM play.

My take: As some of you know, Trotz is one of my favorite coaches in the league and I, too, believe he has been overlooked for too long. Like Andy Murray, Trotz needs to make the playoffs to get a shot. One thing that stuck in my mind this season was a conversation I had with a Preds player; he was saying how much the guys enjoyed playing for Trotz and would go through the wall for him. That speaks volumes. Let's face it, none of us had Nashville in the playoffs last fall when we were figuring out our predictions, especially after losing their most dynamic offensive player, Radulov, to Russia. Chapeau to you, Mr. Trotz.

panther_fan1960: Pete DeBoer - just that the Panthers are in the conversation without a first or second line offensive weapons is amazing.

ehoran001: Pete DeBoer. If the panthers do make the playoffs, with no stars on this team and the leading point man will struggle to top 70 points and no one with 25 goals, how can he not be considered.

My take: It's funny, everyone keeps saying how the Panthers have no offense. It's certainly not their forte, but they're actually ranked above St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and Minnesota, among others. That's a credit to DeBoer, finding a teamwide approach to get the goals. What a great hire by the Panthers. There's a reason why other NHL teams, including Ottawa, also tried to sign him last summer. He's a rising star behind the NHL bench. It's impressive to see his quick adjustment from Canadian major junior to the NHL. Even Brent Sutter struggled a bit with that last season. The Panthers may not make the playoffs, but you can't say DeBoer didn't squeeze everything out of this lineup.

bellavista99: I guess the rookie coach of the NUMBER ONE team in the NHL doesn't even deserve a mention, heh?? Someone ought to ask Patrick Marleau who the coach of the year is!

jldumas5469: I believe it should be Todd McLellan. I know it is easy to say he was given a great team from the beginning however I contend that is it is a lot easier to take on a bad team and make them better than it is to take a spectacular team and live up to expectations, especially if they go deep in the playoffs.

JJVinson42: I think all the previous coaches should take no shame in being mentioned, as they've all done semi-miraculous things with underachieving teams through stretches of the season. Heck, even some of the 'replacement' coaches even deserve somewhat of a sympathy nod.

But to me, when the question is for "Coach of the Year', not 'Coach of the Last 18 Games', the obvious choice would be Todd McLellan of the Sharks. As a hockey fan, it's been surprising to see that the entire hockey community put San Jose on a pedestal they've never been on. Sure, they've been a perpetual playoff team for awhile now, and were expected to make the playoffs. Almost 90% of the articles regarding McLellan as Sharks coach have been something to the effect of "Well, we expect the Sharks to do well, but can McLellan get the Sharks over the hump?"

The truth is, the Sharks are number one in the league, and so dominant under McLellan that their 'perennial playoff team' status has been upgraded significantly to "Holy cr@p, they're a powerhouse." The Sharks have been down by two or three goals late in games this season, and McLellan challenges them to finish the game. You've heard it a million times over: The game is 60 minutes. The team that plays it from beginning to end usually wins. And for the most part, McLellan has done just that.

My take: One of the reasons I wrote that blog on McLellan on Monday is I know there isn't that much support for him as coach of the year. That's the strange thing about this award -- we tend to ignore the guys coaching great teams. But let's be clear about this one last time, as I pointed out in my blog Monday: No one predicted the Sharks would be this dominant last September. It's revisionist history to suggest we all knew they would be first overall, etc. The fact is, not many people picked them to win the Cup last September because they were coming off another disappointing playoffs and people were beginning to wonder whether this core had what it took to get over the hump. So, with that in mind, you have to acknowledge the great coaching job from McLellan this season.

rwax215: You have to take a long look at Paul Maurice of the Carolina Hurricanes. He took over a struggling team that had many problems at the time. Carolina was looking like a team destined to miss the playoffs for a third straight year. Now this team is as solid a team coming down the stretch as any in the NHL. With 6 wins in a row and a franchise best mark of 9 consecutive home wins, it goes to show it is not how you start, but how a team finishes. I don't think anyone wants to see the hurricanes as their opening round opponent.

ricanesfan7: Without a doubt it has to be Paul Maurice. The team was playing with lackluster motivation and had already missed the playoffs 2 years in a row. Already just considered a fluke team, they have turned it around and might possibly get home ice advantage for the first round. Check out how the captain (and soon to be hall of famer) Rod Brind'Amour has been playing since the switch. The team is playing inspired playoff hockey right now and without a coaching change this probably would have been the same story from the last two years. Not to mention when they made this change i was completely pro Laviolette.

jnighthawk6: Paul Maurice. The guy took over a falling team that had little to no chance of making the playoffs on December 3 and now has the Hurricanes fighting for home-ice in the first round of the East. The move looked like only a temporary one while getting ready to prep Ron Francis to take over as head coach at the end of the season, but after such a huge turn-around that does not look like the case. He may not be the BEST coach this year, but his name does deserve to be in the conversation.

My take: OK, show of hands for anybody who could have predicted last September we'd even be having this conversation about Paul Maurice (especially since, at the time, he was unemployed in Toronto)? Ha, ha! That's why we love this game. You just never know. Veteran Carolina GM Jim Rutherford once again has demonstrated he has such a feel for his team, making the coaching move and bringing back a familiar face. It's been somewhat under the radar because of Carolina's small market and minimal media exposure, but Maurice does indeed deserve to be in this conversation.

Lostnearhell: Claude Julien did an amazing job no doubt. But picture this. Take away their star goaltender and fill it in with a back up and an AHLer. Where does that leave the Bruins? Most can agree not #1 in the east. Brent Sutter had to do a complete 180 degree turn on how to run the devils. They could no longer be the #1 Defensive team and the #28th Offensive team. They had to have D mean step up in the offensive zone, they needed aggressive breakouts, no more trap, no more leaning on Brodeur anymore. The Devils accomplished something amazing this year. I believe NO team would be in the top 3 in their respective conference if you replaced their star goalie with an AHL goalie who never had 10 wins in a NHL season. Brent Sutter took just two or three weeks to turn the Devils into a team that would be fighting for a playoff spots to a team that looked cup bound even before their hall of fame goaltender came back. The Devils are one of the most winningest teams since January 1st, Next to Detroit, Boston, and San Jose, mostly with a AHL goalie.

hollisterm: Brent Sutter. He got the Devils to the #2 spot in the East without the greatest goalie of all-time and the MVP of the team, Martin Brodeur. And he's made the Devils an offensive threat, something they haven't been for a long while.

My take: It's funny; two weeks ago, I would have told you Sutter was a slam-dunk choice. He may still win the Jack Adams Award, but with his team somewhat suddenly hitting the skids and other teams getting real hot late in the season, it's given the impression the coach of the year race is wide open again. But no matter how the Devils play out the string, nothing should erase the fact that a team that lost superstar goalie Martin Brodeur for most of the season and still won its division had a heck of a coaching staff leading the way. When players are lost to injury, it's the system that saves you. You plug in players, and no matter who they are, if the system works, you should be able to survive. Great job by Sutter this season.

Hobbydog588: Ken Hitchcock has all of Columbus believing that it is a hockey town! His blue collar work ethic style has rubbed off on young superstars Rick Nash and Steve Mason. If the Jackets finish the deal and claim their first ever playoff appearance Hitch deserve huge kudos and the Jack Adams Award!

jb103901: It has to be Hitch! The Jackets have been doormats for the last 10 years and now they are in contention for the playoffs and not only in contention, but they are a team that none of the top 4 will want to face. Plus, they lost their top center and goalie (Brassard and Leclaire) for the year, two of their top 6 forwards (Chimera and Modin) have been injured on and off for most of the year, and one of the their top D-men (Klesla) can't stay on the ice for more than 2 games at a time. And let's not forget that they have a career 3rd and 4th line center (Malhotra) playing on their 1st line.

My take: Another one of my favorite guys. Hitch has done well wherever he's gone (Dallas, Philadelphia), and it's no surprise he's been able to turn things around in Columbus. Sometimes, the Jackets may not be the most entertaining team to watch, but you have to dance with the girl you brought to the party. Or something like that. The Jackets don't have a lot of offensive firepower after Rick Nash, so they have to limit the risks in their game. Some people will say Hitch is lucky to have Steve Mason, but I know of another goalie that got him nine shutouts last season. Maybe the coach knows what he's doing?

ryyanzissou: It has to be Alain Vigneault. Everyone said that the Canucks would finish in last place in the Northwest unless Roberto Luongo could carry the team. Now he has carried the team while healthy, but do you remember he was injured for two months? Vigneault has created lines that work wonderfully together; putting Burrows with the Sedins, and that deadly second line Kesler, Sundin, Demitra. Even if Roberto Luongo was expected to carry the team, no one expected them to compete to win the division, in which the Canucks are 1 point out of.

My take: After his team lost 10 of 12 games and his job was seemingly on the line, Vigneault no doubt would have chuckled back in January if someone had told him he'd be mentioned in this conversation three months later. But that speaks to the dramatic turnaround in Vancouver's season, and the coach has a big part in that. He found a way to integrate Mats Sundin and the Canucks finally have a two terrific offensive lines. And the team sits third in the Western Conference in goals-against average behind only San Jose and Minnesota. Sure, the big guy in net has something to do with that, but the bottom line is, right now, Vigneault has his team playing a dangerously effective, two-way game that bodes well for the playoffs.

UofIPenguins: i'm shocked that nobody is bringing up joel quinnville (maybe b/c no one knows how to spell it off the top of their heads). People are talking of the canucks' coach and julien and boudreau. but for all three, they have teams that have been there. It helps to have a luongo, thomas, and ovechkin/semin/green/fedorov/backstrom, etc. And yes, I know the hawks have kane, toews, etc. but no one has really been there before in their young core. Savard was clearly not doing the job and the hawks got a coach that was going to fit their players' needs. Quinnville has helped shape this team from just missing the playoffs to battling for home-ice in the playoffs. I'm not saying he should win, I'm just surprised at the complete lack of his name ...

My take: Um, it's Quenneville, by the way. But yes, I agree it's surprising he didn't get much mention on this message board. That's probably a direct result of the team lagging somewhat in the second half. Still, let's give Quenneville credit for stepping in without a training camp and guiding a young Hawks team to a playoff berth. The Stanley Cup talk was a little premature, probably, but that shouldn't take away from the fact the Hawks are back in the playoffs for the first time in six seasons and only the second time in 11 seasons. Job well done, Mr. Moustache.

a.lee.10: Bruce Boudreau should repeat as the recipient of the Jack Adams award. First of all, let's not forget that there was a good 4 week stretch where the likes of Green, Semin and Fedorov were injured but you wouldn't be able to tell it from their record. Try taking the equivalent guys out of other top NHL teams and you're talking about losing a guy like Gonchar for the Penguins (and we all saw what they're power play was like without him, definitely not what it should be). Those are just the top name guys that were out to injury too, that doesn't even go into the blue line woes that literally made their defensive corps look like a revolving door. The fact of the matter is, they won when frankly they should have lost a few and I can't think of anyone being more responsible than the coach, and that's good old Gabby.

brownie0788: I am surprised there hasn't been more support for boudreau. He has made the Caps a significantly better team than last year that has a legitimate chance to go far in the playoffs. Also, the Caps are now a team and don't rely solely on AO to lead the way, and I think a lot of that can be attributed to the coach. Last year they barely got into the playoffs with a late season push which had a lot to do with getting very hot, especially with the goaltending, at the right time. This year the Caps have been consistently good aside from a few small losing streaks that Boudreau has always managed to pull the Caps out of.

My take: Well again, that's the funny thing about this award. Boudreau wins it last season because the Caps surprised everyone and won their division. This year, they are way better and challenging for the conference lead, but that hasn't surprised anyone, so Boudreau doesn't get any support for the Jack Adams. Same thing happened to Lindy Ruff. He won the Jack Adams in 2005-06 after the Sabres shocked us with a surprising season. But he didn't win the award the following season when the same team won the President's Trophy. Go figure. Bruce, Lindy knows your pain.

mhollerb: Pierre, my cries for Mike Babcock will fall on deaf ears, I'm sure, so I won't bother trying. How do you get acknowledged for best coach when you've already got the best team? I know you often regard Babs as the best coach in the league, and we both agree he won't win the Adams Award, but that won't stop me from giving my props to him. (Don't forget, when the Wings get that eventual 50th win, that makes Babcock the second coach to EVER have four consecutive 50-win seasons, and only the third franchise to do so. The other coach to do so? The greatest ever, Scotty Bowman.)

My take: To follow up on the Boudreau point above, here's the best example of all. Yes, I do believe Babcock is among the very best coaches in the NHL, which is why I think he'll be coaching Team Canada in February 2010. But do you think he'll even get a sniff this season for the Jack Adams? I guess no one will consider the fact the Wings appear to be the first Cup champion in a while to fight off the hangover (see Tampa, Carolina and Anaheim after their Cup wins) and deliver another 100-plus point season and eighth consecutive Central Division title. But I guess the coach has nothing to do with that. At least last year he was nominated when Boudreau won, but I'd be shocked if he were nominated this season. Everyone expected the Cup champs to be great again.

Pengwin7: It's still got to be Julien. Despite Boston slipping a step in the 2nd half, the award is based on the full year and Boston has gone 8th to 1st with essentially the same roster. Julien has found good chemistry on all his offensive lines, PP, SH, defensive tandems. Very impressive. Murray has gotten Perron, Berglund, and Oshie on the ice as much as possible lately and it's paying off. I like Hitchcock too. I don't think we should be giving Hitch the credit for Mason (give that to the scouts, per previous LeBrun article) but Hitch has always had the Blue Jackets playing a system that keeps SOGA down and with a great goalie (Mason) this strategy has finally paid off. I'd vote: 1. Julien; 2. Murray; 3. Hitchcock.

My take: I wanted to end the blog with a smart posting from one of our regulars, Pengwin7. I think he's touched on three guys who will have a great chance. I would also throw in Sutter, McLellan and Trotz, and consider those six guys as the best bets.

My pick if the season ended today? Murray. Sorry, but you lose your top defenseman in a golf cart accident in September and you know you're headed for a season from hell. How Murray has salvaged this thing is incomprehensible. If the Blues miss out on the playoffs, then I would pick Julien. It's too easy to forget that Boston barely made the playoffs last season.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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