QOTW answers: Julien, Sutter, McLellan among your faves; no love for Keenan

February, 18, 2009

The Question of the Week was a tough one: Who is your current favorite for the Jack Adams Award for NHL coach of the year? Quite frankly, I'm not sure there's one right answer at this point.

But the ESPN.com puckheads delivered some influential points. I also should point out this is one of the few awards my colleagues in the Professional Hockey Writers Association do not vote on. This baby falls under the discretion of the National Hockey League Broadcasters Association.

Here's what you had to say:

jwb209: No other team has exceeded expectations like the Bruins. Claude Julien is a huge reason for that -- more so than many coaches because of the Bruins' reliance on a sound defensive system that is more a result of coaching than some of the other teams' who have had good seasons so far.

mflewonetwo: Claude Julien. He's played the Thomas-Fernandez tandem perfectly, gotten the most out of players like Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler and David Krejci, and led the Bruins to the best record in the East despite injuries to Sturm, Kobasew, Bergeron, Kessel, Ryder, and Lucic. Much respect to Sutter for how he's led the Devils with Brodeur out and their recent streak of success, but Julien has had the B's at the top of the league for the majority of the season.

cpusavant: Gotta be Claude Julien. I'll admit I'm a Bruins fan, and a little biased, but look what that team has done. They barely made the playoffs last year, only to lose a tough, grind-it-out heartbreaker to archrival Montreal. The team wasn't ready last year. But in one year, Julien has brought this mix of young talent and older leadership to the top of not just the conference, but the league as well. ... They have the best 1-2 goalie tandem in the league, 3 guys in the top 5 in +/-, biggest GDIF in the league, #5 in GFA, #1 in GAA, #5 in PP, #8 in PK, leaders for both the Vezina, Jennings and Norris trophies. No team gets all that through just good talent. It takes one heck of a coach to keep the team together and going strong for 6 months.

My take: I mean, how do you argue against a guy whose team will go from eighth to first in the Eastern Conference in one season? None of us hockey writers had the Bruins winning the conference in our preseason predictions (I had Philadelphia). The Bruins are just so organized at both ends of the ice and very disciplined as well. That's coaching. And a good point above about the way Julien has handled Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez. They both have gotten their starts, and there's no sign of controversy. I'll be shocked if Julien doesn't get one of the three nominations at season's end.

hackerar: Joel Quenneville definitely deserves some consideration. As was mentioned earlier, he has taken a team that hasn't made the playoffs since '02 and turned them into a probable number four seed. There have been several issues along the way that have made this a tough task:

1) the team is very young as evidenced by their 21 year old captain
2) juggling 2 expensive goalies in khabbi and huet has not been an easy task
3) they are overcrowded at defense
4) they are very thin at center
5) Q didn't even start working with the team until the fourth game of the season
6) the team places itself at a tremendous disadvantage due to their woes in the faceoff circle, but most of the time it hasn't even mattered.

Vote for the 'Stache!

jdudhead: This is a difficult question (in truth, there really isn't a "right" answer). However, I think Q deserves serious consideration for 1 reason in particular -- the Blackhawks are the youngest team in the NHL. Younger players (usually) lean on their coaches a bit more (yes there is still skill needed in coaching veteran players and "elite" players) Young NHLers need more hands on coaching and typically have a stronger emotional tie with their coach (Patrick Kane was caught crying when Savard was fired) That Q was able to come in and effectively manage this team and, moreover, put together a winning team that has excelled in the extremely competitive Western Conference is huge. ... Despite Toews/Kane/Campbell's status as "elite" players, look at their actual numbers; the hawks don't have any of the top 20 or 30 goal scorers, but instead Q has put together a complete team. He is making it work and laying groundwork that will make every member of this young hawks team a much better player.

My take: It's easy to forget Quenneville started the season as a scout for the Blackhawks, replacing Denis Savard minutes into the regular season. But the point is, he didn't get a training camp with this squad, one of the youngest rosters in the NHL. He's had to implement his changes on the fly. Talk to other coaches around the league, and they'll tell you how impressive that is. He's instilled good work habits on a young team with lots of talent. You cannot ignore what "The 'Stache" has done.

donflom5224: Without a doubt, Brent Sutter. If you're a fan of the game of hockey, I can't see how you'd consider giving this award to anyone else. For years, the Devils were nothing but a "boring" team, yet somehow they've turned into one of the most exciting teams to watch all of a sudden. Oh yeah, and they were forced to do it without one of the greatest goaltenders of all time. Imagine the Colts losing Peyton Manning next year; you'd be kidding yourself to think they'd be able to overcome that, which is exactly how everyone felt when Marty went down, and who could blame them. Only Sutter has been able to get the very best out of each and every player on the ice during his absence, and ignite a new generation of Devils hockey.

rjs162: Brent Sutter. Who knew that a Devils team would not only survive the loss of Brodeur, but actually thrive.

enfueg013: The award has to go to Brent Sutter. The team floundered (for the Devils anyway) last year while the players were getting used to his style. This year, battling what should have been debilitating injuries, the Devils are running away with the division, and have the conference in their sites, that is, with the return of the gate keeper. This Devils team doesn't wait for the opponent to make a mistake; this team forces those mistakes. This simple paradigm-shift in the Devils system is what lets them win come-from-behind games. ... This is a team to watch in the playoffs, when Brodeur will be at mid-season form and very, very well rested. This is the first season in a while where I think the Devils have a genuine shot at the Cup.

My take: It's funny to see how Devils fans, judging from their comments on this site, are just finding out what Canadian hockey fans have known for years about Brent Sutter, a legend in the junior coaching ranks in the Great White North. He long has been considered coaching royalty in my country, from his work in Red Deer to world junior gold on the international stage. Given what this team has done without its franchise goalie, you can only credit Sutter for finding ways to get it done. This season, this is a team that, as always, protects the puck well, but it also has opened up its offense, which must feel like winning the lottery for Devils fans. New Jersey is ranked eighth in the NHL in goals per game after placing 27th last season, 27th in 2006-07 and 22nd in 2005-06. Thank you, Brent!

ricanesfan7: No question, Peter DeBoer. He has brought a much maligned franchise out of the ocean, back into playoff contention for the first time in almost a decade. They don't have one superstar on the team. They bring a blue collar mentality every night without one player over 40 points. He is easily the coach of the year for bringing this franchise back to life!

ftofani: Pete DeBoer. This team is playing, well winning for their coach and themselves. Florida hasn't see playoff action in so long that they are almost a sure shot to miss it every year. This year though is different; DeBoer has them playing a good brand of hockey and has them on the same page. I hope that it is enough to keep Bouwmeester, but that that's another subject.

My take: DeBoer has impressed. Usually it takes rookie NHL head coaches a sizeable adjustment period; even Brent Sutter felt that last season. But DeBoer is coaching the surprising Panthers toward a playoff berth. You need to have the trust and attention of your players to get an underdog team to overachieve. That's coaching. Again, like Sutter, DeBoer isn't much of a surprise to hockey fans in Ontario. He was a coaching star with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers. The Panthers were among a few teams who pursued him. Now you know why they did.

kcm42: Ken Hitchcock! He has made the Jackets a contender that can beat any team if they play his system. He should be coach of the year and Howson should be GM of the year for all the moves he has made without giving up the future. Nationwide Arena is alive again and buzzing on game nights. When they make the playoffs, the place will continue to show why it is the number one fan experience.

w101dgj: The Coach of the Year is obviously Ken Hitchcock, no question about it. Just look at the Blue Jackets' roster, there are only two recognizable names on the whole roster, Rick Nash and Steve Mason; yet as I type this, the Jackets are only one point out of 5th in the west. Hitch has the team playing great defense, how else do you have a rookie goalie leading the league in shutouts?

My take: No surprise here. The man's résumé speaks for itself: Stanley Cup in Dallas, one win away from a Cup finals berth in Philly, Olympic gold and World Cup of Hockey title with Team Canada. Now, he's squeezing juice out of a rock in Columbus. Enough said. Hitchcock should be considered for this award every season.

Lt_Mandrake: I think Boudreau ought to repeat just for his work this year, but the best evidence is looking at this season as an extension of last season. The Caps were losers before he came on and then immediately got better. This season, they've asserted themselves as serious contenders and play with the attitude of an elite team. That's all from the coach. They're playing so well now that people forget the Caps kept themselves near the top of the standings even when half the team was injured. They've had more injury problems than any other team that's still in contention.

thomas_boothby: Bon jour Pierre, I am going to have to go with Bruce Boudreau on this one. Here's my reasoning:

1.) While all teams have injury problems to deal with, few coaches truly capitalize on these scratches the way Bruce has this year. In fact, Washington went on their longest winning streak this year in the midst of their "injury nightmares."

2.) Bruce knows how to motivate the different types of players and personalities on his team. Earlier this year when Nylander was under performing Bruce health scratched him, next few games after that Nylander nets 2 or 3 goals and a couple of assists. As for the young guys, I would cite Mike Green's resent scoring record as evidence of Bruce's bringing out the best in his young guns.

3.) Perhaps most importantly, Bruce works and improves on those things that need improving. Take Washington's away game troubles. For nearly the entire season Washington has been clawing their way to 500 away from home. Bruce recognized their problems, addressed them, and if you have seen Washington's last 5-6 away games, they have performed really well, not to mention that they HAVE gotten above 500 on the road now.

4.) Finally, Bruce has dealt with the goalie situation in Washington well. He let Jose have the time (both on and off the ice) to get comfortable playing in net for Washington. That is huge in my opinion, as goal tending was Washington's biggest concern coming into 2008-2009.

Vote Bruce.

My take: I was thrilled Boudreau won this award last season. Once he went behind the bench, this team really took off, as he loosened the reigns and coached with one of the more entertaining styles in the NHL. Still does. Just for that, we should thank him. But the fact that his team was expected to do well this season probably will hurt him in the voting. Makes no sense, I know, but that's how it works.

Tbone_2469:Lindy Ruff. Small market, no true superstars, just one heck of a job coaching!

bbking3647: Lindy Ruff. he man who is the longest tenured coach in the NHL and coaching and winning the day after that horrible plane accident in Buffalo. The plane crashed within a few streets of many of the Sabres players, the whole team was shaken up over it. He should win the Coach of the Year just for that.

My take: Somehow Ruff, the NHL's longest-tenured coach, still flies under the radar. Just like the second-longest-tenured coach, Nashville's Barry Trotz (also a great coach). What makes Ruff, a former Jack Adams winner, an interesting candidate this season is the way he's tried to convince his young, skilled team to pay better attention to defense and make safer decisions with the puck in order to cut down on scoring chances against.

The metamorphosis, which I documented in a column on the Sabres a few weeks ago, is still a work in progress, but I think it's clear the Sabres are rising out of last season's ashes and heading back to the playoffs. That's an impressive coaching job, to tweak the identity of his post-lockout team, which was all fire-wagon, and make it a little more two-way in its style. Great stuff.

CaliRhino: Todd McLellan needs to get his due, first-year head coach and he just beat the Bruins IN BOSTON! The Sharks are slumping right now and still lead the West with three fewer games played than the Wings ... and 3 fewer games played than the league PTS leader Bruins. Let's go, San Jose, let's get a cup!

Sorothlisberger: Todd McLellan in a landslide. This is too easy of a question in my mind. There's something different about those sharks this year and he's one of the big reasons why.

49ersFan79: Todd McLellan. How can you take away the Jack Adams from a man who comes to a team, and in his first year, leads the Sharks to the best record the NHL has seen in over 20 years? He had them at the most points after 50 games since the Oilers in the '80s, the team with a guy named, you may remember him, Wayne Gretzky. If the Sharks beat the single-season point record, and win the cup, this year's team will be remembered as one of the greatest in the history of the NHL. how can you deny the coach of that team the Jack Adams? Simple, robbery. Todd deserves it more than any of the other coaches (he has also lead them to victories over powerhouses Boston, Detroit -- twice -- and Washington). Boston and Washington weren't even close either (5-2, 7-2). Give it to Todd, all this in his first year.

My take: I'll be really curious to see how the broadcasters figure out what to do with McLellan. Because he might fall victim to the first-place virus. The coaches who get their teams to overachieve almost always win out, and few people put the Sharks in that category. But people have short memories. Very few pundits actually picked the Sharks to win the Cup back in September (OK, shameless plug, I did). People had jumped off the bandwagon big time after yet another disappointing playoff last spring.

It's unfair to look at McLellan and say the Sharks are doing just what everyone expected. Not true. His promotion of an aggressive style of play, which Joe Thornton told me he and his teammates absolutely love, has transformed the Sharks. Oh, and did we mention the reinvigorated Patrick Marleau? McLellan made that his first point of business after taking the job this past summer, inviting the Sharks captain out for dinner and laying the cards on the table.

thedwindle: what about Dave Tippett? he brought the stars back from the sean avery mess, a horrible start, an even worse start from marty turco, and injuries to two of the best players on the team. They went from out of the playoff discussion to firmly holding the 5th seed, and they are now the team nobody wants to play in the playoffs.

cupofjoe04: Dave Tippett. For his consistency. Consistently carrying team to post season despite injuries and setbacks. For having a consistent message to his players (work hard for one another, and the team will succeed). For having a consistent work ethic himself, as well as a consistent demeanor on and off the ice. For his vision to groom young players by giving them plenty of experience around the veterans. Maybe most of all, for how he handled the Sean Avery situation. He gave the guy a chance, not because he personally cared for him but because his boss asked him to. But when it came time, Tippett stood up and made the truth of the situation very clear, despite his boss' desire to pull a Jerry Jones and continually roll the dice on a crap shoot player who will do nothing but destroy the locker room. ... His leadership in this area kept the players united, and they have followed their coach's example in being respectful in the face of adversity.

My take: In a season in which many NHL coaches have gotten the ax, I have so much respect for the Dallas Stars for sticking with Tippett when his team came out of the gates looking like "The Bad News Bears" on skates. As mentioned above by one of our puckheads, the way Tippett handled things through the Avery situation was something else. Then, he got down to business after Avery was gone, because the excuses were gone, and coached the heck out of his team in the NHL's most impressive turnaround this season. He also has done that without captain Brenden Morrow and top defenseman Sergei Zubov for most of the season. Last place in the Western Conference in early December, likely fifth place come the end of the regular season. Heck of a job, Mr. Tippett.

mikesports19: It has to be Mike Babcock. After winning a championship, it is very difficult to keep a team motivated to succeed the way the Detroit Red Wings have this year. With Babcock behind the bench, the Red Wings have an excellent chance at repeating this year. It also helps having Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Hossa, Lidstrom, etc.

My take: I'm almost 100 percent sure that arguably the very best NHL coach won't get nominated. Again, the issue of expectations rears its ugly head. First or second in the Western Conference likely won't impress the voters too much since the Red Wings are defending Cup champions. But consider that Detroit is the first of the three post-lockout champions to overcome the Cup hangover. Carolina, 2005-06 champion, missed the playoffs the next season. Anaheim, 2006-07 champion, struggled for most of last season, got it together late and petered out in the first round.

The Wings? It's Cup or bust, baby. And Babcock has a huge hand in deftly handling the characters and egos in his dressing room, knowing full well he couldn't push them too hard in the first half of the season after last spring's hard-fought voyage. But will Babcock get credit for any of this? I doubt it.

Final word: Interesting that Mike Keenan didn't get any love from our puckheads. The Calgary Flames are third in the Western Conference -- doesn't he have something to do with that?

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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