Since the awards presentations will be made in a couple of weeks, we thought we’d start weighing in on the candidates and our picks for several of them. We’ll start with the Jack Adams Award…
An annual award presented by the National Hockey League Broadcasters' Association to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success. The winner is selected in a poll among members of the NHL Broadcasters' Association at the end of the regular season.
The finalists for this year include:
Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings
Bruce Boudreau, Washington Capitals
Guy Carbonneau, Montreal Canadiens
There are many ways to exhibit coaching excellence in the context of the Adams award, and the three finalists exhibit different forms of it. There is the coach who, with superior talent, keeps his team focused, happy, and productive, so as to make the most of that talent. That is Mike Babcock. There is the coach who led a non-playoff team in his first year behind the bench, but who has a lot of young talent at his disposal. He has to manage his operation in the most storied franchise in the sport in front of perhaps its most rabid fan following, leading them to the top spot in the conference. Guy Carbonneau is that coach. There is the coach of a team that was given up for dead before all the leaves had fallen from the trees last autumn, but led them back on an improbable run to the playoffs. Bruce Boudreau was the author of that accomplishment.
Long ago, when we were taking courses in management, the art of “management” was described as being able to put your people in the best position to succeed and achieve your organization’s goals. And what is coaching, but “management” of a specialized order? The “art” here would be to put your players in the best position possible to succeed and to win. In other words, to maximize the skills each player brings to the contest.
In that respect, it would be hard to overlook one coach, whose ability to evaluate and maximize his player’s skills stands in such stark contrast to his immediate predecessor. There is a “then and now” aspect to his performance that was a stunning as it was unexpected. The team he took over – comprised of considerable talent, if raw and inexperienced – was underperforming, even by the meek standards set by pundits who had the team on the playoff margin at best, being a lottery pick at worst.
They were dead last in the league.
And, they were boring in achieving that dubious distinction. Despite having some of the best young offensive talent in the game, they were averaging 2.2 goals per contest. They seemed to have resigned themselves to playing to their description as a poor defensive team, giving up 3.1 goals a game. After a three-game winning streak to start the season, they were on a 3-14-1 slide, during which they lost six games by at least three goals, while scoring two or fewer goals 12 times and getting shutout twice.
That was then. The front office decided a change was in order and summoned a long-time minor league coach (successful minor league coach, we hasten to add) to try to right the ship. Well, what happened? The club – under new management behind the bench – went 37-17-7 to finish the season and wrap up an unprecedented rags-to-riches finish, becoming the only team in NHL history to go from 14th or 15th in their conference during the season – they were 15th when the new coach took over and 14th at the season’s 41-game midpoint – to a playoff spot, winning their division in the process with the second-highest point total earned in the Eastern Conference since the Thanksgiving holiday break.
What did it? A complete overhaul of philosophy and approach. The club has some precocious offensive talent?...well, use it! The star player was 14-9-23, even, in 21 games before the coach arrived, 51-38-89, +28 in 61 games after. The heralded rookie?...1-8-9, -5, in 21 games before the coach arrived; 13-46-59, +18, in 61 games after. The defenseman with a nose for the net the coach had in the minors?...3-4-7, -8, in 21 games before; 15-33-48, +13, after. The result?...The team went from scoring 2.2 goals a game in the first 21 games to scoring 3.1 a game in the last 61 – a 40 percent improvement.
And the more aggressive offense had its effect at the other end of the ice as well. Keeping the puck on their own sticks left less time for the opposition to have it on theirs…the result was to drop the goals allowed per game average from 3.1 to 2.7 (1.9 since the trading deadline).
There isn’t a member of this trio of finalists who is undeserving of consideration. In fact, one might add a few other deserving coaches that did not make the finalist cut, despite a few of them no longer serving in that capacity – Ron Wilson in San Jose, Claude Julien in Boston, Joel Quenneville in Colorado, Michel Therrien in Pittsburgh, Craig MacTavish in Edmonton, Denis Savard in Chicago. It is a crowded field of fine candidates.
However, there is one coach whose performance is extraordinary, owing to the circumstances of his arrival – taking over a team that was perhaps days from its season being all but over in November and guiding it to the playoffs, who stands slightly above the others. While we would not have an argument with any of the other finalists winning, if we had a vote (and we’ll admit to bias), we’d pick…
Bruce Boudreau, Washington Capitals