BOSTON (CBS) — This is not an endorsement of Bruins coach Claude Julien to win the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year in the NHL.
But beyond a couple of top candidates who’ve led teams to records this season that exceeded preseason expectations, Julien’s credentials during the Bruins’ dominant 2013-14 season should at least earn Boston’s bench boss a spot among the three finalists for the award.
Because for the broadcasters who vote for the Jack Adams to pick anyone other than Julien to join Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Cooper and Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas would be to reward mediocrity.
Depending on where you live in North America and your perspective on what a coach of the year should be, either Cooper or Roy will win this award. Cooper has pieced together several talented young players together with some veterans, including some imports, and had the Lightning near the top of the Eastern Conference for most of the season. Along the way he had to deal with Steven Stamkos’ lengthy injury absence and the Martin St. Louis trade demand and subsequent trade to the New York Rangers.
Roy has gotten a young core to play well together and play aggressively, and the Avs have also been in the playoff mix all season. Most scoffed at Roy’s antics on opening night, when he pushed the glass over during an argument with Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. But Roy obviously earned the loyalty of an inexperienced bunch of talented players. Young talent alone can’t thrive without solid coaching, and you only need look north to the Edmonton Oilers to see how things can go wrong when even the best young talent goes without proper mentorship.
That brings us to the third spot on the ballot, and there are several coaches that some might consider. Craig Berube of the Philadelphia Flyers, Todd Richards of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings have all done fine jobs. But in Berube’s case, all he’s done is coach a team with relatively high expectations to a comfortable spot among the playoff teams. Richards has coached a team that was hoping its move to the Eastern Conference would make earning a second postseason berth in franchise history more achievable. And it looks right now like the Blue Jackets will grab a wild card spot. Coaching a team with mediocre goals to a mediocre record isn’t award-worthy.
Babcock might be the most interesting one of the bunch because he’s coached a team with championship aspirations to a mediocre result, but he’s done it in the face of a rash of injuries. Babcock’s done a great job, but I still don’t want to reward a team that’s going to wait until the last week of the season to clinch the playoffs.
That leaves the coaches of the elite teams. Julien, Boudreau, Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues, Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Todd McLellan of the San Jose Sharks have all had their teams in contention for their divisional and conference crowns all season. The Bruins’ season, however, stands out among the best of the best.
Entering their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, the Bruins were on top of the league standings with 110 points. The Bruins led the league in regulation/overtime wins with 49 (St. Louis, one point behind Boston, had just 42) and a goal differential of plus-82 (nine better than the Blues). They were the best team 5-on-5, and were third in power-play efficiency and seventh in penalty-kill success. The Bruins’ third-period differential of plus-45 was better than all but four teams’ overall differential. They were 40-2-0 when leading after two periods and still haven’t lost more than two in a row in regulation.
Obviously the Bruins’ ability to run out two world-class goaltenders like Tuukka Rask and Chad Johnson, plus a dominant defenseman (Zdeno Chara) and a host of multi-talented forwards led by Selke Trophy favorite Patrice Bergeron sets the Bruins up for success. There has to be a guiding force that sends off that talent in the right direction, keeps everyone focused and makes sure there’s cohesion and chemistry. Julien has been that man for seven seasons, and maybe more so in 2013-14 than even in 2008-09, when he won the Jack Adams.
The Bruins have had to deal with injuries to Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid and Loui Eriksson. And they’ve had to work most nights with four young defensemen – Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton and Kevan Miller – in the lineup at the same time. The result has been a 2.07 goals-against average.
Rewarding Cooper and Roy is fine, even if you’re basing those rewards as much on low expectations as you are on the job those men have done. The third spot should be a spot to recognize a coach whose team has had a great year, and Julien shines among that elite group of bench bosses.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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