by PuckStopsHere on 04/11/09 at 03:02 AM ET
I have been supporting Jacques Lemaire as coach of the year for most of this season and while he has done an amazing job with a Minnesota Wild team I do not think he is the best candidate right now. Andy Murray in St Louis has done an even better job this season. He is my choice.
Murray has been a very good coach for years. This year he had a St Louis team that looked like it was on its way to a lottery pick in the draft. He made several key moves that changed their fortunes. He sent early season number one goalie Manny Legace to the minors and made Chris Mason the number one goalie. He gave young players including TJ Oshie and David Backes the lead role offensively. He kept things positive despite a poor start and despite longterm injuries to Paul Kariya and Erik Johnson, who were considered key components of the team. The Blues have now clinched a playoff berth and Murray deserves credit for transforming the team into a playoff team.
That is not to say that Jacques Lemaire is not a good coach. He has a huge impact on the Minnesota Wild. They are a team without scoring stars. For most of the season when Marian Gaborik was hurt the team had no scoring stars at all. They have implemented a strong defensive system under Lemaire and gone much further than their talents should allow. They remain in the playoff race but will most likely miss the playoffs. In recent days, Lemaire has moved from his normal coaching strategies to publically call out Marek Zidlicky. This is not something that Lemaire has done frequently.
Zidlicky was acquired from Nashville last summer. Although he is their top scoring defenceman he has not fit into the defensive scheme well. This shows a failing of both Zidlicky as a player and Lemaire as a teacher. It also shows Lemaire is a bit desperate trying to pull out all the stops to get his team into the playoffs.
There is an opinion that Lemaire is one of the problems with the Wild. Their defensive play has a stifling effect. I disagree with that. Lemaire has done a lot with a limited group of talent. He has made GM Doug Risebrough look good. While Risebrough has not provided and more talent than the Columbus Blue Jackets (who had never made the playoffs until this season) have had over the years (compare Rick Nash to Gaborik), Risebrough has had several playoff berths and won some series with the team he built. The season for that is his coach. In New Jersey, Lemaire had better offensive talents than he has had in Minnesota and he won the Stanley Cup. If Lemaire steps aside as the Wild coach this summer, look for the Wild to take a step backwards next year.
The mainstream media often picks coach of the year as the coach of the most improved team and gets wrong choices most of the time. This year, Andy Murray in St Louis would fit that classification, but much of the talk this year is surrounding candidates like Todd McLellan in San Jose, Brent Sutter in New Jersey and Claude Julien in Boston. I think it is likely that the coach of the year will go to one of these coaches on top teams, but I do not think they are most deserving.
I find it interesting to look at the year after a coach wins the Adams Trophy. Last year, Bruce Boudreau won it in Washington. Is he not a candidate this year? Why not? His team won its division. I doubt he gets nominated. Was his coaching job better last year? The coach of the year choices are often poorly made. I argue that Boudreau took over a team with lots of good young talent. It had Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin. Any good coach would have seen the team take off under his reign. Boudreau is a good coach. I fail to see any justification for how he could win coach of the year last year and likely not get nominated this year. How did he fail this year? Or was he overrated last year?
Of all the NHL awards, the Adams Trophy is usually the one that is most poorly chosen. I think Andy Murray of St Louis should win this year, but I doubt that he actually will.
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