I woke up this morning and read Greg Wyshynski’s Puck Daddy blog on Yahoo where his staff basically had a mid-season vote for all the major NHL awards.
For the most part, I thought Greg and Co. did a fine job. Except, I was a bit perplexed that out of six writers, only one was savvy enough to even consider Craig Berube as a candidate for the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year so far. That was contributing writer Jen Neale and she had Berube listed fifth.
Then, earlier this afternoon, I had a brief Twitter exchange with Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer(and a couple fans too) once again discussing the Flyers philosophy (neither of us dared use the word “culture.”)
Nevertheless, it was Sielski who was center stage in the media when Berube was hired, suggesting that the Flyers should have gone in a different direction then the same old Flyers way.
All the while, I had been working on this blog post – which made for a juicy bit of irony.
Because the premise of my post today was not trumpeting Berube as the de facto coach of the year in the NHL –
|Under the guidance of Craig Berube, the Flyers have been one of the best teams in the NHL for the past two months. |
because a lot can happen over the course of the remaining 38 games this season – but rather to say, hey, while you’re out there making cases for Patrick Roy in Colorado and Jon Cooper in Tampa Bay (both deserving candidates by the way) take a look at Berube too.
The season is more than half over now and some coaches have done pretty impressive jobs. Dan Bylsma has the Pittsburgh Penguins comfortably in front in the Metropolitan Division and ahead in the Eastern Conference despite a rash of injuries, including some along the way to top players like Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik.
Bruce Boudreau has the Ducks flying high again out west, as does Joel Quennville with the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Claude Julien is again doing a fine job steering the Boston Bruins ship and Ken Hitchcock continues to be successful at every stop as his St. Louis Blues might be the best team in the NHL at this point.
That said, the Jack Adams award usually ends up going to a coach who leads his team to an unexpected measure of success – especially when he replaces a guy who couldn’t seem to succeed with the same group of players under his charge.
So far this season, there really are only three candidates who fit that bill – Cooper, Roy and Berube.
All three have done a fine job. The Avalanche went from being the worst team in the NHL last season to being a playoff contender, thanks in large part to a blistering start to the season when they won 12 of their first 14 games.
Meanwhile, the Lightning, also a non-playoff team a season ago, have been one of the most steady and successful teams in the Eastern Conference this season under the guidance of Cooper, and done so even without superstar sniper Stephen Stamkos, who has been sidelined with a fractured tibia.
But there was one advantage those two coaches had over Berube – they had an entire summer and training camp to install their system and get their respective teams ready to play this season.
Berube wasn’t handed the reins until three games into the season had miserably passed. He was immediately put in charge of a team that had zero confidence, that couldn’t score, and was a shell of its own talents under former coach Peter Laviolette.
And that is what has made what Berube has accomplished so remarkable.
Overall, a coaching record of 23-14-4 isn’t out of this world, but it isn’t chopped liver either. It’s 50 points in 41 games – or half a season – and one that if kept on pace would net a 100-point campaign.
But it’s an even more eye-popping figure considering Berube had to make all the systematic changes on the fly, with the same group of players, get them to be better conditioned and buy into what he was selling all the while slowly rebuilding their confidence.
And it’s worked.
The season is now a little more than three months old. It’s no secret that the first month was a nightmare for the Flyers, but the last two months have been very telling.
On Nov. 9 the Flyers were 4-10-1 and in last place in the Metropolitan Division. Today, on Jan. 9 they are 23-17-4 and in second place, having climbed over five teams to get there.
Taking the whole league into account, since Nov. 9 – which happened to be the morning after the team held a closed-door meeting after a shutout loss at home to the Devils which also happened to be the last loss at Wells Fargo Center to date – here are the teams with the best records in the league.
1.St. Louis 20-5-3 43 points
2.Pittsburgh 21-7-143 points
Yes, they’ve played one more game than St. Louis and Anaheim, but one fewer than Chicago. Regardless, they are within two points of having the best record in hockey over a span of two months, or more than 35 percent of the season.
And they're doing this without any standout stars.
Nobody ranks in the Top 20 in the league in scoring (Claude Giroux is 21st with 39 points). No defensemen ranks in the top 30 in scoring. Steve Mason is having a strong year in goal, but he’s not blowing away the league. Rather, he’s consistently good. His 18 wins are tied for 7th in the league, his 2.35 goals against average is seventh among goalies with at least 20 starts and his .922 save percentage is tied for eighth in that same group.
The penalty kill has been steadily improving (7th in the league at 8.6 percent) and the Power play still ranks in the bottom half of the league at 18th (17.6 percent). Heck, they’ve even allowed four more goals than they’ve scored to this point in the season.
And yet, they continue to find ways to win.
A lot of that has to be because of coaching. Berube has his team believing in itself and probably playing much better than expected – especially for a team that missed the playoffs last season and didn’t make much in the way of impact change heading into this season.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Berube’s coaching tenure so far was his commitment to his own system.
|There's been a lot of celebrating goals in the past 13 games after Berube switched up his lines. |
The Flyers struggled at the start of Berube’s tenure, losing eight of his first 12 games, and yet he stuck with his system. He never wavered. He showed his team he believed in it and that they should too. There were minor tweaks – like switching up the lines 13 games ago and having the team roll to a 10-2-1 record and having scored 47 goals in those 13 games (an average of 3.61 per game compared to 70 in the previous 31 games, or 2.26 per game) – but for the most part, Berube has tried to keep things consistent, which has been pleasing to the players.
The schedule isn’t a cake walk from here, as there are stretches with one tough team after another lined up to play the Flyers, including six more sets of games on back-to-back nights – however the Flyers are 9-1 in their last 10 games played on consecutive days, so Berube seems to have that figured out as well.
Nevertheless, Berube is trending in a positive direction as coach of these Flyers. While he sits at the top of the league since Nov. 9, Roy’s Avalanche have gone 15-12-4 in 31 games while Cooper’s Lightning have been 15-9-4 in 28 games. Both decent, but the shine seems to have worn off their blistering starts.
Meanwhile, for Berube and the Flyers, it seems lie they have a fresh coat of wax moving into the rest of the season.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers