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Hockey revival in Boston has Julien vying for Adams

by John McGourty
There are a few subjective NHL awards that seem obvious -- Columbus goalie Steve Mason for Calder and maybe Boston goalie Tim Thomas for Vezina -- but any judgment on the Jack Adams Award is sure to generate controversy.

There are almost too many candidates for the NHL Coach of the Year award, which is voted upon by the NHL Broadcasters' Association.

In fact, good arguments can be raised on behalf of coaches like Boston's Claude Julien, New Jersey's Brent Sutter, San Jose's Todd McLellan, Ken Hitchcock in Columbus, Andy Murray in St. Louis, Nashville's Barry Trotz, Florida's Peter DeBoer, Vancouver's Alain Vigneault and Calgary's Mike Keenan.

Los Angeles's Terry Murray and Toronto's Ron Wilson have done excellent jobs in setting a style of play and team philosophy that will benefit their clubs in years to come.

Midseason replacements Cory Clouston in Ottawa, Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh and Paul Maurice in Carolina have done excellent jobs of reviving those clubs too.

The reigning Jack Adams Award winner, Bruce Boudreau, has had his team in first place in the Southeast Division all season.

And, what has reigning Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock done wrong in Detroit? Nothing.

So, there're shout-outs to 16 of the NHL's 30 coaches, suggesting that the votes of the broadcasters will be spread across a number of candidates.

But it says here the winner is Julien, who in his two-year tenure has taken Boston from a non-playoff team to a first-round loser last season. This season, Boston is the best team in the Eastern Conference and spent much of the season competing for the Presidents' Trophy as the League's top team.

And it's not like he's coaching the talent-laden 1991 Penguins.

The Bruins are the living embodiment of this hockey truism: hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. When the Bruins don't work hard, they lose. But they rarely lose the grit battle and they skate hard all 60 minutes. Not every team can say that.

The Bruins are a scrappy team devoid of superstars. Quite a few Bruins were written off by other teams and some are showing skills, like leadership, never expected of them.

Julien has converted leading scorer Marc Savard from a passing wizard with glaring defensive liabilities into the NHL's 11th-leading scorer with a plus-24 rating. He has gotten 26 goals and 51 points from Michael Ryder, a castoff from Montreal after a 14-goal season. He was tough on young Phil Kessel last season, benching him in the playoffs, and Kessel has responded with a team-leading 31 goals.

"Washed-up" Aaron Ward has proven to be the perfect complement to captain Zdeno Chara on the first defensive unit and Dennis Wideman, on the second pairing, has greatly improved his defensive skills. Chuck Kobasew, Shane Hnidy and Stephane Yelle have enjoyed great revivals under Julien.

Julien put his faith in goalie Tim Thomas last season and the well-traveled veteran is on his way to a Vezina Trophy-worthy season.

Have the Bruins exceeded expectations this season under Julien? Yes.

Hardly anyone picked the Bruins to win their division this season, but they have been the runaway leaders of the Eastern Conference all year. Their 6-9-4 record earlier in March wasn't as bad as it looked as the Bruins lost eight of those 13 games by one goal.

They got back on track in March's last week by beating tough foes New Jersey, Toronto and Philadelphia.

Sutter's candidacy has been weakened by the team's six-game losing streak at the end of March, but buttressed on the team's 25-13-1 record behind goalie Scott Clemmensen during Martin Brodeur's four-month absence following bicep-tendon surgery.

Sutter has also been very important in the development of the Devils' personnel. Defenseman Johnny Oduya made great strides under Sutter and Paul Martin has become one of the NHL's most confident puck-handling defensemen. Zach Parise has become the NHL's second-leading goal scorer and captain Jamie Langenbrunner is having a career year after 13 NHL seasons. Patrik Elias is three points away from tying his second-best year in 12 seasons. Travis Zajac has 20 goals and 62 points and is fourth in the NHL with a plus-34 rating.

Boston is the best team in the NHL in five-on-five play and the Devils are second. Long-saddled with a defense-first reputation, the Devils rank fourth in shots taken. Sutter has made the Devils a much more dangerous offensive team without giving up anything on defense.

McLellan has done a great job in San Jose, lifting the mood, installing an effective power play and getting career years from a number of players.

McLellan is a modest, generous man who doesn’t take his success for granted. But he's coaching a team that many expected to win one of the past three or four Stanley Cups but failed. The Sharks have won three division titles and finished second three times in the past seven years and have lost one Western Conference championship series and four conference semifinals.

In short, McLellan’s job hasn't begun yet. He was hired to get this talented group past its tendency to collapse in the playoffs.
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