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Plenty of success follows Adams finalists

by John McGourty
San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan and Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien, who led the NHL's top two teams this season, and Andy Murray, who lifted the St. Louis Blues to a surprising Stanley Cup Playoff berth, are the three finalists for the 2009 Jack Adams Award in voting by the NHL Broadcasters' Association.

The Sharks topped the Western Conference with an NHL-best 117 points. The Bruins won the Eastern Conference with 116 points.

McLellan guided the Sharks to their fourth Pacific Division crown in the past seven years and to their first Western Conference title and first Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL's best team during the regular season. If selected, he would be the first Sharks coach to win the Adams Award.

Julien led the Bruins from an eighth-place finish in the Eastern Conference a year ago to front-running victories in the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference. If selected, Julien would join previous Bruins' Jack Adams Award winners Don Cherry in 1976 and Pat Burns in 1998.

The Blues were the fourth-worst team in the NHL a year ago, but under Murray's guidance they produced an NHL-best 25-9-7 second-half record that propelled them to sixth place in the Western Conference and their first Stanley Cup Playoff appearance in four seasons. Blues coaches Red Berenson in 1981, Brian Sutter in 1991 and Joel Quenneville in 2000 also won the Adams.

The award is named for one of the legendary leaders in hockey history. Adams, a center, won two Stanley Cups playing for the 1918 Toronto Arenas and 1927 Ottawa Senators. He began a 36-year career with Detroit's NHL franchise in the fall of 1927. Adams coached or general managed the Red Wings to seven Stanley Cups. Ironically, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1959 as a player.

Philadelphia Flyers coach Fred Shero won the first Jack Adams Award in 1974. Red Wings coach Jacques Demers is the only repeat winner, in 1987-88. Burns is the only coach to win three times, with Montreal, Toronto and Boston, while Scotty Bowman, Pat Quinn and Jacques Lemaire have won twice.

Bill Barber, in 2001, and Bruce Boudreau, the reigning winner, are the only midseason replacements to win the Jack Adams Award. The only coaches to win the Jack Adams Award and Stanley Cup in the same year were Shero, Bowman in 1977 with Montreal, and John Tortorella with Tampa Bay in 2004.

The 2009 NHL Awards will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on June 18 on VERSUS in the United States and CBC in Canada. Tickets to the 2009 NHL Awards are on sale at and at the Pearl Concert Theater Box Office.

Here is a closer look at the finalists:
Claude Julien, Boston Bruins -- Chris Drury was asked how the Rangers could win Game 6 (they didn't) of their first-round series against the Capitals with their coach suspended, their agitator, Sean Avery, benched and Drury playing with one good arm. He replied it wasn't about people -- victory stemmed from successfully executing the coach's system.

That's buying in.

That's what the Boston Bruins have done in their two years under Claude Julien's system. The Bruins, a collection of mostly imported players from other teams, could look at the combined accomplishments of the players in the dressing room, and Julien's 119-86-33 record as an NHL coach for three seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils, and easily determine which was better.

They bought in. There may be no more important reason for the Bruins’ success this season than their faith in their coach's system. It's a mantra with them: "If we play within our system, good things will happen."

"For me, he's helped me out a lot. Coming in as a young guy, I didn't really know what to expect and all those things," Milan Lucic said. "He's shown trust in me to give me confidence to get where I am right now. He has confidence in me that I'm able to go out there and contribute and play a part in this team. That has helped me a lot. He deserves it ... he has done a great job in his two years here."

"I've had good coaches that are completely different, that taught the game and really developed skill, but when it came time for game time and the attitude surrounding a losing streak -- or a winning streak for that matter -- there was maybe a lack of control in certain situations," Andrew Ference said. "He walks the line so well, having respect for the players, but also demanding the players respect what he is trying to teach. It's really a hard line to walk when you are dealing with so many different attitudes and so many different personalities. To be hard enough on people to get the most out of them, but without crossing that line of being offensive. It's tough and he has done that so well. He's gotten guys to really maximize their games. You go down and look at our talented guys like Savvy (Marc Savard) and Kess (Phil Kessel) and the turnaround and how much more complete their games are. That just doesn't happen on its own; that comes from coaching."

The next two biggest reasons for the Bruins’ success are hard work and faith in their goaltender, Tim Thomas, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.

The Bruins work relentlessly or Julien takes immediate action. He can be as enigmatic as the legendary Scotty Bowman with a player. Over the second half of the season, it seemed Milan Lucic's assignments, first, second, third or fourth line, were based on how hard he worked the previous game. Leading goal scorer Phil Kessel was benched in the playoffs last season and leading scorer Marc Savard became one of, if not the, team's best defensive players.

Dennis Wideman went from defensive liability on the blue line to plus-32 while posting 13 goals and 50 points. Chuck Kobasew and Michael Ryder regained their scoring touches and greatly improved their defense. Young players Kessel, Blake Wheeler, David Krejci and Matt Hunwick blossomed under Julien.

"At the rink, he keeps everything under control and we know what to expect coming to the rink every day," Wideman said.

Todd McLellan, San Jose Sharks -- In General Manager Doug Wilson's first four seasons, with Ron Wilson as coach, the Sharks won two division titles and finished second twice and went to the conference final in the first season. But they couldn't get past the second round the next three years. Wilson was replaced by Todd McLellan, who had won the 2008 Stanley Cup as an assistant coach with the Red Wings.

McLellan is an extremely dedicated, hard-working student and teacher of hockey with an ability to make people feel good about themselves. The latter was cited as one of the criteria for the new coach. McLellan was also seen as an expert on special-teams play.

That proved true. San Jose had its best power-play in five years, 24.2 percent effective, and finished fifth with 83.3 percent effectiveness on the penalty kill. They were nine points better than a year ago.

The Sharks bolted out of the gate to records of 15-3-1, 20-3-1, 25-3-2 (setting an NHL record for most points after 30 games, 52) and 31-5-5, but went 22-13-6 over the second half when they were plagued by injuries. They collected 82 percent of the available points in the first half and dipped to 61 percent in the second half.

Playoff GearAndy Murray, St. Louis Blues -- The Blues were swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Vancouver Canucks and walked off the ice to a standing ovation. That's rare and a tribute to the acumen of the St. Louis fans, who this season watch a team that wasn't expected to do much, and then was expected to do even less after the long-term injuries to Paul Kariya, Erik Johnson, T.J. Oshie, Eric Brewer and Andy McDonald, get up off the floor and produce the best second-half record in the league.

Former Nashville goalie Chris Mason went 27-21-7 with a 2.41 goals-against average, tied for ninth in the NHL, and provided the reliable goaltending the team needed. Brad Boyes again led the team with 33 goals and 72 points while David Backes cracked the 30-goal mark in his third season with 31. David Perron nearly doubled his points total to 50 in his sophomore season and Patrik Berglund and Oshie had excellent rookie seasons.

Trade acquisitions Alexander Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo picked up their games for Murray. Keith Tkachuk had 25 goals.

Murray's best work may have been with the defense, where only one player, Barret Jackman, played all 82 games. No other defenseman wore the Blues sweater for more than 69 games. Jeff Woywitka was plus-8, as was rookie Tyson Strachan in 30 games.

The Blues' season was the mirror opposite of San Jose's. The Sharks started hot and then struggled as injuries cropped up. The Blues dealt with injuries, adjusted and finished as well as the Sharks started.

Murray has coached all over the world and the final game of the season was his 700th in the NHL. He has a deep well of experience from which to draw and this was probably his finest performance.

Contact John McGourty at

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