Todd McLellan, Claude Julien and Andy Murray are the finalists for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year, but is was a season with many strong candidates.
“There could be seven guys win it this year,” former coach Don Cherry, a Jack Adams winner in 1976 with the Boston Bruins, said Friday.
McLellan led San Jose to the President’s Trophy as the league’s first-place overall team in his first season with the Sharks, while Julien took Boston to top spot in the Eastern Conference with 116 points after finishing eighth a year ago.
Murray’s injury-riddled St. Louis Blue jumped from last to sixth place in the Western Conference with a league-best 25-9-7 record in the second half of the season.
The winner will be announced June 18 at the NHL awards show in Las Vegas.
“I hope Claude wins it because he’s a Boston Bruin,” Cherry added on a conference call.
He was right that there were other worthy candidates.
Ken Hitchcock took the Columbus Blue Jackets to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Mike Babcock led the Detroit Red Wings to their ninth straight 100-point season after winning the Stanley Cup last spring.
Bruce Boudreau, last year’s winner, got his gifted young Washington Capitals into second spot in the east and Joel Quenneville took over the Blackhawks two weeks into the season and brought Chicago’s young talent to fourth in the west.
Murray has a chance to become the fourth Blues coach to win the Adams, after Red Berenson in 1981, Brian Sutter in 1991 and Quenneville in 2000. Julien is vying to become the third Bruins coach to win after Pat Burns in 1998 and Cherry. No Sharks coach has ever won.
Julien, 49, who won a Memorial Cup with Hull in 1997, was fired in-season from his two previous NHL jobs – by Montreal in January 2006, and by New Jersey with only a week left in the 2006-07 season, when he had a 49-24-9 record with the Devils.
He got the Bruins into the playoffs last spring for the first time since the 2004-05 lockout and then formed them into the powerhouse of the East, getting big seasons out of players reputed to be difficult to coach, including Mark Savard and Phil Kessel.
The 41-year-old McLellan replaced Ron Wilson with the Sharks after serving as an assistant to Babcock for Detroit’s Cup run. Since the award is based on the regular season, San Jose’s elimination by Anaheim in the first round of playoffs won’t work against the Melville, Sask., native.
Murray, 58, got the Blues into the playoffs for the first time since the lockout with a huge second half, despite missing key players like Eric Brewer, Paul Kariya and Erik Johnson with long-term injuries.
The Gladstone, Man., native joined St. Louis in December, 2006 after seven seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. He also coached in Europe, and led Canada to gold at the 1997, 2003 and 2007 IIHF world championships.