John Stevens led the Flyers to within one series of the Stanley Cup after finishing dead last the previous season. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Our NHL coach of the year is being recognized for what we believe is an underrated turnaround.
John Stevens’ Flyers went from last overall in the NHL in 2006-07, to sixth in their conference, posting a points improvement of 39.
The only coach who came close to matching the feat in 2007-08 was Washington’s Bruce Boudreau (plus-24). That the Flyers toppled the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs, then upset the No. 1-seeded Canadiens in Round 2, carried significant weight in our decision.
"There was a lot of pressure on John and his staff coming into this season," said chairman Ed Snider in a statement. "It's truly remarkable what he was able to accomplish, taking us from last place a season ago into the Eastern Conference Finals. Our entire organization is extremely proud of all that John and his team accomplished this year. It is great that The Hockey News has recognized John with this honor."
Stevens demonstrated a slick touch working with his youthful lineup, helping instill confidence and develop the talent he’d been handed.
"John did an exceptional job in his first full season as a head coach in the NHL and of our hockey club," said GM Paul Holmgren. "He and his staff worked well together and he is very deserving of this award."
A coach’s demeanor behind the bench can have a profound impact on the psyche of his players and Stevens’ calm countenance sent a loud message: panic, overreaction and complaining aren’t necessary.
"To me, this is more of an organizational award than a coaching award," said Stevens. "I think that it's a reflection of all the good things done from Paul Holmgren down to the players. The honor was given to me, but in my mind it should be given to the entire organization for all the work that everyone has done."
Our executive of the year, Red Wings GM Ken Holland, is quick to reference some of his best decisions have been about team-building…in the front office.
He is surrounded by an elite staff of advisors, including assistant GM Jim Nill, vice-presidents Jimmy Devellano and Steve Yzerman, consultant Scotty Bowman, Euro super-scout Hakan Andersson and an exceptional coach in Mike Babcock.
And while our exec award takes into account both the regular season and playoffs, the roots of the honor snake down through several years of work; it’s not all about 2007-08.
What makes the Wings’ achievements more remarkable is they’ve done it without the aid of high draft picks and in spite of a cap system that is designed to discourage dominance.
Since the lockout ended, the Wings have amassed 352 regular season points, 36 more than the second-most successful club, Dallas.
They’ve punctuated that with six playoff round wins over the three-year stretch, tied with Anaheim for tops in the league.
Holland and company deserve kudos for landing Brian Rafalski as a free agent last off-season, but also for resisting temptation at the deadline to overpay for a hired gun.
Rather, they complemented their depth with Brad Stuart, rounding out an already superior defense corps.
Congratulations to both our winners.