|Todd Nelson (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)|
It’s important to note that we aren’t allowed to vote for Texas Stars, since we cover the team. And, due to the nature of the AHL scheduling, we haven’t seen an Eastern Conference team or player this season (Texas has played three Eastern Conference teams all-time: the Hershey Bears, St. John’s IceCaps, and Syracuse Crunch).
Keep that rule and guideline in mind. We can’t vote for Texas, and we tend to vote for Western Conference players.
Award winner: Rick Kowalsky, Albany Devils
Texas media ballot:
- Todd Nelson, Grand Rapids Griffins
- Dean Evason, Milwaukee Admirals
- Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Marlies
Stephen: Sometimes this award is about blowing away the competition, and sometimes it’s about beating expectations. Usually it’s a little bit of both. Take as an example the Texas Stars’ 2013 winner of this award, Willie Desjardins. The previous year, the Stars had missed the playoffs with the worst record in the conference. Desjardins turned it around to snag the award with the best record in the conference just a year later. Mike Stothers won last year, but his was more on the ‘blowing it away’ side of things. Manchester was expected to be good, but they were really good.
Sean: This year’s winner seems like a bit of both, like it usually is. Kowalsky has the guided Albany to its best record since 1999 and he’s improved the team from last season. We did not vote for him for a couple reasons.
- We never saw an Eastern Conference team and it’s hard to judge what he did for Albany by simply looking at points (or points percentage).
- While Albany missed the playoffs last season, but just barely. This wasn’t a complete overhaul and Kowalsky has been coaching Albany for six seasons -- so the system in Albany is fairly reflective of him.
To reiterate, I’m not saying he’s not a quality coach. We just believe the three candidates on our ballot did a better job this season.
Todd Nelson, Grand Rapids Griffins
Sean: Todd Nelson jumped to the top of our ballot for a number of reasons, but the biggest was how his team adjusted from a cataclysmic start to the season.
Nelson took over for Jeff Blashill, now the coach of the Detroit Red Wings, with lofty expectations. Then Grand Rapids fizzled out of the gate and went from an early Calder Cup favorite to the worst team in the AHL.
Instead of combusting, the Griffins fixed the problem and went on a pair of lengthy win streaks. Grand Rapids set a franchise record with 15-game run, then added a 13-game run for good measure and each of those streaks were aided by victories against the Texas Stars.
It’s been interesting to see what Nelson can do with a talented roster, and it’s shown his abilities as a coach. For years we saw him push the Oklahoma City Barons to standings position’s above their talent level and helped piece together lengthy playoff runs.
Yes, he had a good team. But with how he handled a coaching transition and helped Grand Rapids overcome early failure made him a clear first choice in my mind.
Dean Evason, Milwaukee Admirals
Stephen: I’m not sure if there will be a season that Dean Evason doesn’t find his way onto our ballot. As long as his Admirals continue to make the playoffs in the fashion that they usually do (last year being an exception), he’s going to garner our consideration for the award.
Sean and I really like the way that his team plays hockey. It’s a strong defense-based game, always. This year, they rank 3rd in goals against per game at 2.46. They’ve gotten some solid goalie play to help them get there, but the team commitment to stopping the puck is evident across seasons. This year, it’s pushed them toward the top of the Central Division and will make them very dangerous in the playoffs.
Additionally, he continues to help the team develop top-flight talent for Nashville. If you look at the roster of the Predators, you’ll spot so many that came through Milwaukee. This year’s crop is sure to be no exception with Kevin Fiala, Viktor Arvidsson, Vladislav Kamenev and Juuse Saros near the top of the list.
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Marlies
Stephen: So about that ‘blowing it away’ thing…
Sheldon Keefe’s Marlies have been running roughshod over the Eastern Conference basically all season. In many years, a record like his would have placed him at the top of the pack. However, this season, you take one look at the Marlies roster and you realize they would have had a great chance to be good with almost anyone at the helm.
Sean: Since they’re in the Eastern Conference we didn’t get to see it up close. But, Toronto’s season reminds me of what Texas did in the Western Conference two seasons ago when Desjardins would have been a strong coach of the year candidate if he hadn’t won it already (since 1969 there have been only two repeat winners).
Stephen: As we mentioned earlier, I would really love to see runner up for this (and every) award, because you have to think that Keefe was right up there. The domination that his team showed over the East was incredible and is probably going to send them all the way to the Calder Cup Finals, if not see them win the whole thing.