Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Blues clean up at NHL Awards

Hitchcock named coach of the year, Armstrong GM of the
year; Backes second in Selke, Pietrangelo second-team all-star

ST. LOUIS -- It was a memorable season for the Blues and their ascension in the NHL ranks.

For their efforts, the league rewarded them royally.

The NHL handed out its 2012 awards on Wednesday night at the Wynn Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, and the Blues were front and center on stage as Ken Hitchcock became the fourth coach in franchise history to claim the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year, Doug Armstrong claimed the General Manager of the Year Award and the goalie tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott were on hand to be recognized as the Jennings Trophy winners.
(Getty Images)
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock addresses the audience after winning the
Jack Adams Award for coach of the year for 2012.

Hitchcock won in a landslide, beating out the New York Rangers' John Tortorella 355-108. Ottawa's Paul MacLean, a former Blue, came in third place.

It was an amazing job by Hitchcock, who was brought into the foray when Davis Payne was fired after the Blues began a season filled with promise at 6-7-0, good for 14th place in the Western Conference at the time. Hitchcock, who was living in Columbus and an advisor for the Blue Jackets, was able to change the culture of the team and go 43-15-11, helping the Blues finish with the second most points in franchise history (109) and two points behind Vancouver for the Presidents' Trophy. The Blues won the Central Division title for the first time since 2000 and advanced to the second round of the postseason for the first time in a decade.

"I just feel like ... you know, I'm 60 years old and I feel as current as any coach in the league," Hitchcock said afterwards. "I know what's going on. I feel like it just validates my belief system and the commitment by the players.

"The award is a voting process and who knows where that goes. But I think when you get nominated, it validates our team play and elevates the commitment by the players."

Hitchcock, who was named the 24th coach in franchise history, joined
Joel Quenneville in 2000, Brian Sutter in 1991 and Red Berenson in 1981 as previous Blues coaches to win the award.

Hitchcock, whose Blues were beaten by eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles and Brian Sutter's brother Darryl, joked, "Darryl, I wish you would have stayed in Viking (Alberta)."

"It's a really volatile business right now and being able to survive this long, I'm really proud of that," said Hitchcock, who during his speech thanked Tampa Bay assistant coach and personal friend Wayne Fleming, who is fighting brain cancer. Hitchcock and Fleming worked together when the Blues' coach was coaching in Philadelphia

Hitchcock finished the regular season with 1,110 games coached, which is 13th all-time and he's 11th in wins (576). In playoff history, he ranks 9th all-time in games (127) and 11th in wins (70).

This is Hitchcock’s first Jack Adams Award and fourth time being nominated, as he finished second in 1997 and third in 1998 and 1999.
(Getty Images)
Blues GM Doug Armstrong addresses the audience after winning
the 2012 General Manager of the Year Award.

Armstrong was the orchestrator not only in making the change to bring Hitchcock in but also helping construct a lineup that was short on superstar-caliber talent but it carried a plethora of grit, heart and determination that culminated into one strong group.

The Blues were in the bottom 10 in payroll this past season (23rd), but Armstrong was able to tweak a younger cast and add some important veteran pieces to elevate the Blues into a playoff position for the first time since 2009 and only the second time since the lockout.

"The thing that I'm very proud of is to me, this is an organizational award," Armstrong said. "It encompasses the marketing, finance people and everyone. To have a season like we did, it takes everyone pulling in the same direction and I really did accept it on behalf of the entire St. Louis Blues family."

The Blues broke or tied 13 franchise records this season, including a 21-game home points streak and 30 home wins. They allowed the NHL's fewest goals against (165), the fewest shots per game (26.7) and posted the most shutouts (15).

Many of those numbers came with Halak and Elliott the backbone of the team's defensive posture in goal.

The duo combined for a league-high 15 shutouts, which tied a modern NHL record set by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1969-70 and surpassing the club mark of 13 set by Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante in 1968-69. Elliott (nine) and Halak (six) also are the first tandem in NHL history to record at least six shutouts apiece in the same season.

Halak (26-12-7) ranked fifth in the NHL with a 1.97 goals-against average and posted a .926 save percentage. He won a career-high eight consecutive decisions, including six straight on the road, Feb. 23-March 11.

Elliott (23-10-4) led the NHL with a 1.56 GAA and .940 save percentage. He set franchise records for shutouts (nine) and a 241:33 shutout streak, also personal bests. His three consecutive shutouts from March 22-27 equaled the franchise mark set by Greg Millen in 1988-89.

(Getty Images)
Blues goalies Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott pose with the
Jennings Trophy at the 2012 NHL Awards in Las Vegas. 

Elliott and Halak finished fifth and sixth, respectively in voting for the Vezina Trophy.

Captain David Backes fell short in his bid to win the Selke Trophy, given to the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive part of the game. Boston's Patrice Bergeron won the award, with Backes placing a distant second -- ahead of Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk -- with 24 first place votes.

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was named to the NHL's second-team All-Star squad and finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting. Ottawa's Erik Karlsson won the award this season.

All-in-all, it was a good night for the Blues, as they received a big dose of recognition, and if the summer is any indication, Armstrong will be busy constructing more components to add to what was a solid year.

"We're going to be active this summer and we're going to hope to keep moving forward," Armstrong said. "This season was a perfect storm in many ways. Unfortunately, we couldn't get to where we wanted, we fell 12 wins short. But this is a good stepping-stone."

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