Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Coach of the Year

Who picks the coach of the year in the NHL? Who picks the other award winners? When do they do the voting? Does playoff performance have an impact? These are the questions often asked at this time of year when the 3 finalists are named in each of the NHL’s individual award categories are named.

For most of the individual player awards the voting is done by the NHL writers. Each NHL city is given a certain number of writer votes. Every NHL writer does not get a vote. It prevents certain cities from have voting dominance based solely on the fact they live in a city where there are more writers like Toronto, Montreal and New York.

The Jack Adams trophy for the coach of the year is voted on by the NHLBA. That’s the NHL broadcasters association. Only play-by-play and color announcers who a dues paying members are entitled to vote. The ballot has 3 positions on it for first, second and third place. Points are given to each position. 5 points for a first place vote, 3 for a second place vote and 1 point for a third place vote. So technically it is possible to win the coach of the year and yet not have received any first place votes as long as the coach receives enough points through second and third place nominations. To my knowledge it has never actually happened.

For both the player awards and the coach of the year award, the ballots must be in by the end of the regular season. Thus playoff success or failure has no impact on who wins the awards with the obvious exception being the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP.

As I mentioned the Writers do most of the voting with the exception of the Jennings, Rocket Richard and Art Ross trophy’s which are awarded based on simple mathematical performance. The GMs’ vote on the Vezina, the Governors vote on the King Clancy.

Often we get asked why playoff performance is not taken into account for many of these awards especially the Jack Adams and the Hart Trophy as the league MVP. It is true that often coaches and special players separate themselves from the pack in the playoffs and when the awards ultimately don’t reflect that it does seem uneven when the hardware is handed out. The problem is logistics. With writers and broadcasters all over North America, the ballots are still done manually. That means a piece of paper, a pen, an envelope and a stamp. With the awards being handed out in June shortly after the Stanley Cup is awarded, there would be no way to get the votes in, counted and then arrangements made to try and get as many of the award winners at the cerimony as possible.

It is not a perfect system, but it’s the only one which works for now. I can see a day in the very near future where it will all be done electronically so there is a possibility of having playoff performance included in the decision making process. But that still would not make it all completely without controversy. Firstly this league has so many great players you could argue for 3 or 4 or 5 guys for almost every award and none of the answers would be wrong. Second you can’t take a personal proclivity out of the voting process.

I will use the Hart Trophy as the example. This is supposed to be awarded to the player who is most valuable to his team. It is not necessarily the best player in the league. If Sydney Crosby is the best player in the NHL is he the MVP even though his team didn’t miss a beat when he was injured? Is Martin Brodeur the MVP since most hockey people believe that the Devils would be average or below average as a team if they didn’t have him. He clearly is a player who is hugely important to his team. The reality is many writers don’t bother to weigh team importance because it’s impossible to judge in any non subjective way. So they just pick who they think is the best player in the league.

Another example is the Lady Bing. Nobody really wants to win this award as the most gentlemanly player but for some reason writers don’t believe a defenceman can win it. I had a discussion with a writer friend of mine years ago and I used Igor Kravchuck as an example. In the 1997-1998 season he played 81 games, had 35 points, was a plus player on a winning team in a position where you can not avoid body contact and he had only 8 penalty minutes playing about 23 minutes per game. Even though he probably would not want to win it, but how can a guy like that be overlooked. I was told he is a defenceman and they don’t win the Lady. I checked the criteria and nothing says the writers can’t vote for a defenceman, but for some reason over time, it’s been decided nobody does.

See you at the rink.

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