The 2012 NHL Awards
were held last night in Las Vegas, Nevada
, also known as The Hockey Capital of the Western World. (Note: this may not be entirely accurate.) There were dozens, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of awards handed out (also a little iffy factually, maybe), virtually all of which bore the name of some long-deceased player or member of Canadian aristocracy. (There totally is such a thing
The St. Louis Blues did quite well for themselves; specifically, the club's brain trust took home some of the top hardware awarded. Ken Hitchcock won his first Jack Adams Award, more directly understood as coach of the year. Doug Armstrong collected General Manager of the Year honors (named not for the position but Dr. Generale Managier, a Quebecois surgeon who, in the mid 1930s invented a procedure to treat a condition common to hockey players known as Puck Ass), also his first trophy.
Congratulations to both men. The 2011-12 season was a downright magical one for Blues hockey, even if it ended a wee bit earlier than many of us had hoped.
The two awards are, of course, not entirely unrelated; after all, without the collection of talent Armstrong assembled Hitch wouldn't have had the horses to win, so to speak. More importantly, of all the moves Armstrong made in building this year's team, perhaps none loom so large over the club's ultimate success than hiring Hitchcock to replace Davis Payne
in early November. For that move alone, it's possible Armstrong deserved GM of the Year.
At the time of the coaching change, the Blues looked like the same underachieving bunch we had seen the past few years, starting the season off 6-7-0. It was still early, of course, but the same ugly mistakes and issues that had kept the team out of the playoffs the year before -- and had held them back from reaching the level most thought them capable of -- were still the order of the day.
From the point Hitchcock took over, the club went 43-15-11, ending the season with better than 100 points for the first time since 2001 and winning the best division in hockey. They were, to put it lightly, a transformed team. What had been an undisciplined and underachieving group of talented young players became a defensive powerhouse, a suffocating unit that never seemed to be caught out of position.
For the transformation, Hitchcock deserves all the credit in the world, and I certainly think he deserved the Jack Adams as well. I was afraid he would be overlooked after the Blues' somewhat unceremonious exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings, but luckily being the best team in hockey for a large chunk of the season made enough of an impression he still walked away with the award.
As for Armstrong, he deserves credit for the team he built. He deserves credit for making the right choice in hiring the right man for the coaching job. But even more than hiring Hitchcock, it might be the timing of the move that Armstrong should receive the most accolades for.
The Blues were only 13 games in to the season when the coaching change was made. It was early. Like, really really early. You don't see many major changes made after barely a dozen games. In fact, you hardly ever see it.
It would have been very easy for Armstrong to take the approach it was still early in the season. In fact, most of us probably would have commended him for not panicking. For believing in his coach, and his players, and staying the course. And hell, that might have worked out. We'll never really know if things would have turned around under Davis Payne or not. Looking back now, I don't believe it would have. But, maybe.
Instead of waiting, though, Armstrong made a move. He recognized the team's problems were neither new nor unique to this particular year. Rather than waiting and hoping, possibly watching another season of hockey slip away, he made a bold decision and changed the course of not only the season, but, frankly, the franchise.
More than anything else, that willingness to make a move when he felt it was needed, rather than waiting for it to be made abundantly obvious with another season of mediocrity is why Doug Armstrong deserved the General Manager of the Year award. There were plenty who believed bringing in Hitchcock was exactly the wrong move at the wrong time. Instead, it turned out to be exactly the right move, and more importantly, at exactly the right time.
Doug Armstrong and Ken Hitchcock turned the season around. Hitchcock did the work on the ice, with the players, and he deserves his award for that. But he never would have gotten the chance to turn this team around if Doug Armstrong hadn't made the decision he did, to change course before he had to and not let the 2011-2012 season slip away.