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The Puck Stops Here

Devils Still Coachless

For the third time in five years, we are into July and the New Jersey Devils do not have a coach.  Conventional wisdom says this is a bad way to run a franchise.  Presumably a coach should be involved in the draft and the July free agent frenzy.  It is logical to fill out a roster in a way that suits a team’s coach.  This isn’t possible when the coach is unknown.  It is an important step for a coach to “buy in” to the way his team is selected.

The New Jersey Devils have run a franchise where the coach is an easily replaceable part.  This prevents them from hiring top coaches who have other more stable job options.  This pattern of being last in the league in hiring a coach takes some of the most attractive coaching options off the table before the Devils get around to hiring one.

The New Jersey Devils lost coach Brent Sutter to the Calgary Flames in 2009 when he was entering his last season of his contract.  He realized who replaceable he was in the New Jersey system and expected he was likely to be fired in the upcoming season.  He jumped to a more stable coaching position and remains the Calgary Flames coach to this day.

Sutter was hired as the Devils coach on July 12, 2007.  This was a similar situation to this year as the hire did not occur until well after the draft and the free agent frenzy.  When Sutter had success in the position, he jumped to a safer job in Calgary.

This left the Devils looking for a new coach.  It was July 13, 2009 before they hired Jacques Lemaire.  Lemaire was not looking for longterm security in a job.  He was hoping to coach for one year and then retire.  He had a successful year and then retired.

Breaking their pattern of waiting to hire a coach until well into the summer, they promoted assistant coach John MacLean to head coach on June 17, 2010.  There was fear that he might jump to a coaching job in another organization if they didn’t act quickly.  It turned out that MacLean was a very unsuccessful coach and he was fired and replaced by Jacques Lemaire, who was lured out of retirement to save the season.

With Lemaire again retiring, the Devils need a new coach.  They have gone back to taking their time to hire a coach.  Likely they will be forced to hire a less than top choice.

The rumor this week was that Guy Carbonneau might be the new coach.  He stepped down as coach of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, the team that he co-owns.  His team was a sub .500 team in the QMJHL last season.  He coached in the NHL for slightly less than three years with the Montreal Canadiens from 2006 to 2009.  During that time his team missed the playoffs one year, made the playoffs a second year and he was fired in the third.  This makes Carbonneau an interchangeable second rate coach.  That is the kind of coach New Jersey will likely be forced to hire.  Carbonneau is now on record saying he has not been offered the Devils coaching job and is presumably not their new coach.

At this point in the summer, the New Jersey Devils have no coach.  This is the third time in the last five years they have not had a coach at this point in the summer.  This is a poor plan to attract top coaches.  In fact their treating coaches as interchangeable parts has already coach the Devils a head coach in Brent Sutter.  I think this is a mistake in the way Lou Lamoreillo runs the New Jersey Devils and will likely lead to the team hiring a poorer coach than necessary this year.  It makes New Jersey an unattractive team to coach for coaches who have other options.

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Comments

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Brent Sutter left to be closer to home. You say he has been coaching in Calgary to this day, making it seem like its been a decade. It has been two seasons, one of which his brother was the GM. Jacques Lemaire is an Adams trophy winner, who only wanted to coach in NJ. He signed a two year deal, obviously intending to coach more than one, but the season was too much for a man his age. Before that the Devils had coaches such as Pat Burns, 3 time Adams winner, and Larry Robinson, who coached the Devils to back-to-back Cup appearances. None of these three coaches are in anyway scrubs.

And molding a team around a coach seems backwards to me. A coach’s tenure is often much shorter than that of the players. Molding a team around one coach and having him leave would be much worse than molding a team around a philosophy and then losing a coach.

As far as top-tier coaches not wanting to coach here, that is absurd. The Devils have a consistent track record of winner (ignoring the first half of this past season). A top-tier coach would not be out of a job and therefore not be seeking one, and those who are seeking employment obviously are not going to be picky.

Posted by Phil from NJ on 07/11/11 at 04:34 AM ET

Hockeymaven's avatar

Phil, well said. Despite never retaining a coach for long periods of time, the Devils have consistently found a way into the postseason, allowing themselves at least a perennial chance to win the Stanley Cup - something I’m sure that many other teams envy. Additionally, the blame cannot be placed entirely upon the shoulders of Lou. It was no secret that the captain-coach relationships between Jamie Langenbrunner and both Brent Sutter and Jacques Lemaire played a role not only in the removal of Sutter and Lemaire from their respective positions, but also in Jamie’s recent move to Dallas in the latter stages of last season. I’ve got a feeling Lou is a little gun-shy after witnessing the painful results of inexperience behind the bench at the beginning of last season. This is likely the reason why Kirk Muller was not pursued for the job, despite talks of his returning to New Jersey after a memorable playing career. All in all, Lou knows what he is doing and I’m sure he’s keeping busy. He is likely negotiating with Zach Parise to get a contract signed prior to his arbitration hearing in August, and I’m sure we will be hearing about a head coaching announcement sooner rather than later. GO DEVILS!!!!

Posted by Hockeymaven on 07/11/11 at 12:03 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

The idea that the Devils are a good team who many not have been badly burned yet by the poor way they treat coaches, doesn’t mean the way they treat coaches works.

We can argue some of the assumptions in that argument in the first place.  The Devils missed the playoffs last season.  hey did so largely because they had an inept coach in the first half of the season.  It isn’t hard to imagine that if Brent Sutter was still coaching the team that would not have happened and the Devils would likely have made the playoffs.

Even if that isn’t true, the way the Devils hire coaches is a problem.  It leads to them having weaker coaches than necessary.  This year’s coach is almost certainly a replaceable mid-level NHL coach at best and he does not get to “buy in” to the team by being consulted on their off-season moves, since the moves already happened and this coach is still unknown.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/11/11 at 01:33 PM ET

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Very well said, Phil, now I have nothing to add.  I think the first round game 7 collapse against Carolina sealed Sutter’s fate though, I am not convinced he was going to come back for the final year of his contract anyway.

Posted by Devils In The Details on 07/11/11 at 01:51 PM ET

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How can you say the way the Devils treat coaches doesn’t work, when clearly their track record proves it does? If you take out the one bad coach, MacLean, their record in the past decade is better than most teams. MacLean was hired because he had been in the organization for years as an assistant and had just coached the farm team. Lemaire’s retirement was unexpected, and the devils hired MacLean in mid June, clearly showing their belief in him and not that he was a last resort. There is no way they could have known that MacLean would not work out, and everything that happened early in the season can not be placed solely on MacLean.

Again if you take out MacLean, who was hired on a belief that he would be good, not as a last resort, name one coach the devils have had recently that can be considered weak. Sutter? Lemaire? Burns? Robinson? Julien?

The only thing I’ll allow is that the coaching turnover rate is bad. It’s not their hiring process that is the problem, it’s the coaches leaving by one way or another that is.

Posted by Phil on 07/11/11 at 02:46 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

We see an emerging pattern where it is becoming clearer and clear than the Devils do not treat their coach with respect.  This makes the coaching choices the team gets become weaker and weaker as coaches with other options will go elsewhere.

You cannot argue against an emerging trend by arguing that there isn’t a problem yet (unless Sutter being in Calgary is a problem or John MacLean is a problem - so maybe there are problems).  If a trend is emerging, the problems it causes are emerging too.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/11/11 at 03:43 PM ET

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What evidence can you possibly have that the devils don’t “treat their coaches with respect”? Lou went out of his way to hire sutter, and when he got homesick he let him out of his contract. Lemaire retired, and the devils respected that. MacLean paid his dues in the organization, and so he was given an opportunity. You’re argument is that because the devils had one subpar season, and that because they are taking a bit longer to hire a coach this year that somehow they are on a downward spiral. It makes no sense.

Posted by Phil on 07/11/11 at 04:02 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

The evidence (if you read the blog post) is that they do not hire them until very late in the process.  This removes them from any input into the draft, trades, free agency.  It removes them from “buying into” the roster decisions.  It clearly shows they are replaceable parts and will be replaced. 

If they need evidence they will be replaced they merely have to look at recent history.  Since the lockout, the Devils hired a new coach to start the 2005/06 season.  He didn’t last the year and Lou Lamoreillo took over.  They hired another to start the next year.  He didn’t last the year and Lou Lamoreillo took over.  They hired a coach who lasted two years and left because it was clear to him he would soon be fired and would have more job security in Calgary.  They then hired a coach who lasted one year.  They hired another coach who lasted half a year and brought back the previous coach to make it through the remainder of the year.  Now its almost the middle of July and they still need to hire a new coach.  New Jersey is not a place where coaches have any job security and potential coaches know this.  In fact, they know of two situations Lamoreillo fired a coach who had the team in the playoffs just before the playoffs began in an effort to shock his team into a better playoff run (it worked the first time and faikled the second).

If I was a coach who had any options, I would avoid New Jersey.  This leaves them choosing between coaches without other options.  These are not the best coaches in hockey.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/11/11 at 04:11 PM ET

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They hired maclean before the draft last year. If I remember correctly, he still didn’t go. Sutter didn’t leave for job security, he left because he is from calgary and his family is there.

As far as the coaches not having input on a roster, how is that a bad thing? You should make your team and find a coach that fits it. It is much easier to replace a coach than an entire team.

If you are a coach, and looking for a job, that most likely means you were recently fired, left the team, or were not a head coach the previous season. That right there eliminates the top tier coaches. Those remaining should jump at the chance to coach a highly skilled roster in a first class organization, regardless of their track record with coaches.

Posted by phil on 07/11/11 at 04:20 PM ET

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What evidence can you possibly have that the devils don’t “treat their coaches with respect”?

Well, Lamoriello twice fired coaches with winning records a few days before a playoff run. That’s pretty disrespectful: to make a guy coach a winning team the whole year and then can him just before he gets to the thing he was preparing for. I’m unaware that any other team has done that in, say, the last 20 years.

Closest would be how Bylsma and Boudreau got their jobs, but neither of them were taking over teams that were in the playoff picture. Jersey was leading the division (or was a point or two back) both times Lamoriello took over at the 11th hour.

Posted by steviesteve on 07/11/11 at 07:04 PM ET

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The Devils fire Ftorek because they were in a late season slump, and did not want another playoff disaster. I’d say it worked out pretty well considering we won the cup that year.

When the fired Robinson, they felt it was because he was “too nice”. They kept him within the organization, and he eventually came back to coach with them. That would actually be considered respect.

Finally, Julien was fired because he lost the teams respect. As such there was even an incident in practice where a player fired a puck at him, just to see his reaction. There was no consequence for this players action. Thus, Julien had to be let go.

Firing a coach may not be the nicest of actions, but this is a business. Lou demands results, and that you fit into the organizations philosophy. Its those two things that bring the great players and coaches here. It may not always be the nicest of events, but there is never an element of disrespect in them.

Posted by Phil on 07/11/11 at 07:17 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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