by PuckStopsHere on 07/14/09 at 02:59 AM ET
While I think it was a mistake for the New Jersey Devils to wait this long before hiring a coach, they got out of that situation in the best possible way by hiring Jacques Lemaire as coach. Jacques Lemaire is my pick as best coach in the NHL. Lemaire has had successful stints as coach of the Devils in the 1990’s and the Minnesota Wild. He won coach of the year in both stops and won the Stanley Cup in his New Jersey stint. He is one of the few coaches in the NHL who can consistently get results out of his team that are better than their talent level.
New Jersey has not been an organization that is friendly to coaches under Lou Lamoriello’s management. They cycle through a coach every year or two. The Devils coach is treated like a disposable part. On two occasions the coach has been fired at the end of the season, when things appear to be going well, in order to try to shock the team into a big playoff run. It last happened unsuccessfully when current coach of the year Claude Julien was fired in 2007.
This has created an atmosphere in New Jersey that coaches would like to avoid if they have other options. Brent Sutter had been a successful coach in his two years in New Jersey, but as he entered the final year of his contract he knew he was a lame duck coach. It was almost certain that Lamoriello would fire him at some point during the season, unless the team wildly exceeded expectation. When faced with that lack of job security, Sutter looked for other work. It was easy to accept a job in Calgary working for his brother Darryl with the Calgary Flames.
The New Jersey Devils appeared to be in a bit of a coaching mess. They had lost their coach and were very slow to fill the job. They showed a lack of respect for the coaching position by waiting this long to fill it. One would think if coaching was a priority, an opening would be filled quickly to ensure that the best candidates were still available.
New Jersey comes out of that situation in the best possible manner. They have a top coach in Jacques Lemaire. If Lemaire can have a long successful run in New Jersey, these issues may be forgotten by future coaches. In the short term, I expect that New Jersey does better than many predict, because Lemaire teams do that consistently.
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