Today, one day before free agency begins; it is most likely that the Devils will name their next coach. Lou Lamoriello said after the Entry Draft that the next thing to do on his list of priorities was to find the next Head Coach. Since free agency begins Wednesday it would be in the best interest for the Devils to have a coach in place in order to keep the players they have that are free agents as well as being able to attract any newcomers (which is hard enough to do in New Jersey as it is).
There has been plenty of talk that former coach Jacques Lemaire is the most likely candidate to get the gig. He led the Devils to the Stanley Cup in 1995 and implemented the infamous “trap” system that brought the Devils to a legendary status defensively. He knows New Jersey as well as how things are run their, so it would be a smooth transition for Lemaire. But would it be in the best interests of the Devils to bring Lemaire back? Absolutely not. Last season they made enormous strides toward being better offensively, which had been trouble for years on end with New Jersey. With what Brent Sutter started, I feel it is a necessity to build on that with someone who can continue that. Lemaire is a great coach, don’t get me wrong, but based on his history in New Jersey and Minnesota, he stresses defensive hockey over any kind of offensive prowess. This is just not in the Devils plans right now, or at least it shouldn’t be. It would be a step backwards and if there is any chance of returning this team to a position as an annual cup threat, they simply must hire someone who is able to build on last season.
My personal choice would be Peter Laviolette. He is a Stanley Cup winning coach, he has proven he can win and he is a real players coach. The Devils can continue what they started in 2009 with Laviolette at the helm, plus he could be an extra edge against the Hurricanes, a team we seem to just struggle mightily with. Another option would be to promote from within and hire John Maclean. Maclean is said to be ready to be a head coach. When announcing he would be stepping down as the Devils coach, Brent Sutter went on record claiming he felt Maclean was ready to step into the role. Johnny Mac may be ready to coach, but it does not necessarily mean he is the right choice. Right now the Devils need an experienced coach who has seen up’s and down’s, ready to coach in a variety of situations. Maclean would be great for a team rebuilding or just building in general, but with the Devils come certain expectations and I don’t see him reaching those as a first year coach.
The other possible candidates are Ted Nolan the former Islanders coach who arguably possesses the best overall coaching ability than anyone available. Chicago Blackhawk’s Assistant Coach Mike Haviland is a native of Middletown, NJ (hometown guy) and began coaching in 1999 for the Trenton Titans. Haviland has never missed the playoffs as a coach in the minors and has won two championships, one of them being with Trenton, so he is a proven winner as a head coach. After spending time with the Blackhawk’s he would come to New Jersey with plenty of offensive tips from coaching all the talent they have over there.
Regardless of whom the Devils pick to be the next Head Coach I hope Lou is selecting someone who wants to be there. Brent Sutter lied to Devil fans everywhere saying he had “family problems”. No, he just wanted out of New Jersey plain and simple. It wasn’t good enough for him. He had to be in Calgary where hockey is bigger and he can have his ego fully satisfied. That’s just fine, good riddance to him. I can’t wait for the Devils to kick the crap out of the Flames 1 on 1 to show Sutter how great of a thing he left behind because he’s a baby. Moving on from my Sutter rant, the next coach has to want to be here. He has to see that the Devils have brand new facilities, the best front office in hockey, dedicated players, the best goalie of all time, and established success. Why we can’t keep anyone is a mystery to me, but I have confidence that Lou will select someone who can see how great the things in font of him are and what can be tremendous success while there. All of the pieces to winning are in New Jersey; we just need someone to realize it while here and give the dedication the players deserve. After a coach is named, Lou can go after some of those free agent names out there to make the Devils even better and a legitimate threat to hoist a fourth Stanley Cup.