New Jersey Devils Should Be Wary About Hiring Former Stars

(Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images) /

As soon as Martin Brodeur was announced as part of the leadership group succeeding Ray Shero, a section of fans began clamoring for old New Jersey Devils favorites to come back in leadership roles. This, complimented with a strong showing in the World Juniors and a coaching vacancy, has led to some suggestion that Patrik Elias go behind the bench for the Devils next season. Even Scott Stevens has seen his name thrown around, though at least he has some coaching experience.

All of these ideas are a disaster waiting to happen. If they work out, great. But if they don’t, you’ll end up with people who were either damaging their reputation or – worse yet – end up asset that cannot be fired.

NHL teams are always in love with the past and want to bring back old stars, even if they’re not a great fit for the role. It’s also one of the few sports where former players are given management positions, and these two facts interact regularly. A few years back, Sean McIndoe coined a word to describe this: starpotism. Sometimes it works. Often it doesn’t.

Two examples stand out: the Edmonton Oilers and the Colorado Avalanche.

Let’s start with the Oilers. We don’t even have to dwell on them that long – their recent history includes franchise notables like Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, and Wayne Gretzky. They’ve also been in perpetual rebuild mode since before Twitter with one playoff appearance to show for it. Even after lucking into Connor McDavid, it feels like nothing ever changes.

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Then there’s the Avalanche, and that paints a far more damning picture. We already have a solid look at worst case scenario, and it’s the man who played opposite Brodeur – Patrick Roy. After winning the Jack Adams Trophy, known by analytics fans as the PDO Award, he had two historically awful seasons in Denver. One problem: he was doubly unfirable. Not only was a he a franchise legend, his boss was good friend and fellow Avs legend Joe Sakic. Avs fans lucked out when Roy resigned from the team, because there was never going to be an easy way to fire him.

Occasionally, yes, it works out. Rod Brind’Amour has been a solid coach in Carolina, but that was after seven years of being an assistant coach. Ron Hextall did a reasonably good job in Philadelphia and was fired more because of impatient ownership than his actual job, but he had years of front office experience already. Meanwhile, Steve Yzerman’s return to Detroit wasn’t celebrated because he was a franchise legend – it was celebrated because he became the league’s best GM in Tampa Bay, and he was coming home to fix the broken Red Wings.

Elias, Brodeur, and to an extent Stevens have something more than damaging than Hextall or even Roy did, and that’s fresher memories. There’s been at least two or three generations of Flyers fans who never saw Hextall play. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of current Devils fans saw Elias and Brodeur and likely still own jerseys.

To put it in the simplest terms possible: several years back, the Devils brought back one of their biggest stars in John MacLean back as a head coach. His tenure was a disaster and his reputation has been damaged since. What happens if a more recent, more beloved star comes back and underperforms? Are we ready for that backlash?