The New Jersey Devils have had one of the most inconsistent seasons in their history. The offense was very suspect all season. The defense had its bright spots, but has also been inconsistent due to the large amount of youth. The goaltending was the one constant aspect of their lineup, which game to play every night. The one part of their team, which has garnered confusion throughout the season, has been their coaching staff.
This is the fourth part of my five-part series reviewing the Devils season. You can find my article on New Jersey’s forwards here, their defense here, and the goaltending here. The future is the last part, but for now its time to dissect what has been one of the most confusing coaching seasons in New Jersey Devils history.
Pete DeBoer Era Is Over
Former Devils head coach Pete DeBoer has taken a lot of criticism in the seasons after he got the team to the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2012. There was the lockout season, which was the first without Zach Parise, and the team failed to make the playoffs. Then came the 2013-2014 season, which the team also failed to make the playoffs, and it was without the services of Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson. This past regular season turned out to be the last straw; as it saw DeBoer fired before Christmas with a record of 12-17-7 for 31 points.
Ever since New Jersey made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, I have always been in DeBoer’s corner. Parise, Kovalchuk, and Clarkson leaving were out of his control, and he got stuck with an anemic offense that couldn’t score goals. Even with GM Lou Lamoriello trying to restock his offensive cupboard, there just wasn’t enough talent to call for a playoff berth. Lets flashback to one of DeBoer’s best moments with the Devils in the playoffs against John Tortorella.
The biggest criticism of DeBoer was his handling of the defensemen, specifically Adam Larsson. It’s not a coincidence that Larsson blossomed after DeBoer was fired. DeBoer continually kept Larsson out of the lineup, and if he were still the head coach, Larsson could have been traded at the deadline
One thing is for certain though; Pete DeBoer isn’t a bad coach. His system kept the Devils in many games throughout his tenure, but the lack of star players hurt the franchise badly. It has been a trend though for DeBoer. He had terrible teams in Florida, and then when he finally got a good team with the Devils, he got them to the Stanley Cup Finals in his only trip to the post-season. He hasn’t made the playoffs in any other season, and will go down as one of the unluckiest coaches in the past decade.
Devils Need One Coach, Not Three
It was understandable that Pete DeBoer was fired. It was inevitable. However, to replace him with three coaches was ludicrous. Adam Oates took over the offense, Scott Stevens looked over the defense, and apparently Lamoriello took over as head coach. We assume that because he came out for post-game press conferences, but he delegated other actions to Stevens and Oates.
Lamoriello didn’t want to have to put the burden of this offense on anyone but himself, and to take responsibility for his actions was admirable. There is still no excuse for what this season has been Devils. Their philosophy isn’t what it once was, and they need to find the right guy to implement it. In the meantime, Oates and Stevens didn’t do a bad job once they were re-hired.
Adam Oates did a fine job with the power play, as even though New Jersey didn’t have much offensive talent, they still finished with the 8th ranked power play in the league. I’m sure that Oates also had a hand in revitalizing Steve Bernier’s career, but in general, there was only so much he could do with that team.
Scott Stevens did a fantastic job for the Devils. There were rumors that Stevens and DeBoer had philosophical differences in their approach, and that’s fine, it happens. Although when Stevens got to teach the defensemen his way, the development of guys like Adam Larsson, Damon Severson, and Jon Merrill was clear.
We aren’t sure who will be the head coach for next season, but if it turns out to be Stevens or Oates, I won’t be disappointed because they have both proven that they can offer a lot to an NHL bench.
It seems that this off-season will offer more head coaching options than in recent years. We have guys like Todd McLellan (San Jose Sharks), Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh Penguins), Paul MacLean (Ottawa Senators), Kirk Muller (Carolina Hurricanes), and the thought of being an option for Mike Babcock (Detroit Red Wings) would be something else.
Those are just a few of the candidates in a stacked off-season for coaches. Who the Devils will select, we have no idea, but Lamoriello had better do his homework on this one. He initially made the right choice with Pete DeBoer, but this time his decision needs to be for the long-term.
Once Babcock gets taken off the market, I would want to choose between Todd McLellan, and Paul MacLean. The reason for this? Both of them have coached under Mike Babcock. It’s comical to put it like that, but the fact that New Jersey has a chance at Babcock, McLellan, and MacLean could put them in great shape for the future.
Even if New Jersey manages to snag of them, the road to being a contender will be a challenge, but it would definitely speed up the process.