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Devils Need A Veteran Presence Behind The Bench

The Devils need a new coach, and Ken Hitchcock would bring a veteran presence and winning record to the team. Photo Credit: Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

It’s the offseason, which means the New Jersey Devils can only be doing one thing – looking for a new head coach.

Today, Devils’ president and general manager Lou Lamoriello announced the team would not hire a coach before the NHL Entry Draft Friday night. A few names are connected to the Devils, most notably Ken Hitchcock. There doesn’t seem to be a candidate on the horizon, and New Jersey appears doubtful to have a coach by the open of free agency. For a team that missed the playoffs, it’s incredible that this checklist item hasn’t been done.

There are several qualified and interesting candidates out there. Lamoriello could return to former Devil Kirk Muller, who is an assistant with the Montreal Canadiens. Mike Haviland, one of the hotter coaching prospects, could lead the team. Recently-fired Craig Ramsay would bring a veteran presence behind the bench.

With so many candidates, it’s a crapshoot as to who will become the organization’s next coach. There should be, however, one determining factor – the amount of actual NHL coaching experience. If the Devils want to return to the postseason, they need to hire a veteran coach.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea – just look at last season. John MacLean, the team’s assistant coach from 2002-2009, helped coach the Lowell Devils to a winning record during the 2009-2010 season. They finished fourth in the Atlantic Division and made the playoffs. They couldn’t advance past the first round, but he did exactly what the organization wanted – gain experience and show he could succeed as a coach.

Devils fans were excited to welcome one of the most successful former players to the bench. MacLean promised a more up-tempo system and a continued emphasis on “the Devils way.” After several first-round flameouts, he seemed to breath life into the organization. Many believed he would be the change this veteran team needed.

That optimism lasted until the end of October. MacLean promptly led the team into a tailspin. By December 23, the Devils were 9-22-2 and MacLean didn’t have a job. In rode Jacques Lemaire, leading the team on an incredible second half run.

The run proved something pivotal to the franchise’s success – the vital need to find a veteran coach. There’s no doubt the Devils are changing the guard. This isn’t the Devils of the early-2000s, with a large core of older players supplemented by younger call-ups. An AHL coach could find success with the various young players on this roster. The veterans, however, won’t respond to the unproven coach. It didn’t happen last year, and I’d seriously doubt it happening again.

I’m not going to guess on the team’s next head coach. With Lamoriello, playing the guessing game is an exercise in futility. But I will bet on one thing – the Devils next coach won’t be some hotshot assistant making his coaching debut. It’ll be an established veteran with a proven track record.

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