The New Jersey Devils welcomed their prospects Monday, a class that includes fourth-overall pick Adam Larsson. But there’s one noticeable vacancy overshadowing all of them.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record that the team will have a coach soon. They just won’t have him installed this week.
“It won’t be long,” Lamoriello told Gulitti. “(But) it won’t be this week.”
The delay in naming a new head coach has stretched longer than any time in recent memory. Several names were tied to the vacancy, but none were named by management as targets. Mike Haviland, a Chicago Blackhawks assistant and a New Jersey native, found his name once again connected to a Devils head coaching vacancy. Former NHL coaches Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien both found themselves mentioned as possibilities. Some media members speculated that ex-Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay could fill the position. But after his termination, he joined the Florida Panthers staff.
Media reports even linked the Devils to the collegiate ranks. Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, rumored to want a NHL head coaching job, found himself mentioned in the pool of possible candidates. He denied any connection to the position in a report two weeks ago.
With no coach in place, Larry Robinson will lead camp. He twice served as head coach, and spent last season as an assistant. He, like many others, is not an option for the coaching vacancy.
It seems the organization views the situation with a laid-back feeling. But the team should be concerned. They need to establish a system, and the rookies should have an opportunity to prove themselves in front of the most important decision makers. Instead, the players skate for people who don’t hold much control over roster decisions. It’s also important for these young players to learn the system of their (possible) future head coach.
At this time next week, the Devils may have a new head coach. But it’s once again another significant offseason event where the Devils lag behind the rest of the league.
This isn’t the way the New Jersey Devils’ envisioned their season.
After last night’s 7-1 beating at the hands of the Atlanta Thrashers, the Devils are 9-21-2 on the season. They’re 20 points put them two ahead of the lowly Islanders – who lost 14 straight games – for last in the entire league. The team’s -40 goal differential ranks last in the league, putting them one ahead of the Islanders.
The Devils expectations entering the season were dreams of a Stanley Cup championship. On paper, the team looked stacked offensively and serviceable on the defensive end. But they’ve come to resemble the same Islanders they sit above. New Jersey is a miserable team that fails to put a winning effort on the ice night in and night out. And while the dumpster fire continues to blaze red hot, several people need to take the blame.
1. Jeff Vanderbeek and Lou Lamoriello
The first finger needs to point toward the team’s management. The Devils spent the entire summer chasing after Ilya Kovalchuk, a player they clearly didn’t need. The Kovalchuk Saga was a constant cycle of bad press for the Devils. Rejected contracts and league fines followed, and the Devils now lose several draft picks to sign one player. Granted, Kovalchuk brings the potential of 50+ goals. But the team didn’t build around the left-winger. Instead, they insisted on signing a player who doesn’t fit the system.
That wasn’t the only negative Kovalchuk brought. The move put the Devils’ several million dollars over the cap. Instead of looking to deal players, Lamoriello sat back and used long-term injured reserved. The inability to make moves hung like a black cloud over the locker room. To this day, players are expecting something to happen because of the cap. There’s no room for players to grow or mesh, because they need to worry about their own production.
For the first time in a long time, Lamoriello’s bad moves cost the team. But it hasn’t been the general manager’s fault. The blame flows further down the list, to the Devils coaching staff.
2. The Devils Coaching Staff
Every single coach on this team shares the blame for the team’s horrid play. When John MacLean was hired, he promised a more offensive, puck-possession system. Players like Zach Parise hoped he’d breath some life into the organization. Instead, MacLean looks lost behind the bench. He hasn’t made necessary adjustments in-game. He hasn’t hammered home a system that fits this team. There’s no puck possession, no creative play, and no chemistry. The only thing working is the Devils’ powerplay right now, and that credit belongs to Adam Oates.
Larry Robinson needs to shoulder blame as well. The Devils defense is atrocious. Defenders make blind passes, constantly turn the puck over and misses assignments. Injuries have been an issue, but aren’t causing the terrible play. What was once the Devils’ strength is now a glaring weakness.
The onus falls on the entire coaching staff. The players aren’t executing the game plan. They have no motivation. It might not be the entire fault of the staff, but the burden falls on their shoulder. They need to get the players ready to play, plain and simple.
There are several words to describe John MacLean’s first season as Devils’ head coach.
His team continuously turns in inconsistent performances. The offense is terrible, the injuries are unfortunate, and the bounces have been unlucky. MacLean, who led the Devils AHL affiliate to the playoffs last season, can’t figure out how to get his team rolling. New Jersey currently resides in the league’s basement (29th out of 30 teams) and 13 points out a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Their goal differential sits at -30, tied with the New York Islanders for worst in the league. The Devils continue to play below their talent level and are one of the biggest busts of the early NHL season.
As the situation grows bleak, speculation grows that MacLean will lose his job. The head coach acknowledged those rumors today at practice.
“I can’t let any of that stuff enter into my mind,” MacLean said to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “That stuff is out here (holding his right hand out away from him). No control over that. I have control over coming to the rink every day, running practice, the games and making the decisions to try and help us win.”
While the easy solution would be firing MacLean, it’s not the best solution. The coach has struggled, but it’s been a perfect storm of unfortunate consequences that led the team to this point. Someone needs to be held responsible for the team’s performance, but it shouldn’t squarely fall on the shoulders of MacLean. Here are some other factors contributing to the Devils miserable performance thus far:
The Devils haven’t played with a healthy roster since training camp. During the season, several key players missed significant time. New Jersey played without scorers Brian Rolston (14 games) and Jamie Langenbrunner (eight games). They also lost defenseman Anton Volchenkov for 12 games, Matt Taormina for nine games (and counting) and Martin Brodeur missed nine games (and counting) with a nagging elbow injury. The team also lost Zach Parise to knee surgery and Bryce Salvador to a concussion.
That’s a long laundry list of important players. In their places, the Devils turned to unproven rookies and minor role players. That never allowed the lines to develop chemistry. It handcuffed the coaching staff and limited their ability to do much of anything. Other players haven’t stepped up, and maybe the coaches didn’t adapt well. But injuries are a major factor into this team’s struggles.
2. Team Wide Slumps
Contributing to the struggles is the team-wide slump affecting every single player. Ilya Kovalchuk is the poster boy for this crippling inconsistency. A proven goal scorer, Kovalchuk has five – FIVE – goals during the season. Jason Arnott only has nine goals, Patrik Elias has four, and Travis Zajac scored only three times. The Devils have received little production from the blue line as well.
It’s not only the offense. Brodeur is on pace for career lows in goals-against average (2.74) and save percentage (.901). As I stated above, the future Hall-of-Famer has battled a nagging elbow injury, reducing his ability to play consistent hockey.
Once again, the inconsistent play and team-wide slumps can’t fully be credited to MacLean. He can’t score the goals or make the necessary plays. The team’s play will only be as good as the players executing the system. Clearly, his players haven’t lived up to their end of the bargain.
Can you feel something in the air? There’s a slight chill in the air, and the leaves are changing colors. The baseball playoffs are in full swing, and the NFL is already four weeks into their schedule. It all adds up to the best time of the year – hockey season. And, for the New Jersey Devils, it begins tomorrow night at the Prudential Center against the Dallas Stars.
With the beginning of the season comes the obligatory team preview. Without further adieu, here’s The Devils’ Den’s 2010-2011 Season Preview.
The Devils endured the longest offseason in recent memory. The failed to make it out of the third round for the third consecutive season, losing the series 4-1 to the hated Philadelphia Flyers. That playoff loss left a bad memory on what was a rather successful season. New Jersey clinched second in the conference, won their ninth Atlantic Division title, and made the postseason for the 13th consecutive season. They also swept the Pittsburgh Penguins, 6-0-0, during the regular season.
The organization wasn’t satisfied with their playoff failure, deciding to make several changes. The first change came in the coaching staff. Jacques Lemaire, who lost the locker room by the end of the season, retired on April 26. The Devils decided to go with youth at the helm, promoting then-Lowell coach John MacLean, who served as a NHL assistant for seven years. MacLean brought in Adam Oates to help a woeful powerplay and kept Larry Robinson to help with the defense. With the coaching staff set, Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello turned to the roster.
Lamoriello began the roster overhaul early in the Devils’ offseason, acquiring Jason Arnott from Nashville for Matt Halischuk and a second round pick in 2011. Arnott, who scored the game-winning goal to give the Devils their second Stanley Cup Championship in 2000, would be reunited with former “A-Line” partner Patrik Elias and former Stars teammate Jamie Langenbrunner. The Devils then bought out longtime Devil Jay Pandolfo and Andrew Peters the day before free agency began.
In an uncharacteristic move, Lamoriello signed several free agents for this year’s team. On July 1, Lamoriello signed defenseman Anton Volchenkov (six-years, $25.5 million), defenseman Henrik Tallinder (four-years, $13.5 million) and goalie Johan Hedberg (one-year, $1.5 million). The team lost Paul Martin to the Penguins and Rob Niedermayer to the Sabres.
On July 19, the Devils doled out the largest contract in NHL history for Ilya Kovalchuk. The left-winger and New Jersey agreed to a 17-year, $102 million dollar contract. It passed through the NHLPA, but not the league office. The league rejected the contract, setting off a summer of arbitration hearings and constant frustration. Eventually the team and league settled on a 15-year, $100 million deal, with amendments made to the collective bargaining agreement to ban these contracts.
To read the rest of the preview, follow the jump!
As we continue toward the opening of training camp (veterans report tomorrow!) and the eventual 2010-2011 season, The Devils’ Den will once again begin The Devils Sports Page. This will be your one-stop shop for all Devils-related links around the web. So, without further adieu, here is today’s Devils Sports Page:
Will Devils teammates resent waves created by Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract? (Rich Chere/NJ.com)
Devils coach John MacLean affirms that Patrik Elias will play as left winger (Rich Chere/NJ.com)
Jamie Langenbrunner wonders if he’ll be traded by Devils to cut payroll (Rich Chere/NJ.com)
Gulitti: Devils’ players as dumbfounded as fans (Tom Gulitti/The Bergen Record)
Devils’ players react to Kovalchuk penalties, await salary-cap clearing moves (Tom Gulitti/Fire and Ice Blog)
Salvador and Zubrus dealing with trade talk; Cormier retires; Robinson happy to be back (Tom Gulitti/Fire and Ice Blog)
Here are some stories from today’s press conference:
Parise Excited To Play For MacLean
Add Zach Parise to the list of players excited to be playing for new head coach John MacLean.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Parise said to Tom Gulliti. “Hopefully, he’ll bring some new ideas, something fresh for all of us, because we need that.”
As the Devils all-time goals leader (347), the expectation is the team will become more offensive minded under MacLean. Parise believes MacLean will bring the team’s offensive game up to speed.
“Hopefully, we’ll be a lot more offensive minded and play more of a puck-possession game,” Parise said, “because that’s the way these teams that are winning now play.”
But it doesn’t all come down to offense. What matters is whether or not the players will respect the coach. Parise, who experienced MacLean running the bench during Lou Lamoriello’s two stints as coach. While he wasn’t the actual coach, Parise believed MacLean did a solid job.
“I really liked him then when he was doing that,” Parise said. “And when guys were called up from Lowell this year we’d always ask them how Mac was doing there and they all liked playing for him.”
So far, Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner have come to the support of MacLean. Hopefully, his hiring is this well received throughout the locker room.
Langenbrunner Will Remain Captain
Both Lamoriello and MacLean strongly supported Langenbrunner’s current captaincy, telling the media that there would be no change in captain this season.
“I think Jamie is a great leader,” MacLean said. “I actually played with him briefly (in Dallas in 2001) and, having coached him, I think he’s good for what we’re going to try to do here in the future. He’s been tremendous with the young guys and himself being a veteran he’ll be able to help everybody with the transition.”
Well, that ends any speculation from our point of view. Even though I wrote this piece about how Langenbrunner needed to go as captain, we won’t see that this year.
Robinson, Terreri To Remain With Staff
Both Larry Robinson and Chris Terreri will return to the Devils staff next season.
Robinson will return as MacLean’s top assistant, while Terreri will be back as the goaltending coach.
Scott Stevens will also remain with the organization as a “roving coach,” working in New Jersey, Albany and Trenton. Stevens requested to remain in that role during last season.
Tommy Albelin will also remain in the organization, but his position is to be determined. Albelin, who was an assistant for the past three years, wanted to gain bench experience. He may end up as an assistant with Albany.
Lamoriello and MacLean will pick one more assistant together. MacLean would prefer the assistant to be offensive minded, because Robinson can focus on defensive issues, but it’s not mandatory.
Back in the year 2000, then-Devils coach Larry Robinson came into the locker room, hot-headed and pissed off with the way his team played. The Devils, down 3-1 to the Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals, were one step away from elimination. Wanting to make his point known, Robinson kicked a garbage can across the locker room, hammering home his point that the Devils were better than their played showed. That moment became a famous one in Devils history, as the team turned its play around and won three straight, becoming the first team since the NHL expanded to come back from a 3-1 series deficit.
Ten years later, the Devils face the same situation. The Flyers are leading the series, 3-1, and the Devils have been outplayed in three of the four contests. Coming into tonight, the team needs to find a spark. That may have come from general manager Lou Lamoriello.
According to Star-Ledger reporter Steve Politi, Lamoriello went down to the visiting locker room after the Devils’ uninspiring 4-1 loss Tuesday night. The general manager, angry at his teams play, lit into the coaching staff. He got so angry, he picked up a jar of jelly and threw it at the wall. The jelly jar smashed, with its contents covering the locker room. While none of the players were in the room, it got Lamoriello’s message across – this is a team built for a deep playoff run, not a one-and-done playoff surprise.
It’s these moments of frustration we haven’t seen from any of the players. And, while they’ve remained largely positive, it’s refreshing to see someone in the organization get just as angry as the rest of us. But the incident differs from Robinson. Remember, Robinson did this in front of the players, getting their attention. Lamoriello did this only in front of the coaches, so it’s a smaller audience. But I think it had the same meaning. This is the head of the team. Lamoriello controls what players sit in that locker room next season. When the head man isn’t happy, no one should feel particularly comfortable.
While it didn’t have the shock factor for all of the players, this should still get the players fired up. As I said, this is the guy who controls the contracts of the players in the locker room. He expects results, and these players aren’t delivering. The Devils should make a mental note with this. Lamoriello’s anger not only affects the coaches, but it has a trickle-down effect. I would expect this to be a contributing factor to a more spirited performance tonight.
Hell, maybe if the Devils win the series, we can bookmark the “Jelly Jar” incident as another great locker-room outburst in Devils’ history.