Lou's coaching moves speak volumes
You can tell plenty about the future of the New Jersey Devils
from the coaches Lou Lamoriello hires, writes TFP's Greg
(WASHINGTON, DC) -- Lou Lamoriello's coaching changes
are the hockey equivalent of a mood ring.
Wherever the president/general manager/former
coach/ruler of all he surveys sees the New Jersey Devils
headed, that foresight is revealed by the character of
the men he selects to stand behind the bench.
It's been true ever since his first hire for the team,
and it's true again as the Devils bring on former
Montreal coach Claude Julien.
In January 1988, Lou hired Jim Schoenfeld because
then-coach Doug Carpenter had lost the young, talented
Lou felt the Devils needed a coach the players could quickly
bond with, but one that could light a fire under their
collective arses and bring out the God-given aggression in
players like Patty Verbeek and Brendan Shanahan.
For one season,
it worked: the Devils made the playoffs for the first time in
their history, and advanced to the Wales Conference Finals.
(Boy, did it feel nice to write that name again.)
After a disastrous follow-up season, Schoenfeld was canned and
assistant coach John Cunniff was hired. The late Cunniff was a
respected hockey man, and Lou felt the Devils needed his
stability and his temperament after Schoenfeld's bluster
busted. Cunniff was the guy to repair whatever damaged psyche
the team had after it squandered its postseason success; he
was also a guy who clearly answered to Lamoriello.
After 133 games behind the bench, Cunniff was replaced,
because Lou felt the Devils needed something completely
different: a surly, no-nonsense coach by the name of Tom McVie,
who previously coached the team in 1984. He got results, but
Lou felt the Devils — now loaded with stars like Scott Stevens
and Claude Lemieux — were ready to win and needed someone to
take them to the next level.
Enter Herb Brooks.
One season later, exit Herb Brooks.
Despite that folly, Lou thought he was on to something: in
order to win, you must have a proven winner leading the team;
and since Messier was across the river, that leader was going
to be a coach.
Where better to find such a man than in Montreal.
Jacques Lemaire instilled Hab habits into a franchise that
never really learned what it meant to play like a champion.
Beyond the psychology, Lou felt Lemaire could finally bring a
defensive sensibility to a team that clearly was building out
from the crease.
Lemaire's first two seasons saw a conference finals
appearance, a Stanley Cup, and the establishment of a
defensive system that made Devils fans happy, but sent scores
of NHL television and marketing executives crying in their
Lemaire was canned in May 1998 after his defensive system
began strangling any creativity and alienated the team's
offensive players. Lou felt the Devils needed the antithesis
of Canadien royalty and defensive restraint, and hired Robbie
In 2000, with the team poised for a run at the Cup, Lou felt
Ftorek could no longer communicate with the players and went
right back to the Habs' well, promoting popular assistant
coach Larry Robinson. A players' coach and a proven leader, he
guided the rejuvenated Devils to the Cup.
In the end, he was too much of a players' coach. In a move the
echoed the earlier hiring of Tom McVie, Lou fired Robinson in
2002 and brought on the rough, tough, make-no-friends Kevin
Constantine. And the hiring of Pat Burns that summer, after
Constantine was toppled, echoed Lou's hiring of Lemaire — a
hard-nosed proven winner, with distinct vision and a bit of
the 'ol Montreal magic. Under Burns, the Devils won their
third Cup in 2003.
The rest of the recent coaching changes were emergency
situations, due to health issues with Burns and Robinson.
Lamoriello naming himself coach was Lamoriello attempting to
atone for his own disastrous post-lockout personnel decisions
that left the team struggling to even make the postseason. He
felt the team wouldn't answer to another coach like they'd
answer to him; a historic winning streak, a division title and
a sweep of the Rangers later, and it’s safe to say he was
Now Claude Julien comes aboard as the 15th coach the Devils
have had since 1982. Some have labeled his hiring a surprise,
which is laughable — trying to guess Lou's next move is like
trying to figure out the plot of an M. Night Shyamalan movie:
you'll never deduce it, but as the credits roll you'll realize
how obvious it all should have been.
Julien is a Montreal guy, having guided the Habs to the second
round of the playoffs in 2004. The last three Montreal guys
Lou hired have celebrated in the Meadowlands parking lot with
the Stanley Cup.
He's a former NHL defenseman with the kind of defensive
philosophical foundation that Lamoriello has built three Cup
winners on for the last decade.
But he's also not another Lemaire.
Lamoriello sees Julien, 46, as the next evolution of the
Devils' defense: bringing a level of tenacity to match the
team's already superb positional game. You can't tell me that
Lamoriello watched Carolina play its aggressive and effective
style of playoff defense for five games, and it wasn't on his
mind when hiring his next coach — especially when the Devils
looked like traffic pylons in their own zone half the series.
Julien will preach quicker puck movement and generating more
offensive chances from the blue line (paging Brian Rafalski…).
Overall, Julien will augment the type of game the Devils have
played since 1994: offense from defense, rolling four solid
lines, and hoping Brodeur remains Brodeur. But he's not going
to reinvent the wheel.
Let's be honest: in the end, Julien is closer to the
figurehead coaches Lamoriello brought aboard to dispense his
own philosophy than the potential mavericks like Lemaire and
Burns. It wouldn't be the first time Julien was a megaphone
for his boss's philosophy, having already served that role for
Bob Gainey in Montreal.
But Julien's hiring, like all of his others, speaks volumes
about where Lou feels the Devils are headed. Claude is a coach
who earned accolades as a teacher of young players while with
Hamilton in the AHL and during his stint in Montreal. That's
great news for the burgeoning talent on New Jersey like Zach
Parise, Paul Martin, and David Hale. And it could mean the
Devils, whether or not they re-sign Patrik Elias, are ready to
turn some of their high-priced accessories from past
championship teams (Sergei Brylin, John Madden) into younger,
cheaper talent that will keep the franchise moving forward
even as it could — potentially, again depending on Elias —
challenge for a fourth Cup.
And challenging for that Cup is what it's all about — in
Montreal, and in Lamoriello's Montreal South.
...Great hire by the Islanders by landing Neil Smith.
Not only does it take his creepy mug off my OLN, but the
timing is perfect: the Oilers are a Cup contender, which means
their young stars are ripe for the picking. That is how Smith
built the Rangers, isn't it?
...By the time you read this, the Stanley Cup Finals
could be all said and done. And if the Carolina Hurricanes
have hoisted the Cup, a member of the red-and-black has the
Conn Smythe under his arm. Which leads me to this point: if
Edmonton did indeed lose, why not still give Chris Pronger the
Smythe? He's the reason the Oilers have gone from a No. 8 seed
to a Cup Finalist, turning around a career of playoff
self-destructions and disappearing acts into an amazing
performance this postseason. As of Game 6, he led the team in
points (as a defenseman), assists, plus/minus (by a wide
margin) and powerplay points. The only thing he doesn't have
are the game-winning goals, and I agree that's a legit knock
on his Conn Smythe chances. But Carolina, should the Canes
win, are a lot like the 2003 Devils: too many heroes to narrow
it down to one MVP. Eric Staal, Rod Brind'Amour and Cam Ward
could all stake a claim on the Conn. So just like in 2003,
perhaps one of the losers gets lucky this time. If you're one
of these people who thought J-S Giguere deserved the trophy
(and I'm not), then giving it to Pronger isn't all that crazy,
...Talk about Wild: Minnesota hired 24-year-old Chris Snow,
a sportswriter on the Red Sox beat for The Boston Globe, as
its new director of hockey operations. In other words, he goes
from covering Theo Epstein to becoming hockey's version of
Well, not quite with that much power: the Syracuse grad, who
covered the Wild with the Star Tribune in 2003-04, will be
responsible for monitoring rosters and salary commitments of
other NHL teams, performing player contract and arbitration
research, statistical analysis of hockey at the amateur and
professional level, and writing for the Wild's website.
In other words, by no means a general manager's position, but
a fantasy hockey geek's wet dream.
We can only hope this is the start of a trend. Can you imagine
Kevin Dupont running the Bruins? I mean, in an official
capacity? And wouldn't the GM meetings be a hoot if Larry
Brooks was wheelin' and dealin' with the New York Rangers?
Again, I mean, in an official capacity?
...Finally, after 1,406 drug tests since January, the
NHL announced there hasn't been a single positive test for
banned substances from any of its players.
NHLPA executive director Ted Saskin said World Anti-Doping
Agency chairman Dick Pound, who alleged rampant performance
enhancing drug abuse in the NHL, "should be embarrassed by his
baseless and uninformed allegations."
And if anyone should know about embarrassment, it's the NHLPA,
Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is
a columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com and the Washington
Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.
His book, "Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports
is now on sale.