Custom Search

Coaching for Lou Lamoriello a difficult proposition

Lou Lamoriello has built a tremendously successful organization in New Jersey, demonstrated by a team that makes the playoffs every year and has earned three Stanley Cups since the mid- ‘90s.

But there’s also little doubt that coaching under Lamoriello is no easy task.

With the announcement this week that Jacques Lemaire is “retiring”, the Devils will once again look for a new top guy to run the bench- though there is no debate as to who runs the team and that’s Lamoriello.

I’m guessing the deserving John MacLean, finally, will be the choice, though Lamoriello is unpredictable.  I was working in the broadcast field back in the early 1980s when MacLean was a 17 year-old with the OHL Oshawa Generals.  I saw him play a lot in his junior career.  He was a hard-working, industrious, team-guy way back then, and had a very solid NHL career.  He has been coaching with the Devils as an assistant or in the minors for years, so it may well be his time.

While coaching in professional team sports is certainly a merry-go-round, a couple of NHL teams—notably Nashville and Buffalo, have kept the same management/head coaching tandem in place for over a decade. That’s a credit to Barry Trotz in Nashville and Lindy Ruff in Buffalo, but it also speaks to the values of their respective General Managers.

Since taking over the then-lowly Devils in 1987, Lou has utilized twelve different coaches. That doesn’t include his taking over behind the bench (twice) on an “interim” or the fact that Larry Robinson and Jacques Lemaire have both had the job on two separate occasions.

You can’t argue with success, though I’m not sure some of the coaches who worked for Lou remember the experience fondly (Robbie Ftorek, Kevin Constantine and Claude Julien come to mind).

In the same time period, the Maple Leafs have employed “only” ten different coaches—two of whom were strictly interim assignments. When you include Lamoriello (twice) and the return of Robinson and Lemaire, a total of sixteen head coaches (though not sixteen different people) have been behind the Devils bench. Only one (Lemaire, the first time) has coached for five years. Pat Burns coached for three seasons. Everyone else was around two seasons or less.

When you look at the Detroit Red Wings in the same era, they have had a total of five coaches. That’s it. And they’ve won four Cups themselves.

I’m a bigger fan of the Red Wing approach. Both Lamoriello in New Jersey and Devellano/Holland in Detroit have built fine organizations over the past 20+ seasons, but in Detroit they don’t follow a scorched earth policy with regards to coaches.

In New Jersey, it’s all about Lou (at least that’s the impression I have, I could be wrong, obviously)—which is fine. They’ve won.

But in Detroit, they have been able to develop all kinds of management talent since the late ‘80s—really, since Mike Illitch took over as owner and Jimmy Devellano was first hired from the Islanders as GM in ’82. Scotty Bowman was around for years and they have people like Jim Nill and Yzerman who could be GM’s elsewhere tomorrow, and many other talented people who are part of the Detroit decision-making and evaluation process.

I prefer Detroit’s approach, and for me they remain the model franchise in the National Hockey League—an ideal landing spot for coaches and players alike.

Toronto Maple Leaf hockey blog

1 comment:

  1. You hit the nail on the head, Michael. I think every Devil fan would love to have the Detroit model where there is only a new coach every 5 years or so. But, it is all about Lou and few can argue with his success. That being said, there are a couple of asterisks, one being that Lou got screwed by Brent Sutter last year, the other being Pat Burns becoming ill with cancer. It is possible that the merry-go-round could have been slowed down had Burns not gotten sick and Sutter not leaving to spend more time with his family in Calgary.

    This will be the eighth different coach in nine seasons here in New Jersey. It is not exactly the place where someone should invest too much into the retirement plan. The firings of Ftorek and Julien still are the two most shocking days in Devil history. The Ftorek firing lit a spark, but the Julien firing was a mistake.

    It should be John MacLean. One day it will be John MacLean, so why not start now? Something tells me it won't and that Lou will reach for another stop-gap like Ken Hitchcock or Mario Tremblay. Critics will say that MacLean is not ready yet because he only has one year behind the bench in Lowell. Most Devil fans are behind bringing one of the greatest Devils to the bench, but I just have a feeling that Lou is going to try and repeat what he has done in the past by bringing back a re-tread and hoping that he will be like Pat Burns and be mistaken and within 24 months there will be yet another vacancy in Newark.