September is upon us and that brings us one step closer to the regular season. It is not just the month where school begins or that fall gets introduced after a fading summer. It is also the month for training camp, preseason, and previews. All kinds of season previews - from columnists, from publications, and even from blogs like this one.
Today, John Kreiser of NHL.com has written a feature where he brings up a "key question" for each team heading into the 2009-10 season. It's broken up into the Western and Eastern conferences, respectively. Here's his question for the Devils and his rationale:
Does Jacques Lemaire's philosophy match his old/new team's talent?
It's no secret that Lemaire's first priority is making sure the puck stays out of his team's net. He was like that in his first go-round in New Jersey and in his eight seasons behind the bench in Minnesota. Lemaire's early Devils teams could also use his trapping system to generate offense -- but as time went on, offense became less of a priority. Lemaire takes over a team with a Hall of Famer (Martin Brodeur) in goal, some excellent forwards (led by Zach Parise) but nothing close to a Scott Stevens or Scott Niedermayer on defense. Is he willing (and able) to adjust to the talent he's inheriting?
Expect to see a lot of this sentiment in previews for the New Jersey Devils this month. Granted, it's a very fair and important sentiment to bring up. Lemaire's calling card is defensive hockey and his use of the trap. This is not news to those who follow the NHL or hockey at all. Jouni Niemisen of HS.fi sums up the sentiment on his blog (translated post here). How Lemaire will do with a Devils team that has been built for puck possession hockey after two seasons of Brent Sutter? How Lemaire coaches the Devils could very well end up make a big difference in their end result. My opinion about the question after the jump, in the meantime, here's a poll:
What strikes me comes at the end of Kreiser's section about the Devils. I feel Kreiser's question at the end of his blurb assumes that the answer to the first question - the "key question" - is a big, fat "no." One wouldn't ask if Lemaire was willing to change if his philosophy matched the team. Moreover, based on the context of the last question, I think Kreiser's bringing up the issue since the Devils don't have stud defensemen on the blueline. Therefore, could Lemaire truly implement his old styles of defensive hockey and have it be successful - especially after two seasons of not playing defensive hockey or the trap? That, I think, is the real question Kreiser is trying to ask.
Of course, that - along with the explicit questions Kreiser does bring up - makes a gigantic assumption that Lemaire will implement his old ways. It's not that I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility. I commented a few weeks ago that I am concerned that Lemaire will put in a trap and rely on counter-attacking offense. It is a fair point to raise. Others already make that assumption because of Lemaire's history as a coach -
That said, even I think Lemaire should be given the benefit of the doubt as far as what he's going to do with the Devils. It's not like he's never dealt with a team with significant offensive talent before. The first Devils team under Lemaire's coaching tenure in New Jersey, the 1993-94 season, scored 306 goals. Don't sniff at that number, it's the second highest in franchise history and only the third time the Devils cracked 300 goals in a season. Moreover, as mentioned, the Devils do have some serious offensive talent in the form of Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, and Travis Zajac (and more if Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus can improve and Jamie Langenbrunner doesn't trail off after last season's career year). I'll agree that the Devils did become less productive in seasons afterward, yet this is also worth noting.
Since I'm willing to at least give Lemaire the benefit of the doubt for what he'll do with the Devils; I am also willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on Kreiser's question. To the "key question," I don't think Lemaire's past styles will match the Devils. Yet, I do think Lemaire will adjust his strategies to the team he has instead of changing the team to fit his strategies. After all, Lemaire is very knowledgeable about the game and I don't believe he is stubborn, uncreative, or foolish enough to force a completely different roster to play the same kind of hockey he had the Wild play for most of this past decade. I think he stuck to those tactics with them as he was building the team at first and so was able to get everyone to buy into it and compete right away on the ice. While the Devils lost some players, it is still a roster who has been very successful in the regular season and doesn't need an overhaul. I think - and hope - Lemaire will recognize that and avoid a hard and constant 1-2-2 set up.
Please have your say about Kreiser's question. Am I interpreting his blurb fairly, or am I reading too much into it? Have a look in the poll and vote whether you think A) Lemaire's "philosophy" matches the Devils as they are and B) whether or not Lemaire will change if necessary.