Criticizing & Speculating Over the Current Inaction of Lou Lamoriello

Today, Lou Lamoriello spoke to the press at practice.  The main message was blunt, as reported by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice:

"Right now, this is our hockey team, this is our coaching staff, this is where we’re at," Lamoriello said this morning. "I’m not going to get into anymore questions about it."

...

"I [don't] think anyone is feeling good about where we stand, but you can’t do anything about what’s transpired," Lamoriello said. "Right now, we have to focus in on Wednesday nights’ game. That’s what we have to get ready for."

Personally, I think this is the worst thing Lou could have said to the media.  Fans are rightfully upset over this. The team is 8-19-2.  Yes, the team's shooting disastrously - as sjohnson125 recently described from a new angle in this FanPost - leading to that sub-2 goals per game average.  But there are so many other problems.  Forward lines where the players seem to work against each other than complement each others skills.  A captain who repeats himself and claims the problem "is in the room," which has yet to be found.  Goaltenders left out to dry by fundamental defensive errors (by both defensemen and forwards).  Consistently bad second periods that are bookended by not-so-good first periods and too-little-too-late third periods.  A power play that could be best described as a waste of two minutes despite the recent success. And so many other smaller decisions (e.g. double shifting Ilya Kovalchuk with fourth liners, giving Mark Fayne more minutes than Anton Volchenkov) that make the fans hurt their faces with their palms.

And based on what Lou said today, the plan is to do...nothing for the time being.  

This isn't the first time he's said this either, he said so last Wednesday.  I get the sense that he's trying to deflect blame and reduce some pressure for a team that doesn't need it.  However, I feel the opposite.  I feel that he's all but said that this season is over.  It's almost laughable.  The supposed hard-nosed, take-no-guff, my-way-or-the-highway GM sticking with this roster and coaching staff in spite of a horrid record.  That's rather shameful for a team that hasn't missed the playoffs since 1996, and hasn't missed it by a margin of over 10 points since the 1988-89 season - Lou's second season with the team.  A team that has always been willing to pull the trigger on a deal or change coaches if it means better chances for success in a season.  Not this season; it is what it is, apparently.

Needless to say, I can't agree with this course of action.  Seriously, Lou, are you waiting for a sign bigger than the current record or the utter lack of goalscoring?  Simultaneously, I am left with the question: "Why hasn't anything been done? Why two public statements within a week saying that this is the team, deal with it? This makes no sense for a team that dropped a lot of money for free agents to make the team that much better right now. Not for a franchise that has made success the #1 goal."    

I don't have the answer for that question.  But let's (wildly) speculate what the rationale for this statement would be.  Perhaps we can figure out a reasonable possibility.  I've made my attempt after the jump, even though I do not agree with the decision of not deciding to make a change.

Let's Make This Clear: I am not defending Lou's decision to not make changes.   I feel that at a minimum, John MacLean is in over his head and his errors compound the player's own problems.  I feel that the players are not properly motivated - personally or from the coaches - given their proclivity to screw up fundamental parts of the game over and over along with coming out fl

As such, I feel that all of the problems cannot be laid at the feet of management.  It's not like Lou knew in July that, for example, Henrik Tallinder would make Mike Mottau look like a stud throughout October; Ilya Kovalchuk's shooting percentage would reach sewer-level depths in 10-11; or that David Clarkson would better resemble a more-prolific-shooting version of Turner Stevenson instead of Randy McKay Version 2.0 after his extension.  I'm not going to beat Lou over the head with things no one outside of the most negative Devils-hater could have foresaw prior to this season.    Just now that he's come out to say, "This is the team, this is the coach, and so it will be."

(And it's not like the media is just sitting there just accepting it.  They ask the questions and this is the response they get. They are only the messengers.)

That all said, the reality of the situation may be even more difficult and the potential choices are bad.

Maybe There Isn't a Good Coaching Replacement: The implicit statement in the "Fire John MacLean" sentiment is that someone else could be doing a better job with the New Jersey Devils.  I agree with that, but the very first question that comes up in response is "OK, then, who do you want as the coach?" Then the stammering comes after a semi-joking "Anyone else, really."

Look down the line in the New Jersey organization for coaches.  Larry Robinson is the only one who has been a NHL head coach before, and he had to quit in the middle of the 2005-06 season due to health issues from the job.   Beyond him, the other assistants are Adam Oates and Chris Terreri, who are each relatively new to coaching and only serve in limited roles (Terreri - goaltending, Oates - who knows).   Down in the minors, it's Rick Kowalsky, who is coaching his first season in the AHL; Tommy Albelin, who is serving as Kowalsky's assistant; and Kevin Dean, who is coaching his first season of pro hockey down with Trenton.   If MacLean isn't cutting it in his first NHL head coaching job, then it makes little sense for Lou to try it again with someone with even less experience.

Outside of the organization, what are the options for the Devils? Ken Hitchcock? Bob Hartley? Michel Therrien? I'm sure there are more names, but more questions will get raised.  Chiefly, does anyone want to take over an 8-19-2 team in an increasingly vain hope of trying to make it to the postseason?  Should someone get brought in, the results don't change much, and the players hate him - then Lou's probably back to square one in April 2011 looking for a new head coach.   

Second, would any of these outside guys be any good for this team and the goals they want to set?  If nothing else, Lou may prefer to accept this season as a lost cause, let MacLean play out the year, and then see who's available among assistants, fired coaches, and additional coaches who would be out of their current contracts.  At least there will be a larger pool of candidates to find the "right guy."  Until then, ride the 2010-11 season until then.

Maybe The Players Support MacLean and Changing Him Can't be an Option:  One of the developments after last season was the friction between the players with Jacques Lemaire.  In this Rich Chere article, Jamie Langenbrunner was the most vocal.  Fans haven't forgotten his sulking at the end of 2009-10 or the 2010 playoffs. Those with good memories will recall that the speculation surrounding Claude Julien's firing before the 2007 playoffs was that Julien lost the room - the players were winning in spite of him. 

While there's been some player movement, there's still several players from those seasons still here.  Langenbrunner has defended MacLean after some bad games (example via Gulitti). So I suspect that he - and by extension those players who follow Jamie - support MacLean.  Therefore, replacing him would only cause more problems in the locker room.  If what we have seen so far this season was from a "united" locker room, then I really don't want to see how bad a fractured group of individuals would do.

I say suspect because Langenbrunner has said a lot this season about how the team needs to play better way back in October and November.  The continued futility then led me to question whether players were listening back in early November.  Given the, well, continued futility since then, I have my doubts in trusting whatever Langenbrunner says.  

Plus, I have a personal grievance about the "inmates running the prison."  I prefer the coach to be the boss, have the backing of management, and tell the players to be adults about whatever problems they would have and work through it.  Still, this is wild speculation to figure out the rationale, not necessarily reasons that I like.

Maybe There Haven't Been Any Trades Because, Really, Who Wants These Guys: It feels like the offseason all over again when I have to say that, no, a no-trade clause is exactly that.   It is not a coincidence that a Devil has not waived such a clause to go elsewhere. It is not a coincidence that a.  If you honestly think it's as simple as just "getting rid of it," then I don't think you're thinking this through.

Even so, who would want these guys?  The majority of veteran forwards are slumping, and the defense is a mish-mash of veterans making rookie mistakes at times and rookies making sub-rookie mistakes at times. Bryce Salvador's hurt, so he can't be moved.  Why would a team want to give up assets for the $3.6 cap hit for the next 2 years after this one of Dainius Zubrus?  Who's going to be chomping at the bit to obtain a 36 year old Jason Arnott, who's going to have quite a bit left on his $4.5 million cap hit?  What team is going to make a decent bid for Jamie Langenbrunner, the captain of an 8-19-2 team?  For the latter two, a team can just wait until July and sign them just for money.  Yes, the Devils traded for Ilya Kovalchuk in his pending UFA year.  But he's a much younger, much rarer talent.  Langenbrunner or Arnott are nowhere near his level and to suggest otherwise is laughable.

Eventually, everyone on this team will be healthy and so a trade has to happen just for cap compliance purposes. However, I would think the trade value for the players throughout this team is quite low.  Even if Lou knows he has to make a bad trade by force later, then why do it sooner thinking it'll somehow "get the guys going?"  Even if there's a locker-room poison, what team will take said player short of Lou giving them away?

So if there's no decent market outside of Lou, then trading a player isn't a real good option.

It Comes Down to Not Screwing the Future By Trying to Salvage This Season:  The above scenarios are rather sobering if true.  The only one who really knows whether that's the reality of the situation is Lou.  If the market sucks for trades, there's no real option available at head coach, and the current players all seem to like MacLean and changing him could ruin that, then why do any of those options?  Why give up assets like a player or a draft pick that may come back to haunt the Devils later?  Why make one coaching change only to make a second one shortly thereafter because that coach also can't get the job done?  


The worst possible result is that not only do the Devils pick in the lottery by finishing so low, but that future seasons will be hindered by it.  It goes without saying that a repeat of this is unacceptable for 2011-12.  A bad trade or the wrong coach being chosen may make that happen by causing all sorts of other problems.

Besides, maybe the highly improbable happens, and the Devils look more like the team they should be.  Perhaps their shooting percentage finally regresses to the mean, John MacLean doesn't make moron decisions behind the bench, and the team picks up a lot of points. Even if they fall short, a vast improvement in the next 53 games may show that perhaps this team isn't so awful and we may end up thinking that John MacLean might actually be the right guy for the job.  Of course, it may be just as possible that a beautiful woman may also visit me tomorrow on a unicorn and with a pile of legally-acquired money just for me.  I'm just a little skeptical of a turnaround with MacLean right now.

That All Said...: . At least with this speculation and rationalization, I feel that Lou's not completely off his rocker to decide on inaction.  But I do think it's the wrong course of action.  Even if the Devils are fated to end up in the basement, there still has to be an effort to try and make them better.  I'd rather have Lou take the proverbial shot and miss rather than not take one at all.   There's still plenty of season left for Lou to change his mind and make a change. But if it was to "save the season," then it needed to be made weeks ago.  Ultimately, I wouldn't hold my breath for any changes to the coaches or the players anytime soon short of something out of nowhere happening.

Anyway, that's my reaction and take on the GM's actions so far this season.  What do you think of all of this?  Do you agree with my reaction, or did you interpret Lou's remarks differently? What do you think is causing Lou to state that he is doing nothing to change this team? With all of this speculating and guessing, do you think I'm off base? If so, why? If not, why not?   Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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