A Reaction to Lou Lamoriello's Comments on Jacques Lemaire's Future in New Jersey

The offseason has officially begun after an awful Game 5 performance that saw the New Jersey Devils eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers.  As a result, Lou Lamoriello - among other Devils - have been subject many questions from the media today.  I agree that it's getting old that these questions are being asked in late April instead of, say, mid-May; but it is what it is.  Lou held a conference call prior to additional interviews with the media and so Lou's quotes are pretty much the story of today.  The transcript was both reported by Rich Chere and Tom Gulitti this afternoon.   Please take the time to read them if you haven't already.

Were a Devils fan to take Lou's words at value, they probably wouldn't be very happy with his responses. Especially about Jacques Lemaire, where Lou seemed to be pretty clear about his future as a Devil.  Here's what Tom Gulitti reported from the transcript with respect to Jacques Lemaire returning as head coach:

"There’s no question that he will be back unless you know something I don’t know," Lamoriello said this afternoon on a conference call. "Those type of even questions and topics are asked all the time. It is what it is. We haven’t even discussed any of this, but there’s no question in my mind (Lemaire will be back) unless there is something I don’t know."

However, before you angrily type angry comments on blogs and message boards about how terrible it is and how Lou hasn't made any immediate changes, take a step back and read the quote a little more closely.   I don't think it is as definitive as it looks on it's face.  Possible, sure.  But I'd like to offer my reaction after the jump.

 

 

Today, Lou answered nearly all of the questions in the conference call in a very diplomatic fashion.  The repeated theme in most answers was that Lou has a lot of questions and a lot to evaluate before making any decisions.  To that end, Lou was conciliatory as possible with respect to the coaching issue, which I want to focus on since in most sports a common response to when

Personally,  I think not saying much more than "Right now, he's the guy." is the right move. Making wholesale changes for the team immediately after a horrible loss to a rival in the first round of the playoffs for the second time in three years is going to be based out of emotion more than proper evaluation.  If the decision is to keep him, then not much has to be done.  If the decision is to fire him, there's more than enough time to consider if it's a necessary move and then find an appropriate replacement.  A case can be made and explained for his termination.

Before jumping into Lou's response, let me bring up this quote, taken from Gulitti's post about the conference call, first.  It's not only the most direct thing Lou said today:

"We did not get it done in the playoffs and that’s what we have to look at. Does this team have the playoff-built? There’s no question in my mind that it did and does. It didn’t get it done. You can look at different areas. You can start with specialty teams. One team capitalized and one team didn’t. Why. We can go to another area. You cannot put any blame on goaltending. We had good goaltending. So, in saying all of that, you go down and you pull out, evaluate, you look at films, you look at games, you look at turning points, you look at situations and you try to come up with the best decision to make some personnel decisions."

"You just don’t just do things for the sake of doing them. There has to be a reason for it."

It's also the most important thing to keep in mind throughout the offseason.

I want to highlight something in Lou's quote. Here's what Tom Gulitti reported from Lou with respect to Jacques Lemaire returning as head coach (emphasis mine):

"There’s no question that he will be back unless you know something I don’t know," Lamoriello said this afternoon on a conference call. "Those type of even questions and topics are asked all the time. It is what it is. We haven’t even discussed any of this, but there’s no question in my mind (Lemaire will be back) unless there is something I don’t know."

I've bolded the most important thing to keep in mind with respect to the coaching situation.  The tell here is that he doesn't have all the information yet.  Basically, given what Lou knows, he'd keep Lemaire around.  However, since he hasn't had the discussions with Lemaire and management about his future, this is where the evaluation comes into play.  When Lou and his staff sits down, reviews the games, examines the film, and considers the take from both the players and the coaches, then Lou will realize the information he doesn't currently know.  Then, he could have questions in his mind about whether Lemaire has to be the man going forward.

Besides, given how much this playoff loss was like the 2008 playoff loss, it'd be entirely consistent and defensible for the coach to be given another shot.  Brent Sutter changed his lines as much as Lemaire if not moreso throughout 2007-08, the Devils couldn't "get up" for a playoff series against Our Hated Rivals, the Devils lost in 5 games in the first round, and Sutter got another year.  Mind you, Sutter didn't have the additional challenge of dealing with a season where he had the team succeed in spite of several injuries to important players.

Moreover, you may have read this quote by Lemaire - originally reported by Gulitti after Game 5 - and think that Lemaire lost the players:

"We had before the game a certain way to do when we get the puck at the blue line and we had quite a few power plays and we did it once," Lemaire said. "At a time, I asked a player, ‘Why are we not doing it?’ and there was no answer."

I look at this and wonder who that player was.  Especially if they are a veteran of the team.  In that case, the player would've been coached by several different people now and after multiple coaching changes, a reference like this says a lot more about the player than the coach.  It tells me that the problem lies with the player and yet another a coaching change isn't likely to fix that.  It speaks to the root problem of the Devils' failure in this postseason: the mindset and attitude wasn't confident enough and didn't lead to positive, smart hockey.  To that end, a changing the head coach wouldn't necessarily change much with the team.

Of course, that's one way to look at it and a rather positive way to look at it.   It wouldn't surprise me in the least if Lou decides that a coaching change must be made.  After all, one normally doesn't throw things at a coaching staff and then turn around and think there's no real problem. Lou could easily look at the tapes and conclude that the Devils were thoroughly outcoached and so a change must be made.  I can't imagine that Lou is necessarily pleased with Lemaire and the assistants if he went as far as to throw a jar of jelly at them in a tirade.  In my recap of Game 5, I listed several ways where the coaches were outdone by the Flyers both in that game and in the series as a whole.   I'm sure many will complain about Lemaire's constant line changes; which I think is a bit of a red herring as if it was that big of a problem, why wasn't Lou throwing substances at his staff back in, say, January?   Yet, there's plenty to criticize the coach about regardless of the 48-27-7 record he compiled.  An argument can be made that ,and to that end, the search for the right man for the job should continue.

Speaking of the staff, perhaps that's where Lou's initial attention will lie.  What, pray tell, did Mario Tremblay do this season?  What were the roles for Tommy Albelin and Scott Stevens?  I don't know, I wish I knew, but I couldn't tell you what those three were responsible for and whether or not what they were responsible for was a success or not. If you can tell me, I and a lot of Devils fans would appreciate it. Perhaps instead of replacing Lemaire, a different assistant with a specific specialty - like, say, a power play coach who has had success with other teams - could make a larger difference in the team's performance.

We shall see in coming weeks.   My whole point is that Devils shouldn't see this quote or much of what Lou said in the conference call and assume that Jacques Lemaire is definitely good to go for 2010-11 and that everything is going to be the same with a few tweaks.  Lou made especially sure not to throw anyone under the bus so soon after the playoff defeat because he may ultimately decide that the coach or a player or an aspect of the team is important for future success. If anything, read the transcript very closely if you're looking for any tells about what the offseason will hold.  Like this one, per Gulitti's report (again, emphasis mine):

So, in addition to trying to re-sign the players you want to keep, should we expect other changes this summer via trade, signing, etc.?


"I don’t have the answer to that question. There’s too much evaluation that has to go on, but I would be very surprised if there were not some changes."

Who knows, Lou may have very well be referring to the coach as well as a player.  Let me know what you think about Jacques Lemaire's future in the comments, as well as what you think about Lou's statements.

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