2010 Devils Offseason: A List of Possible Head Coaches for New Jersey Devils for 2010-11

While looking up who would be reasonable trade targets for the center position; I just remembered that the New Jersey Devils are without a head coach.  Jacques Lemaire retired at the end of April, and the position is still vacant.  I've discussed Paul Martin, Ilya Kovalchuk, defensemen, and centers at length in the past month, but very little about who will be the man behind the bench.  That's a rather large oversight.

Part of the problem is how does one evaluate a coach properly?  There isn't much of a compendium on coaching styles available.  Moreover, who's to say that a coach will apply what he's done on prior teams in New Jersey?  Jacques Lemaire had the Minnesota Wild play ultra-defensive hockey; but last season, the Devils weren't sitting back nearly as much as the critics thought he would (or did, depending on whether said critics actually followed the Devils).

Basically it's based on reputation, based out of monster piles of observation and confirmation bias.  Basis for analysis is not  clear at all.

What is clear is the goal for whoever the next head coach of the New Jersey Devils in 2010-11: get past the first round of the playoffs.  No, the head coach won't be hired to please a certain player or a fanbase. The goal is to get results.   Yes, I understand that the goal for every season is the Stanley Cup; but that requires getting past the first round.  Moreover, given the complaints from all over the fanbase (and probably from ownership) about early exits in the playoffs, that only emphasizes the importance of winning that first series.   To that end, I think that has to be the main goal. Let's worry about a Stanley Cup if the Devils get that far.

I think it's fair to say whoever will get the job will be under pressure to succeed immediately.  That said, after the jump, I've put together a list of possibilities with gut-reactions (read: not detailed) thoughts on each.

Michel Therrien (Lifetime NHL Head Coaching Record: 212-182-22-46)

Yes, this guy.

Apparently, per this FanPost (and a lot of quick reaction online), William DePaoli of Inside Pittsburgh Sports has tweeted that Therrian may be the man for New Jersey. DePaoli's focus has been on Pittsburgh, so it's not unreasonable to think he has sources. That said, he's not going to be well-received as he was fired from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Dan Bylsma in February 2009. That team went on to win the Stanley Cup that season, making it look like removing Therrien was a big factor in their success.

That said, I wouldn't immediately cry foul on a signing. Therrien does have plenty of NHL experience and did coach the 07-08 Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals.   He's been to the summit, as it were, fairly recently; and if that's desirable, then he fits that more than most (if not all) available head coaches.  If he wore out his welcome, then it appears that it took 4 years to occur. My understanding is that he's a disciplinarian. Who knows how the locker room will react given what came out after Lemaire's retirement (players' side, Lemaire's response, both by Rich Chere); but perhaps the team needs one.

If you would hate this signing, then perhaps you should be heartened that DePaoli said the Devils offered Theirren a contract back on May 27 and nothing has happened since. Even though the Devils could presumably sign him then and be done with the whole matter.  Moreover, there hasn't any word locally about it other than Tom Gulitti saying he's a candidate. 

Above all else, take this rumor with a grain of salt.  For now, at least.

John MacLean (Lifetime AHL Head Coaching Record: 39-31-10)

MacLean being promoted to head coach of the New Jersey Devils would be seen as "deserved move" by some. MacLean has been an assistant since the 2002-2003 season and was assigned to be the head coach of the Lowell Devils in the AHL last summer.  MacLean became the first head coach of the Devils' AHL affiliate to take the team to the playoffs since John Cunniff did it in the 1999-2000 season.  One can't say he hasn't paid his dues, so to speak.

On top of all of that, MacLean has been a Devils player from 1982 through 1998.  If anybody understands the organization from both perspectives, it's him.   The move to make him a head coach in Lowell was seen to be a test to see how he can command an entire team.  That he took the Lowell squad to a winning record and a postseason  berth has to be seen as a success. MacLean himself said it was useful, per this post by Rich Chere back in May.  He was part of the coaching staff in New Jersey, so most of the team should respect him as a coach.  Plus, he'd have more insight into some of the current Devils and how to handle them than an outside candidate.

That said, given the expectations of the team and where they are now, is it wise to promote MacLean now? He's had only one season as a head coach in his entire career.  Should something go awry, like several injuries or a terrible slump, how will he respond?  Moreover, because he's been with the organization, would he favor the players more or would he take command himself? 

I'm not saying MacLean is an awful choice, not at all.  He is a deserved candidate, but the answers to these questions are critical are to whether he's the right man now or in a few seasons.

Mike Haviland (Lifetime AHL Coaching Record: 137-77-26; Lifetime ECHL Coaching Record: 172-81-35)

Mike Haviland is probably a reason why there hasn't been much news about the head coaching search.  Haviland is currently an assistant with the Chicago Blackhawks, who's currently fighting the good fight in the Stanley Cup Finals right now (Game 5 is tonight).   Of course, Lou is notoriously secretive about his process and that may be more of a reason.  Still, if Lou wants him, then he's got to wait a little bit.

On the surface, there's a lot to like about Haviland.  He was born in New Jersey and was drafted in the 1990 supplemental draft by New Jersey.  He got his start in coaching in pro hockey with the Trenton Titans of the East Coast Hockey League as an assistant.  After two seasons, he become the head coach of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies, went to two one Kelly Cup Final, one fourth round loss in Kelly Cup playoffs, and won one in three seasons before taking the Trenton Titans to the Kelly Cup glory in 2005.   Since then, Haviland jumped up to the AHL for three seasons before Chicago moved him up to an assistant.  In his entire minor-pro coaching career, 7 seasons, his teams always had winning records and made the playoffs.   

Needless to say, he's got more experience and success than MacLean as a head coach.  I wish I had more insight into what it was he actually did in Chicago. Still, the big question I have is whether would he be even interested in leaving Chicago to go to New Jersey?  Surely if/when Joel Quenneville gets fired, he'd be in a prime position as a replacement if he just sticks around.   I get a sense that he's only in the discussion because he's from NJ and coached there; that doesn't necessarily mean he wants to jump to the Devils organization that will demand immediate success.

Ken Hitchcock (Lifetime NHL Head Coaching Record: 534-350-88-78)

The seemingly-abrasive Hitchcock has been around as a head coach since 1994-95. If the biggest factor in hiring a head coach is experience, then Hitchcock cannot be ignored.  He's been behind the bench for over 1,000 games, the sixteenth ever head coach to hit that mark.  Plus, he did win the Stanley Cup in 1999 with Dallas and was behind the bench in losing to the Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2000. 

Of course, I can't help but think that experience is the only reason why he's in the discussion.  Sure, there would be no question on how he would handle a difficult situation.  However, there's not a lot of recent success outside of him being an assistant on Canada's 2010 Olympic team to belie that he'd be the right choice right now.  Hiring Hitchcock would be seen as a re-tread signing at worst and a "safe" pick at best solely on the fact he's seen it all n the NHL. Whether or not that's what the Devils need is another question entirely. 

Kirk Muller (No Head Coaching Experience)

One name that may come up is former New Jersey Devil and current Montreal Canadiens assistant Kirk Muller. Muller has been with the Montreal organization for four seasons as an assistant, and he's been given more and more responsibilities on the team in this past season. Darren Eliot of SI had a good column highlighting why Muller is a "rising star" among coaches.

I'm a little worried that he'll get praise for Montreal's playoff performance which was largely of result of Jaroslav Halak playing at a ridiuclous level and some of their forwards shooting at totally unsustainable shooting percentages.  In other words, parts of the team got hot and not necessarily the result of Muller, Jacques Martin, or anyone else.  

Cynicism aside, I have to question whether Lou would go take Muller, who hasn't been a head coach at any professional level, to what will be a pressure-filled situation.  At least John MacLean has been a head coach at some level.  I personally think it's unlikely that Lou will go outside of the organization and pick someone who has only been an assistant.

Your Take

I'm sure there are a few other names the Devils could consider, I just wanted bring my thoughts on a few of the more common names you may read.  The only one of note I didn't mention was Guy Boucher, since he could take the Blue Jackets job per the Columbus Dispatch.  

Overall, it doesn't appear that there's a perfect fit for the position. Whoever the Devils hire will have to prove themselves in a way, either to show that the can handle the position at the NHL level (MacLean, Haviland) or to justify why they've been in the league after being unceremoniously dumped by their last team (Therrien, Hitchcock). How much risk will Lou be willing to take? He's hired veterans and NHL-coaching-newbies alike for the head coaching position in recent seasons.  As usual, I trust Lou to make the best decision available.

Let's discuss this in the comments: who should also be considered?  What metric should we judge a coach? If we are unhappy at, say, the possibility of hiring of Therrien, then why are we unhappy?  Should we be? What else about these coaches and others should we be aware of (e.g. tactics, tendencies, etc.)?  Please leave your answers and thoughts in the comments.

Unrelated aside: If you're thinking about submitting an audition post, then you have until midnight tonight. I won't say who entered (and neither will those who did) but I currently have 7 entries.  I'll accept more; but I will not accept or read late entries. So if you're not going to be on-time, then consider just making a FanPost. This way we can read and (hopefully) appreciate what you have worked on.

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