ILWT Audition: What Exactly is Wrong with the New Jersey Devils?

Lou Lamoriello certainly knows what the problems are on the New Jersey Devils - User mpavlic has their own thoughts on what they could be. Do they match?

Over a week ago, I put out the call looking for new writers for In Lou We Trust to write about the New Jersey Devils. I've opened up the audition to the community at large in order to get a new perspectives and additional voices on the front page with regularity.  Since then, I've received seven entries and I thank each one of them - you know who you are - for stepping up and making an entry.

Throughout this week, I will post each one under an anonymous name so you can discuss and critique the post without regard to who actually wrote it.  I can ensure you that I did not change any of the content outside of formatting it in to the SBN platform and fixing spelling errors.  To that end, please note that I don't necessarily agree with what the posts actually say. I'm just letting them stand on their own.  Please be constructive in any criticism and do offer your thoughts about whether you liked the post in addition to discussing it's content.

The first entrant comes from Writer A user mpavlic, who has an opinion piece about what's wrong with the New Jersey Devils. It's a general piece about the team's problems. While it's not a new topic, it certainly is important because a proper solution can't be had if the problems aren't clearly defined.  How can we say we like or do not like the hiring of a coach or signing of a player if we aren't sure what problems they may solve (or what problems they may create)? I hope you appreciate it.  mpvalic's piece follows after the jump.

This is a question that has been asked with increasing frequency in the last few years.  Fans, blogs, beat writers, and even the team itself have been looking for answers to the problems that seem to have been plaguing the Devils for the past few seasons.  Surely a team that prides itself on winning and competing for the Stanley Cup every season will look for answers when it has not been able to make it out of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for 3 consecutive seasons.  Every fan on every blog also seem to have their own reason as to the failures of the team in the playoffs in recent years.  Some of the suggestions seem to have merit while others are surely stated to initiate an argument.  Here, I'll take what I hope is an objective look at the problems plaguing the New Jersey Devils in the past few years including this past season.  I offer my opinion on the problems surrounding the team and not solutions to the problems.

I'd like to start by taking a look at what I believe is one of the biggest issues surrounding the team in recent seasons; the lack of coaching stability.  Any Devils fan knows that the coaching position for the team in the last 10 years has been about as stable as the New Orleans Levees.  We've also heard all of the various reasons for this lack of stability.  Let's look at these one at a time.  Pat Burns was diagnosed with cancer and had to leave the team.  This is completely understandable and no one can blame anyone for this unfortunate event.  Larry Robinson was said to have left the team because he could not deal with the stress of coaching.  This is understandable albeit a little strange.  Clearly Robinson coached and played in the NHL before and had dealt with the level of competition he was experiencing.  However, for the sake of argument, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt here. 

Claude Julien was fired with only a few games left in the season while I believe the team was in first place. This was a move that I believe has been haunting the team since it happened.  The stories of "he lost the room, or the respect of the players" have been heard by all of us.  However when Lou fired Julien and took over behind the bench, we knew this would happen.  If you want to fire a coach that's fine, but if you let a coach go the whole season (minus a few games), then you let the coach finish.  Basically Lou made an extreme decision and it didn't pay off.  Julien, in my opinion, could not have done any worse than Lou by that point, and should have been allowed to finish the season.

Ah, Brent Sutter.  The favorite coach of Devils fans to hate on before the end of this season.  When Sutter came to the Devils he was a rookie coach (at the NHL level) and brought a new attitude to the team.  Unfortunately the Devils were unable to come together in the playoffs to perform at a level equal to their regular season success during Sutter's time in NJ.  The Devils were to lose in the first round in both of Sutter's seasons in NJ including the now (in my mind anyway) infamous "worst playoff collapse in NJ Devils History" (yes, in my opinion worse than 2001) Carolina 80 seconds mess that will forever haunt Devils fans everywhere.  At the end of the 2008-2009 season, Sutter left the Devils to become the head coach of the Calgary Flames leaving the team again, without a coach. 

In the summer of 2009, Lou went back to the glories of Devils past, as he so often does, and got Jacques Lemaire to return (more than a decade later) as the head coach.  There were mixed reactions among the fans and press as to whether the man who brought the first Stanley Cup to NJ could bring more success to the team or if his old school style would hamper the new found offense brought out during Sutter's time in NJ.   The team (as it did with Sutter) was able to deal with massive injuries during the regular season and at one point was competing for 1st place overall in the NHL. After New Year's the team went downhill but still managed to finish 2nd overall in the Eastern Conference.  However we all know how the season ended; another first round failure and another need for a new head coach. 

The next question that has been brought up has been the leadership of the team.   Is there a lack of quality leadership on the Devils?  Let me first put this out there.  We as fans, can never know what goes on in the locker room.  Therefore any ideas or theories that we put out there are based on only what we DO know; quotes in the press, performance on the ice, etc.  That is the best we can hope to do.  It is with that knowledge, that I would like to look at the leadership question.

First I feel a need to address the issue of Scott Stevens.  Many fans have compared Langenbrunner to Stevens.  "Stevens would never allow this", "Stevens would never allow that."  That may very well be true.  But it needs to be said and understood; there was only one Scott Stevens, and he doesn't play anymore.  People need to realize that and move on.  With that being said, do I think there is an issue with the current leadership on the team? Yes I do.

Let's try to take a look at facts if we can.  In the 3 seasons that Jamie has been the captain of the Devils they have not made it out of the first round.  Does the blame fall solely on him?  Of course it doesn't.  Is it a reflection on his ability to take charge of the team and "lead" them to victory, if only even a small reflection? Yes, it is.  Jamie did come back from knee surgery last season to finish the series, however that effort has been completely voided out by his behavior late this season and in the playoffs.  I agree with Jamie 100% that not being told he would not play in Carolina was wrong.  He should have been told in advance that he would not be playing.  However make no mistake, this in no way shape or form gives him the right to act the way he did.  Saying "no comment" to the press when asked if there is an issue is just as bad as admitting there is an issue.  He had every right to be upset but as the captain of the team, he is expected to lead and set an example for the rest of the team, and quite frankly, no worse of an example could have been set.  It clearly affected his game on the ice as he did not produce over the last month of the regular season or the playoffs.  The bottom line is that Jamie has not exhibited the qualities of a good leader and this has become an issue with the team.

The last issue that I would like to discuss (I have to stop somewhere as there is not enough time to address all of the problems) is the lack of a true #2 Center (or #1 according to who you ask) and a #1 Defenseman.  Many people have said that the Devils never replaced Scott Gomez or Brian Rafalski.  I have to say that I agree with both of these statements.  Please note, I'm not saying the Devils should have paid or done whatever they needed to in order to keep both of those players.  That's a different question.  However I do not believe they have ever replaced those players.  Rafalski went on to have success with Detroit and the Devils have been left with Paul Martin who, while a great player, is not a #1 defenseman.  Gomez has been "replaced" by Travis Zajac.  Zajac is a player who is great one day and invisible the next.  While I believe he fill the whole left by Gomez, I believe consistency is his biggest issue.  Solid start to the season, invisible come playoff time. 

How are the Devils to fix these issues?  Honestly, I don't know.  If I did, I'd more likely be the GM of an NHL team as opposed to a fan writing a blog that I will hope get me chosen to write for the on a long term basis.  The issues above are just a portion of the issues that surround the Devils.  Whether or not to resign players such as Martin or Kovalchuk, the inevitable retirement of Martin Brodeur, horrible signings by Lou, etc. are just a few of the many additional problems the Devils have.  While we have no idea what the future will bring for the team, at least we can see a what some of the issues are that have New Jersey in the situation they are in right now.

Editor note: The above was written by user mpavlic. What do you think of the post? Do you agree with the problems presented? If not, what don't you agree with?  What would you do to solve them? What would have made this a better post, or what did you notice that wasn't quite right? Please leave your thoughts in the comments and remember - be constructive, not destructive.

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