When John MacLean was named the new head coach of the New Jersey Devils, it was an example of an internal promotion. Giving someone who's within the system of the organization a shot at the next level. In my opinion, there are a number of benefits to such a move. The coach would know some of the personnel right off the bat. They're aware of the inner workings of the organization. They know what the organization expects and how he'll be accountable for it.
The Devils decided to go that route with both of their farm clubs in Albany and Trenton. As reported by Rich Chere of the Star Ledger, Rick Kowalsky will be the head coach of the Albany Devils after serving as Trenton head coach for four seasons; and Kevin Dean will be Kowalsky's replacement in Trenton after serving as an assistant coach. In addition, Tommy Albelin will be an assistant in Albany but unlike his previous role in New Jersey, he will actually be behind the bench. I'd call that an upgrade if only for having more responsibilities at this new job.
What strikes me about both head coaching hires is that both have "paid their dues." I'll explain further after the jump.
Kowalsky should be well known to Trenton and ECHL fans. Per HockeyDB, he played for the Titans twice, once in 2000-01 for 25 games (12 regular season, 13 playoff games) and later in 2004-05 for the whole season - part of the 2005 Kelly Cup winning squad. He retired as a player, but moved into coaching first as an assistant to Mike Haviland in Norfolk for the 2005-06 season. Trenton hired him to be their head coach and has done so for the last four seasons. His pinnacle in coaching so far would have to be the 2008-09 season where the Titans improved from 29-36-7 to 40-25-7. Kowalsky won the John Brophy Award as the ECHL's coach of the season. Mike Ashmore has this post with more details on how he earned this accolade.
Admittedly, I can't speak to how Kowalsky coached the Trenton Titans/Devils. I couldn't tell you what his tendencies are as a coach. If you have followed the Trenton Devils, then please let us know what can be expected. However, this quote from Lou himself - as reported by Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice - is certainly a sign of praise:
"This is the direction that we always felt we wanted to go, but wanted to make sure that each and every one of them was comfortable with each other, comfortable with what they would be doing," Lamoriello said. "With Rick, he’s done a great job in the (ECHL) and had success. Each one of the coaches that were in Lowell—John and Kurt (Kleinendorst)—and also Chris (Lamoriello) always felt the kids that came there from Trenton were well prepared and also the communication and the way he did things in practices, he deserves this chance.
At a minimum, given that Trenton only suffered one out of four seasons of missing the playoffs, it can be said that Kowalsky has paid his dues at the ECHL level. Here's what he had to say about this opportunity, per Gulitti:
"I’ve been a head coach now for four years and I think it’s even more comforting knowing there’s a certain familiarity staying in the organization," Kowalsky said. "There’s probably eight to 10 guys that have played in Lowell that spent significant time with me (in Trenton). I think there will be a half dozen players that will be in Albany next year. For me, it’s just the next step. Yeah, it’s a little different. You’ve got kids that you’re dealing with now all on NHL contracts and with one foot in the door from an NHL standpoint. It was unique situation in Trenton where there was really an emphasis put on development to try to get these kids to the next level for them, which is the American League. So, I think it’s just a natural step."
I don't think the familiarity with some of the players can be ignored. At a minimum, he'll know how to manage certain players and understand what they can and can't do whilst he adjusts to a new league. I will say that could be a bigger challenge as he won't have Kevin Dean, who has been an assistant for the AHL team for the last three seasons, for guidence. Tommy Albelin does bring NHL experience as a player and as an assistant coach (3 seasons), and I'm sure he'll have plenty to tell the defensemen (note to the AHL defensemen listen to this man). Yet, he'll have to adjust himself not only to the league but also to being more active behind the bench. Hopefully for Albany's sake, both Kowalsky and Albelin will adjust quickly enough and be able to continue the development of the Devils.
As far as Dean goes, he too has earned a shot a head coaching job after being an assistant coach with Lowell for the last 3 seasons. While he told Gulitti that he wanted the Albany job, he understands that a head coaching position is an upgrade. It should be seen as such, if only because he saw John MacLean go through a similar process. Should Dean do well in Trenton, when the AHL head coaching job opens up, then he'll be in a great position to get it with his experience both as a coach and being within the organization. Of course, it too will be a large challenge for Dean. Not only is it Dean's first head coaching job, but he'll be replacing the successful (in the regular season) Kowalsky in Trenton. I would hope the Trenton faithful are willing to be patient with Dean.
Ultimately, that's the main thread. The only "new guy" to the organization in terms of coaches at either the NHL, AHL, and ECHL level is Adam Oates. MacLean, Dean, Kowalsky, Albelin, Larry Robinson, Scott Stevens, and Chris Terreri have all been member of the organization either as a player, a coach, or both. It's heartening in a way that the Devils are more than just developing players, but also their own coaching staff. As with all jobs, it's all about getting results. Should MacLean, Kowalsky, and Dean flop, then they'll be out as needed. Yet if they can get them, then it's another feather to add in the decorated cap of the New Jersey Devils organization and system.
I wish both Rick Kowalsky and Kevin Dean the very best of luck in being the head coach of Albany and Trenton, respectively.