The Stanley Cup Playoffs finished on June 9th 2010, with the Blackhawks taking the Cup.
Eight days after this, on June 17th, the Devils made a fateful move in hiring John Maclean. It is obvious that John Maclean's hiring was a mistake - the team looked awful during most games, and Lou Lamoriello's decision to fire Maclean was no surprise.
After his firing, and the subsequent rehiring of Jacques Lemaire, I remembered an article I had seen on nj.com regarding the Devils coaching dilemma. This article had been published by Rich Chere the day after the Blackhawks won the Cup, and it discussed the possibility of Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Haviland taking the reigns as the Devils next coach. Haviland was drafted by the Devils in 1990 and is from Middletown, NJ. The link to the article can be found here. Looking back on this article (the nostalgia aspect a Devils' fan's woes), I began to think that this type of "non-playoff" season was bound to happen. Our team had been growing older every year, we were restricted by the salary cap, and in general, our team lacked the speed necessary to compete.
Jacques Lemaire's hiring made me believe that the Devils season would not be catastrophically different had Maclean not been hired. The team is still bad under Lemaire, but better than under Maclean. At least Lemaire is willing to tell the media what is wrong and his plan to fix the issue. However, though Lemaire outlines the problems, the results have not been there (I never expected immediate results, I did forsee some of our offensive woes solved). Games have been closer (no more 7-1 debacles), but this team still lacks the competitive spirit necessary to win games consistently. Many will argue that the Devils have no confidence and therefore lack the urge to compete. I believe the opposite. Every player in the NHL realizes they can be traded or waived if they do not succeed. Hence, I think that the Devils would not be playing that much better had another coach been hired. In the case of my linked article (see above), Mike Haviland would have brought an up-tempo, aggressive forechecking style to the Devils, but whose to say this would have worked with a slow team with little desire to compete.
The group of players on this team is simply not satisfactory to win at an NHL level, therefore reinforcing my belief that our record would not be much different had Maclean not been hired. On paper, our team looks as good as any. However, our injury-depleted defense and our inept offense has proven otherwise. The players on our team simply cannot put the puck in the net (we might as well score 1 goal each game and leave the arena) and for this we cannot win games. It is veterans like Langenbrunner, Arnott, Elias, Clarkson, Kovalchuk, Mair, Rolston, Zajac, Zubrus, White, Volchenkov, Tallinder, Greene, and Brodeur that are supposed to help generate wins. I am not advocating the release of all of the players, but I believe that many of them are not fit to lead on this New Jersey Devils team based on the horrific results we have seen this year.
Everyone wonders what direction the Devils will go from here. I believe that Lemaire's hiring will reteach the Devils good fundamentals and ultimately prepare them for a playoff run next year. Many of the veterans I listed above will not don the skates for the team next year. Ridding our team of these players is not a way to guarantee success. However, I do believe it is in the right direction of a team that will be invigorated to reestablish itself among the NHL hierarchy once the calendar turns to October 2011.