While I've spent the last few days focusing on Andy Greene, what the New Jersey Devils will do with him will not be the most important decision to make for 2011-12. In fact, determining what to offer Zach Parise may not even be the most important decision to make - though it's close. With the retirement of Jacques Lemaire, the Devils will need a new head coach. Ideally, this decision should be made in advance of trying to re-sign anyone beyond prospects since whoever the new head coach will be could have an impact on negotiations.
Among the many lessons to learn from last season, coaching does matter to some degree to a team's success. As much as Devils fans felt hiring John MacLean was a good idea last June, we know now in retrospect that it wasn't a good decision at all. Such is the nature of any signing, to be fair. We won't know if Free Agent X will suddenly drop off or if Prospect Y looks good and then suffers a major injury or if Coach Z loses the locker room within the first month of the season until it actually happens. Still, we can learn from the MacLean failure and eventual revival under Lemaire. Whoever the next head coach needs to command respect from the players in the back; be able to make proper tactical adjustments and preparations both in-game and from game-to-game; and knows when to light a fire under someone if they aren't performing well.
The early name that has popped up so far is Ken Hitchcock. Rich Chere said he was a top candidate in this NJ.com article on April 11, wherein he named several possibilities. His name resurfaced in the local media this morning. Larry Brooks claimed that sources say that Hitchcock is the top candidate for the head coaching vacancy in the NY Post. Ignoring various sticking points in his article about the Devils (Example: Risk-averse, Brooksie? A franchise that hired Brent Sutter right out of junior? A club that traded for Ilya Kovalchuk and sub-sequentially signed him to a long deal even after the NHL threw a fit over it?), it's clear that this is a real possibility. Say what you want about either of them, but Chere has been covering the team ever since they've been in NJ and Brooks is very well connected both locally and throughout the league. If they're floating a name as a coaching candidate, then I wouldn't treat it as just speculation.
That said, I wouldn't act as if it's set in stone. Remember that someone's "sources" said Michel Therrien was going to be hired last summer, many journalists ran with it, and as we know now, it wasn't Therrien. So if you hate this possibility, then recall that as solace.
Hitchcock is not tied to any NHL team right now, as he was fired in the middle of the 2009-10 season from Columbus. Any interviews or decisions involving Hitchcock would likely have to wait a few weeks, since he's currently coaching Team Canada in the IIHF World Championships. (Hint to Devils management: Talk to Travis Zajac about how he is behind the bench from a player's perspective.) In fact, any interviews may wait until after the postseason in case there is an assistant coach who the Devils would want to talk to (or other head coaches being sacked). This is fine. MacLean was hired in mid-June, in advance of any deadlines for qualifying RFAs as well as unrestricted free agents. In other words, even if it's not going to be Hitchcock, I would not expect the hiring to be made soon.
In the meantime, I want to gauge your opinion on Ken Hitchcock; hence, the poll. Would you want him coaching this team? Or would you want him to stay far away Newark? What about him do you like or dislike about his coaching style? Please leave your answers in the comments as well as other thoughts on who the next head coach should be. Thanks for reading.