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How Much Change Should A New Coach Bring?

With the Devils actively searching for a new coach, The Devils’ Den’s favorite beat reporter, Tom Gulliti, spoke to Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello about the team’s coaching vacancy. While several names have been linked to the Devils, Lamoriello made an important statement to Gulliti. When speaking about what they’re looking for in a coach, Lamoriello insisted the Devils’ philosophy would remain unchanged.

“Philosophically everything will stay together and we certainly will not put anybody in a position that doesn’t have the same continuity that we’ve had for years.”

While this quote doesn’t point to any candidate in particular, it shows an important facet of the coaching search. Lamoriello doesn’t want to radically change the Devils system. But how much change should a new coach be allowed to instill?

The Devils need a shakeup. It doesn’t have to be a radical one, but the team seemed to be playing stale and uninspired hockey in their first round loss to the Flyers this spring. The lines didn’t show much creativity, and the power play looked atrocious. Many of those themes began during the second part of the season. A new coach should be allowed to tinker with the offense, which I feel is always an area of untapped potential for the Devils. They have so many skill players, but both Brent Sutter and Jacques Lemaire couldn’t find the right combination to deliver the best lines, especially on the powerplay. It’s a waste of talent, and I believe a new coach needs to shake up the Devils offensively. And even operating under a defensive philosophy, the team can still improve it’s offensive output.

I believe the Devils could become one of the best counter-attacking teams in the league. Both Sutter and Lemaire rarely tapped into this potential when behind the bench. We’ve seen flashes in the past few years, when the Devils would forecheck well for a game or two and turn those chances into goals. But the team could never sustain that effort for a majority of a season. This type of play would be tough and grinding, and the Devils would need to improve their team speed. But a counter-attacking style would still fit under the team’s defense-first mentality and allow for some offensive potency. It wouldn’t be a radical change, but it could be the shift the team needs to finally infuse great defensive play with the potential for a solid offensive team.

So, what candidate could put this on the ice? That responsibility may rest on the unproven shoulders of Mike Haviland. The assistant coach of the Chicago Blackhawks has worked with this system before, helping to coach a team ready to make plays on the forecheck. Watching Chicago in the Stanley Cup Finals showed just how good this counter-attacking system can be. The team always pressed and constantly took advantage of Flyers mistakes. Ultimately, they made plays happen. That’s been missing for the Devils over the past three years, and Haviland may be the coach to instill this style.

Offensive change is a must, but so is a better locker room environment. Read after the jump for my take on how the locker room dynamic needs to change with a new coach.

 

It’s not only an offensive change that needs to be made. The Devils need to find a coach who can manage the locker room. There have been countless posts here, and others around the Internet, detailing the fractured locker room the Devils had last season. Captain and coach didn’t agree, and players literally stopped listening to Lemaire during the first round of the playoffs. And yet, with all of these problems, the team still won the Atlantic Division. But clearly, these locker room issues contributed to the team’s first-round playoff exit.

In order to once again become a serious title contender, the Devils need to fix their locker room. One of the most important aspects a new coach must instill is respect. The underlying theme to many of the offseason stories was a lack of respect. The lines of communication between players and coaches seemed broken and, at times, nonexistent. Players need to know that a coach is willing to stand behind them and fight for them. Instilling this trust and respect can only lead to more success on the ice. But without it, the team will fail, as we watched happen during the postseason.

Can Haviland impact the team on this end as well? There’s where his candidacy gets muddy. He’s never had head coaching experience at the NHL level, which could make gaining respect difficult. Players may feel as if he isn’t successful and cannot appropriately lead them. This thinking would be a mistake, as the coach just helped the Blackhawks win the title. But his lack of experience could make establishing a positive locker room difficult.

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I completely agree with Lamoriello – the philosophy of the Devils needs to remain intact. The team has made the playoffs 13 years in a row, winning three Stanley Cup championships and enjoying sustained success. Much of that success has been built on solid defensive play and a team-first mentality. But all is not perfect, and an incoming coach needs to change some things. The Devils need to become a better scoring team, and they desperately need to fix their locker room issues.

Photo Credit: Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger

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