While searching through some Devils news today, I came across a very interesting article from Rich Chere, who covers the Devils for the Star-Ledger. In the article, Chere spoke to Jamie Langenbrunner, who still seems angry at ex-coach Jacques Lemaire for the way he ran the team this season. As many fans, writers and bloggers (including myself) questioned Langenbrunner’s leadership this season, the article attempts to fill in the gray area on what the team felt during the season. It’s a great read, and I suggest you take a look at it. But there are some parts of the article I’d like to dissect here to try and see how exactly the locker room morale played out last season.
We all saw the strain between Lemaire and Langenbrunner, particularly near the end of the season. With Lemaire wanting to rest players, he decided to sit Langenbrunner for a game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Langenbrunner wasn’t happy about the situation, refusing to speak to the media for four days after the incident. But some players believe there was more to the story.
Langenbrunner was unhappy about being a healthy scratch for the April 3 game in Raleigh, N.C., and remained silent on the matter for the next four days. He still will not discuss the incident in detail, but two other members of the organization suggested Lemaire disrespected Langenbrunner by trying to give the “C” to defenseman Colin White for that one game.
Clearly, the team didn’t respond well to this incident. Colin White said he would not accept the “C”, even in the one game. It may have seemed underhanded, and White even believed he would be challenging the leadership of the team. This incident seemed to be the tipping point with Langenbrunner. He hadn’t meshed well with Lemaire, and now the coach was attempting to take the “C” away after sitting him. To many players, it seems as if Lemaire lost the respect of several players. While I think this is minor, it clearly played a large role in the mind of the team.
But it didn’t end there. Throughout the season, players chafed under some of Lemaire’s policies. Chere goes on to cite several complaints the team had against their former coach. According to the article:
Lemaire’s need to constantly juggle line combinations was questioned by some players and Ilya Kovalchuk’s freewheeling individual freedom and quarterbacking on the power play did not sit well with others.
Many of the fans expressed these same feelings. Lemaire decided to break up a highly successful line to redistribute the talent. It didn’t work too well, and players like Ilya Kovalchuk and other players could never find their comfort zone with teammates. Even when a line started to produce, Lemaire would break them apart. These lines changes were maddening, and I don’t blame the players for reacting negatively to the constant juggling Lemaire did.
What surprises me is the backlash towards Kovalchuk. Instead of enjoying playing with the left-winger, it seems his style of play upset some of his teammates. I especially am amazed about their feelings of him on the powerplay. Maybe they considered him a puck hog, or maybe he just didn’t fit the system. Whatever the case, I figured the team would be excited to play with him. Instead, it seems like the players never saw him fit the team’s style. I wonder if their feelings will translate into whether or not Kovalchuk returns to the team this off-season.
Continue reading after the jump for more reaction from the article!
The article, however, doesn’t entirely bash Lemaire. At one point, Langenbrunner admitted that, at times, he failed to address the situation properly.
There were a few things that happened, a few issues that were tough for me to let go. I probably didn’t handle them correctly. Not all personalities completely mesh, but they are able to work together. I had no problems with the way he treated me. It was more about team issues that we would never agree on.
There were things Langenbrunner probably handled wrong? The way he handled being a healthy scratch against Carolina showed Langenbrunner’s displeasure with Lemaire. But he didn’t handle it correctly at all. Refusing to speak to the media left Langenbrunner looking like an immature child. I understand that not everyone will get along. But when you’re the captain of the team, you need to find a way to work in the system and get the other players to follow your lead. It seems that Langenbrunner’s attitude wasn’t conducive to that type of leadership. The article doesn’t mention whether or not there was a locker room divide, but it clearly seems the riff was noticeable. And, from Chere’s description, the relationship between the captain and coach did nothing to help repair that riff.
So what does this all mean? Well, on the surface, it means that Lemaire may not have been the best coach for the team. But finger pointing will only go so far. The Devils will now hire yet another coach – their sixth in six years since the lockout. It’s time for the players to realize their mistakes. I respect Langenbrunner admitting he didn’t handle every situation appropriately. But the players still need to realize their mistakes as well. The team cannot continue to chase out coach after coach. Maybe coaches have been like fitting a square peg in a round hole. But eventually, something has to give. And it seems like the players are unwilling to give in. The next coach will probably face some of these same challenges, and it’ll be interesting how the staff deals with these issues. As Chere showed, Lemaire couldn’t fix that divide last year.
Photo Credits: John Ulan/AP Photo-The Canadian Press and Mike Stobe/Getty Images