Sunday, December 28, 2014

That's So Lou

In case you missed the news over Christmas weekend 2014, the Devils made a coaching change and created a unique coaching situation. Out is head coach Peter DeBoer and assistant (and ex-Devil player) Dave Barr. Back in are Hall of Fame GM and former interim Devils head coach Lou Lamoriello to oversee things behind the bench (technically, interim head coach) and former Devils assistant coaches (from the DeBoer era) and Hall of Fame players Adam Oates (to run the forwards) and Scott Stevens (to run the defense).

It creates a unique situation because Lou isn't going to be behind the bench forever, and he's really observing more than he is running things. Oates is the offensive coordinator and Stevens is the defensive coordinator, with it basically known that the two are co-coaches (rather than what they were under DeBoer or in any other conventional coaching situation). Lou doesn't want to commit to one over the other...yet (Oates left the Devils in 2012 to become head coach in Washington, where he lasted 2 seasons and Stevens wants to be a head coach come day, and left the Devils in 2014 over philosophical differences with DeBoer). Lou has gone so far as to say that this situation isn't guaranteed past the end of this season.

It's thinking outside the box, which is something Lou is somewhat known for. I'll use the term "that's so Lou". Heck, the original hiring of Lou in 1987 was "so Lou". He's an outside the box thinker. After the initial firing of DeBoer was announced, it really shouldn't have surprised anyone that Lou would create this unique situation. Lou might have been asleep at the wheel since, well, (at least) since DeBoer was hired in 2011. But Lou's back, and probably for a final big bang with this organization which he built into a winner.

So back to this situation. I will preface this by saying that I've been calling for DeBoer to be fired for almost 2 years. Lou's fired coaches of Devils teams going to the playoffs. He fired MacLean, an ex-Devils player, after almost half a season in 2010-11. I don't know how he let DeBoer get away with missing the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. And then again in the full 2013-14 season. So bringing in not one but two coaches to fix things shows just how bad of a situation DeBoer created in New Jersey. And I don't disagree with that statement, that two coaches were needed to fix this. I don't think either of these guys, as a singular head coach, could have done the job alone.

I used the terms "offensive coordinator" and "defensive coordinator" earlier. That's a football analogy, for those that don't follow that sport. And employing that in hockey is a bit different, it's not a new concept to coaching, just something outside the box for hockey. But I think it's the right thing. First, they have problems in both areas. Second, in football, sometimes, an offensive or defensive coordinator makes a good head coach, and sometimes they don't, finding themselves back in the familiar role with another club. Adam Oates had his first chance as head coach in Washington, and it didn't work out, and Scott Stevens is looking for that chance somewhere, and after seeing another ex-Devil who was groomed for the job here not work out (John MacLean), I'd be a little gun shy about doing that with Stevens too. Maybe one of them will make a great Devils head coach, and maybe they won't. Trying to salvage the season isn't exactly the place to find that out. But these are the two coaches who can try to fix the Devils enough to make a run with the players they have in just over half a season.

I think this situation could even work long-term. But, they would need someone other than Lou to tie it together (nothing against Lou, he's clearly an interim in that role). Maybe that falls on Oates. Maybe that falls on Stevens. Maybe that falls on assistant coach Mike Foligno, or on someone from outside of the organization. But someone needs to be in charge, on the bench, even if it's just a figure head.

Heck, maybe this is even a new paradigm in hockey coaching. Maybe a lasting legacy of Lou. Because that would be "so Lou".

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