‘Unique’ Situation in New Jersey Leaves Lou Lamoriello in Limbo

Lou Lamoriello

The current Devils coaching situation may be “unique,” as Lou Lamoriello put it, but it’s only because the Devils president/general manager/czar has made it such.

If Lamoriello simply named himself interim head coach, added Adam Oates and Scott Stevens to his staff as assistants — giving them “full autonomy” over the forwards and defense, respectively — then retained Tommy Albelin and Mike Foligno, no one would’ve batted an eye.

Yet, that Lamoriello essentially did that but did not give himself, Oates, or Stevens titles, is where this gets a little nutty.

By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard how Lamoriello decided to replace Pete DeBoer. It was the talk of hockey Twitter from Boxing Day through the weekend, and when the 72-year-old Devils executive — who has been such since the 1987-88 season — unveiled his plan Saturday, the slew of press who watched it go down almost couldn’t believe its collective ears.

If it works, Lamoriello will once again look like a genius, yet having separate coaches devote full autonomy is hardly a novel trend. Every club has a goalie coach, many assistants are former players who are in place to coach only the position in which they played — hell, Stevens did it under DeBoer just last season. It’s only that there’s a triumvirate  — the not-so-holy trinity, if you will — that it gets a little confusing.

The Devils are likely not going anywhere this season, so why not give both Oates and Stevens auditions — even though “no promises were made,” according to Lamoriello.

Stevens admitted he and DeBoer didn’t see eye-to-eye in New Jersey, but with DeBoer out of the picture, that opened the door for the Devils great to return behind the bench in a stronger role than last season.

Plus, giving Stevens or Oates, who have NHL coaching experience, an audition to be the Devils’ next coach can’t hurt if Lamoriello decides he wants to step back — which he has said he would. Stevens said Saturday he “isn’t sure” if he even wants to be a head coach, though it’s hard to believe the fiery competitor wouldn’t want to be a bench boss at the highest level.

What this situation does is put the onus solely on Lamoriello, though the wolves are fast approaching his door. There was no question Peter DeBoer’s status was tenuous when New Jersey — on the heels of two straight playoff misses — sits tied for 15th in the 16-team Eastern Conference. DeBoer did what he could with the roster he had, often getting his clubs to rise well above their talent level, but you can’t turn lemons into gold.

However Lamoriello aims to spin this, it’s a move designed with next season in mind — figure out who the coach of the future will be, then assign that guy to be the bench boss over the summer.

It just remains to be seen if Lamoriello’s around to pick out that guy.

Lamoriello was asked straight up Saturday if he had the authority to hire a coach longterm, as speculation rises that he’s losing clout within the organization he’s helped shape over the the past two-and-a-half decades.

“Yes,” Lamoriello said.  “If the right person was out there, [ownership] gave me the authority to [sign that person longterm]. My recommendation was this was the best thing and the right thing.”

After a listless loss Saturday against the Rangers, New Jersey looked a tougher and more pugnacious team in a surprising 3-1 win Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, so maybe the tone has been set and the tide will turn.

But at the end of the day, the Devils are a flawed hockey team, and 10 associate head coaches probably wouldn’t fix that.

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Pat Pickens
Pat Pickens covers the NHL for the New York Times, NHL.com and XN Sports.