Aside from figuring out what free agents he wants to try to sign and re-sign, how to handle the upcoming draft, and what direction to steer this seemingly broken Devils team towards, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello may be faced with another problem if head coach Brent Sutter decides to step down from his post and part ways with the Devils.
I think the hiring of Brent Sutter was the best thing to happen to the Devils in the salary cap era. He established a new open system for the team to play that resulted in an explosively offensive season this year. While Sutter does have his doubters and haters, I for one think Brent is a fantastic coach, and his departure would be a huge blow to this team, which has already, fell to its knees for the second straight season after a devastating game seven loss that still keeps me up at night.
In the event that Brent Sutter does not return behind the Devils bench for the 2009-2010 season, the question stands. Who will replace him? For over ten years now, Lou Lamoriello has failed to hold onto a long term coach, a trend that started with the firing of Jacques Lemaire back in 1998. Until now, Brent Sutter has held the longest coaching tenure since Lemaire of two full seasons. Pat Burns seemed to have been the Devil's man, but sickness caused him to re-sign. He has not coached since.
The way I see it, potential candidates for the head coaching spot seem scarce, not that there aren't any legitimate coaches seeking employment out there, but it being a matter of who would ultimately want to take such a job, only to get fired after a season or two. The first person that comes to mind and the most likely candidate to become Brent Sutter's successor is John MacLean. He's wanted to become the team's new head coach since the summer of 2007, and has patiently waited for the opportunity, serving as an assistant coach since 2002. Although MacLean may be the likely candidate, it won't be an easy ride for him, especially during his first season. Although he may have gained experience as an assistant coach for six years, I don't think giving a young coach such as MacLean complete control of a team, particularly a veteran team, for the first time in his coaching career is wise. A veteran team such as the Devils needs a veteran coach or someone that is reputable for having control for and respect of their team. If the Devils choose to go young this summer, then MacLean could be a more viable candidate as he would build his coaching skill and ability as the team's youth core builds on their playing experience and skill.
What about Guy Carbonneau? Another blogger mentioned how he fits the profile of former Devil coaches in that he is a former Montreal Canadien player, and was involved in the Montreal organization as well. Carbonneau is more experienced than MacLean in his coaching and playing career, and his system has been proven to work, particularly last year when the Habs finished first in the Eastern Conference, and scored the most goals in the league. In my opinion, Carbonneau can be an effective head coach if he has the right players. This is perhaps one of two considerations as to why Carbonneau might not be coming behind the bench in Jersey. It seems that Carbonneau and Lou's views of the right players seem to differ in the fact that Carbonneau has coached quality, while Lou prefers quantity in players. The second thing to consider is how Lou tends to avoid notarized former coaches, and tends to hire younger coaches, who are given their first shot to prove themselves in the NHL like he did with Sutter, and I guess you could say Claude Julien. Lou also likes to hire people from within the organization as he did with Larry Robinson, and when he nominated himself to be the Devils head coach...twice.
Despite rumors about him expressing interest in the head coaching job of the Montreal Canadiens from the Star Ledger, and contradicting implications of him having no interest in becoming a head coach...again, it would not surprise me if Larry Robinson returned behind the Devils bench for a third stint. Larry Robinson, the man who guided the Devils to a Stanley Cup in 2000, and returned them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2001, is currently a special assignment coach and advisor for the Devils and is happy with his job. Whether he has expressed interest or not, Robinson seems like someone that would swoop out of the blue to land the spot for at least the start of the 2009-2010 season. Assuming the team's core stays unchanged throughout the summer, the players would be familiar with Robinson and his style of coaching, in which many Devils veterans experienced great success under. The one problem with that is, those days were nearly a decade ago, and those players are nearly a decade older, which shows in their play as of late.
Those three coaches are the likely candidates to go behind the Devils bench for the 2009-2010 in my eyes. There are some unlikely nominees worth mention for the sake of "what-if" scenarios. Peter Lavoilette, former head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, who won a Stanley Cup in 2006 comes to mind. He is a proven coach, whose record and reputation was tainted in the past two seasons. Unlikely as it would be, he coaching the Devils could be a way to redeem his coaching reputation. Although he rejected the coaching job with the Colorado Avalanche, why not give Patrick Roy an honorable mention? I'm sure it would be a little awkward between him and Marty "Mr. Regular Season" Brodeur, and we all one of Lou's priorities is to have nothing but the best for Marty. Roy never had anything to do in terms of being affiliated with the Devils, and he seems to have no interest in becoming a head coach for now. One could ask if he rejected the job with the Avalanche, why would he accept one with the Devils? What if Lou reached out to Mark Messier? It would not happen in a million years, but I think Messier would make a fantastic head coach. Deemed the greatest leader in all sports, I think coaching is his calling after a glamorous NHL career. If anything, I assume he is waiting for an opening with the Rangers. I would love to see him behind the Devils bench, and I could any time I want...in my dreams.
Hopefully, we as Devils fans won't have to see such a scenario unfold. Hopefully, Brent Sutter returns behind the Devils bench for at least one more season. I think he is a perfect fit in New Jersey, and the players have adapted greatly to his system. One of the risks of a new coach is the team taking a full season to adapt to a new system, which could result in scarce offensive production, or the team struggling in their first season, which are realistic possibilities that have happened when Julien and Sutter first started coaching the team back in 2006 and 2007, respectively, especially since the Devil's core has revolved around the same group of players for so many years.