I did not expect to have to write about this, at least not until the summer of 2010, but the powers that be have forced my hand. Today, Brent Sutter has announced that he has resigned from the head coaching position for the Devils, deciding that he'd rather hang around Alberta and save his dying junior hockey team. Now as a statement on its own, that's perfectly reasonable, but its the way in which this entire sequence of events transpired that has already left myself and many other Devils fans angry as hell.
Sutter has said all along that it was in his plans to re-evaluate his situation after every season. He did it in the summer of 2008, and decided to return. We knew this was coming sooner or later, so why all the anger? Well, from the moment a report came out from Canada during the season that Sutter might be considering leaving after the year, something was different about him. He continually wrote off the report, but the damage had been done. Watching the team the rest of the way, you couldn't help but think that Sutter's heart wasn't really into it. I don't claim to have experienced this personally, but I have heard numerous reports from fans who have met and talked to players that for as long as this report has existed, the players got uneasy when asked about Sutter. It would seem that he really lost the team at some point. The Devils were able to overcome a late March slump in time for the playoffs, but were outplayed and outmatched by Carolina. As a sidenote, I would suggest any new coach works the players to the brink of oblivion for two minutes every day, reminding them each time that it is makeup for the two minutes they decided not to try in game 7, but this is another story for another time.
So it is not the fact that Brent Sutter chose to be with his family and business, its the fact that if he even had to think about making the choice, he should not have been coaching or even thinking about coaching. Coaching in the NHL requires top priority in your life if that's what you are going to undertake. Those coaches who are not fired first step down when they realize their heart is not 100% in their current coaching situation. They don't say "oh I'll think about it," they just do it.
It's also what a good coach he was for the Devils. He was the first to truly throw the defensive system out the window, and to only have a small dose of Lou's kool-aid, not enough to govern the way he ran the team, as in...oh...every other coach that ever worked for Lou. It really appeared as if the era of Lou the dictator was over, that we'd finally have a coach who did what he really wanted to. And, at least until we hit the playoffs, we did as good if not better than in previous years under the regime.
But I'd rather have another puppet coach that truly wants to be there rather than an individual thinker whose heart was never really in it from the start. (Although if the Devils end up re-hiring Jacques Lemaire, prepare for another blog filled with both anger and statements which contradict what I've already said here, because that would NOT be cool.) Sutter had the potential to do great things in New Jersey, and had he stayed a few more years may have gone down as one of the best coaches in Devils history. But alas, he's had other priorities all along, and perhaps that would have caught up with him eventually.
So good riddance, Brent Sutter. Way to finish the job.