Dealing With The Devils
By Max Herman
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Well Devils fans, the wait is finally over. After going weeks as the only team in the NHL without a head coach, Lou Lamoriello got his man Tuesday when he named Peter DeBoer to replace the retired Jacques Lemaire behind the Devils’ bench.

I was happy to see that there aren’t too many folks out there already rushing to negative judgment about the hire. Sometimes the longer you wait for something, the easier it becomes to be disappointed by it. And there are certainly a decent number of fans who have fallen prey to that line of thinking.

But before anyone tries to run this guy out of town before training camp even starts, let’s look at why Lamoriello overlooked established guys like Ken Hitchcock, Guy Carbonneau, and Michel Therrien to hire DeBoer.

There are a couple of perfectly reasonable questions that DeBoer doubters may bring up. For example:

Why should we believe in a coach that was fired by the Florida Panthers?

I don’t think I’m saying anything outrageous when I say that the Panthers aren’t exactly the epitome of organizational success in the NHL. But even with what can be generously described as average talent on his team, DeBoer led the Panthers to a very respectable 41-30-11 record in his rookie season as head coach.

But when you find yourself coaching a team that annually sheds salary and consistently finds themselves amongst the sellers at the trade deadline, it puts a very shallow ceiling on the amount of success you can have.

The Panthers always seem to be “rebuilding,” which I guess is their way of saying, “We’re just gonna get rid of our biggest contracts and hope that works out.”

The point here is that both DeBoer and the Panthers organization had to realize that there was little chance for success given their current circumstances. And to pin three seasons of missing the playoffs on DeBoer’s shoulders is just plain ridiculous.

The Devils have had 9 coaches in 11 years. Why should we believe DeBoer will break that mold?

Now this is a very valid question. The revolving door behind the Devils’ bench has been well-documented, and certainly contributed to the reason why it took so long for Lamoriello to actually make this decision.

So one would certainly think that Lou intends for DeBoer to stick around awhile. But here’s the part of the column where I answer a question with another question…

What would the Devils have to do this year to have it qualify as a “successful season?”

I don’t think even the most biased Devils fan would be willing to tell you that the Devs are a ready-made Stanley Cup contender. And if you are that fan, well I hate to break it to you…they aren’t.

So what happens if the Devils get off to another rocky start? What happens if they make the playoffs, but once again fail to make it out of the first round? Does DeBoer get a mulligan?

These are questions I simply do not have the answer to. You might think that DeBoer will get a longer leash than some of his predecessors, but if there are flaws in the way he is coaching the team, should he be allowed to stick around purely for the sake of continuity? It remains to be seen…

How does the DeBoer hire affect signing Zach Parise?

This might depend partly on whether or not Parise gets signed before his August 3rd arbitration hearing. If it does in fact get to that point, Zach would then be forced to sign just a one-year deal, and not the long-term contract he has been clamoring for. Both the Devils and Parise say that they would prefer to avoid arbitration by getting a deal done before then.

You can bet that if it does go the arbitration route, and Parise isn’t thrilled by DeBoer’s coaching this year, it’s not at all crazy to think Zach might go elsewhere if he becomes an unrestricted free agent next season.

But consider that DeBoer’s defensive-minded coaching style has been compared favorably to that of former Devils’ head coach Brent Sutter. I’m sure Parise certainly hopes that rings true. All Zach did under Sutter’s tutelage was post career highs in goals (45) and assists (49).

How will Ilya Kovalchuk respond to DeBoer?

A lot was made of the struggles Kovalchuk endured at the outset of last season with rookie head coach John MacLean behind the Devils’ bench. I think I can say comfortably that Kovy will not have the same issues with DeBoer.

Having Jacques Lemaire coach him out of his swoon last year may have been the best thing that’s ever happened to Ilya. Yes, we all know he found his scoring touch. But Kovy will be the first one to tell you that the reason that happened is because Lemaire molded him into a two-way player.

The Thrashers never asked Kovalchuk to be defensively responsible, which was my main concern with him fitting into the New Jersey scheme in the first place. But after finding his niche on the team during the second half of last year, there is no reason in my mind to doubt that he could play well under a defensive-minded guy like DeBoer.

If I had a nickel for every time Kovalchuk referred to Lemaire as “the best/smartest coach in hockey,” I’d have about two dollars and change. Peter DeBoer is not Jacques Lemaire, nor should he try to be. But Lou knows what direction his team needs to go in order to be successful. And he clearly must have been impressed by DeBoer’s interview to choose him over some of the other candidates we heard about.

In my mind, making the playoffs should be the baseline goal for this upcoming season. If they win a round or two, that’s great. But don’t let yourself fall into the “Stanley Cup or bust” mode of thinking. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither are Stanley Cup champions.

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