As the resident Devils fan at the site (Scott Schroeder's ace post on Mike Haviland's candidacy aside), and noticing that it has been a tad barren as far as articles on Jersey's team since we launched, I figure I should give you my take on the main players in what seems to be an annual off-Broadway revival for the Devs. For more, check out the brilliant, obsessive-compulsive, insightful John Fischer at In Lou We Trust (where yours truly contributed for a season) and read his take on all this, including why it matters little who the Devils hire with regard to any change of team philosophy.
All that out of the way, a quick take on all the characters in Lou Lamoriello's annual passion play:
Leading Man: Michael Therrien.
Why Hire: Because he did something or other with the Montreal Canadiens at some period of time ... and stuff. Lou Lamoriello's fetish for blanc, bleu en rouge aside, Therrien did take a somewhat ahead of schedule Penguins team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 before getting fired midway through the team's 2009 championship run. Certainly helped the development of a star like Sidney Crosby in his tenure, which started midway through the 2005-06 season, but was likely more helpful in turning Jordan Staal into one of the league's best two-way centers. Seems ready to win now.
Why Not: It definitely seemed like his system has a lifespan, and it clearly died by the time he was fired in Pittsburgh. Still hasn't won the Stanley Cup. The Pittsburgh power play was (and, to be fair, remains) awful under Therrien, and considering he had an arsenal of guys like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, you've got to wonder if the Devils' atrocious power play could benefit much from him. Just doesn't have that feeling of "Right guy, right place, right time" that Jacques Lemaire did when he was hired both times, and doesn't scream "this is the guy to bring this bunch over the top" like Pat Burns did.
Character Actor: John MacLean
Why Hire: Because I'm really tired of saying to my dad in the middle of games "Why can't they just give Johnny Mac a shot?" The Devils second all-time leading scorer spent years toiling as an assistant under the 76 coaches New Jersey's had since he came aboard in 2002. Clearly has passion for coaching, as shown by his desire to stick around for all these years when there must have been another place he could have gone. Surely a few NHL GMs have inquired about his availability. Turned a listless Devils AHL franchise in Lowell from perennial bottom-feeders to a playoff team for the first time in a decade, and the AHL is all the rage in NHL coaching ranks.
Why Not: Because it just isn't the right time. Sorry, that's from Lou Lamoriello's mad libs speech for when he hires someone else. Truth is, MacLean ran the power play during his tenure assisting in Jersey, and it was never all that impressive. The Lowell Devils kind of flaked out in the playoffs, just like the NHL team did. There's likely a concern that a ball-buster like Brent Sutter and a respected winner like Lemaire couldn't get the respect of these players, so why would a new to the ranks MacLean do any different? Frankly, I think a younger coach could be the right thing, because he's likely more sensitive to what today's player needs and wants. Plus, he knows most of these guys, but what do I know, Lou?
Oscar Winner: Ken Hitchcock
Why Hire: The only candidate in any of this with a Stanley Cup win (1999 with Dallas, though MacLean was an assistant on the Devils 2003 team, and Mike Haviland could have a ring soon) and the most experienced of all the candidates. Known for running a tight ship, and not always seeing eye-to-eye with players, and frankly, this Devils team isn't in need of some sort of feel-goodery. Has Jamie Langenbrunner's approval, which seems to mean everything since Lemaire got fired. Would deflect lazy hockey writers from all the Marty-is-Fat jokes.
Why Not: Hitchcock's system has definitely seemed out of touch with the modern NHL, especially toward the end of his most recent tenure coaching the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Devils, made up as they are currently, could just not be in the mood for his style. It is extremely depressing to say something like that, but it is. There are just some elements to this team that won't respond to the way things are done here. Could enforce clamp-down defensive system even more than a usual Devils coach, will cause all those "How will Zach Parise do under Jacques Lemaire's airtight trap system" articles to get rewritten.
Surprise Cameo: Kirk Muller
Why Hire: I don't know, to be honest. Muller's the candidate I know the least about in this chase. Again, there's the Habs connection, as Captain Kirk's been assisting there for many years. Is seen as the brains behind Montreal's astonishing Stanley Cup run by many. Considered one of the hot coaching properties out there right now. Knew how to score goals. Again, I don't know that much, and I don't think anyone else knows much either.
Why Not: Because the Canadiens cup run had more to do with Jaroslav Halak, Mike Cammalieri and Brian Gionta getting as hot as they'll ever be in their hockey lives than a coach. Muller has no experience as a head coach at any level, and would likely cause John MacLean to hang himself.
Card!: Mike Haviland
Why Hire: Because this is the new era of the Devils promoting themselves and being fan-friendly! Not really, but the hiring of a Middletown, N.J., native and former Jersey draft pick would certainly be a marketing coup for what will be the only remaining professional sports team in the state after 2012. Doesn't hurt that he's won at every level, with an outstanding record at the ECHL and AHL. What's he doing now? Oh, assistant coaching a little team called the Chicago Blackhawks. You may have heard of them lately. They aren't bad.
Why Not: You can't hire a coach based on where he was born. No NHL head coaching experience, or playing experience for that matter, which could cause respect issues with players. Not much is known about what sort of style he'd employ at this level, or if it could work. For a team that eats coaches alive at times, maybe the unproven guy is just not the way to go.
Comic Relief: Scott Stevens
OK, not really. But maybe next time around Scotty! Not like you'll have that long to wait.
Anyway, this post will be updated with any rumors and news and notes that comes along with the story, and you can always check out In Lou We Trust.