Lou Lamoriello will once again look for a head coach for the New Jersey Devils.
Jacques Lemaire, who led the team from last place in the league to a near playoff berth, officially announced Sunday he would not return as coach of the Devils next season. His announcement ended any speculation of his staying behind the bench and left New Jersey in an all-too-familiar place. For the fifth time in six years, Lamoriello will be searching for a new head coach.
The Devils' general manager understood the situation. When Lemaire took over mid-season, Lamoriello prepared for him to finish out the rest of the year and not return next season.
"It's completely understandable," Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "It was something I asked him to do at a certain time and he obliged. But it was not surprising (he decided to retire again) because his first decision (to retire) was not made hastily. He put a lot of thought into it."
Lamoriello brought Lemaire back to replace John MacLean, who was fired after failing to reach 10 wins by mid-December. Lemaire inherited a team mired in a season-long funk, one which saw several key players suffering through career worst seasons. The team sat 27 points out the playoffs on January 9, a far cry from where many analysts predicted the Devils would sit. He led a furious second half comeback, with a 23-3-2 run that put them six points out of playoff contention. They couldn't finish the comeback, but finished the season strong. Under Lemaire, New Jersey went 29-17-3.
Lemaire was pleased with the team's resolve after he took over.
"I'm happy I took the job for the rest of the season," Lemaire told Gulitti. "I had fun. It was a huge challenge for me. I thought the guys responded well. The only regrets I have is not making the playoffs."
The players found out during the position meetings yesterday, and the news didn't shock many of them.
"I can't say that I was very surprised," Johan Hedberg told Gulitti. "I didn't think he was going to tell us like that, but I wasn't surprised by his decision. It's been a great experience for myself to get a chance to play for him as a coach. I think he's very, very skilled at what he does and I learned a lot from him this year."
"It's tough," Ilya Kovalchuk said to Gulitti. "That's the one guy who is really tough to replace, but we'll see what's going to happen again. Last year, he retired too and he'll maybe change his mind again."
The Devils organization now enters a seemingly annual summer right of passage - finding a new coach. While there are several names out there, including unemployed coach Ken Hitchcock and Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Haviland, no one can ever predict who Lamoriello will bring in.
One factor should outweigh all the others. The Devils need stability behind the bench, and Lamoriello needs to hire a candidate who can be more than a one and done.
"You'd like to have the kind of stability or to always have the guys here because you get familiar with each other and what you can expect from each other, so it's easier that way," Patrik Elias told Gulitti. "You've got to respect the decision from Jacques because his personal life is it's his life. For us, it's just to wish him well and, hopefully, we'll have a coach here that everybody is going to play the same way for him."
For a franchise synonymous with winning, their coaching situation creates a head-scratching scenario. Why is the shelf-life for a coach so short in New Jersey? Whatever the reason, the franchise needs to fix the issue. In order to sustain long term success, the team needs a coach and a system in place for consecutive seasons. The instability is one of many reasons why the team fails to advance past the first round of the playoffs. Without the right coach and stability within the position, the Devils will continue to falter.
Once again, the coaching carousel begins. The question remaining is how long will Lamoriello wait to fire it back up again.