It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention. In that case, Lou Lamoriello has historically been hockey’s Thomas Edison ... if Thomas Edison occasionally invented crap like Hair In A Can.
The New Jersey Devils general manager fired coach Peter DeBoer on Dec. 26; one day later, he revealed his short-term plan for replacing him: naming Adam Oates and Scott Stevens as the new Devils coaches.
Not head coaches, although one might ascend to that position next season. Just … coaches.
Oates will coach the forwards, Stevens and Tommy Albelin will coach the defensemen. Mike Foligno and Chris Terreri will remain with the coaching staff, while assistant coach Dave Barr walks out the door behind DeBoer.
Oh, and for the time being, Lamoriello himself will step behind the bench, for the third time. He coached 50 games in 2005-06 and then three more in 2007.
Why the two-headed monster coaching scenario? According to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record, Lamoriello said it was “unfair” to ask one person to come and take over the team for the rest of the season, which of course is exactly what was asked of Kevin Constantine in 2002 and Lamoriello himself in 2005 and Jacques Lemaire in 2010.
More to the point, he wanted coaches to come in that were familiar with most of the roster. Despite some turnover, Oates still is, and Stevens certainly is.
Lamoriello said he has the support of ownership to hire a head coach now or next season, but didn’t feel there was a “right choice” at the moment.
OK, so what about these coaches?
Oates is coming off a two-season stint with the Washington Capitals, where he was dismissed after missing the playoffs last season. He was an assistant coach for New Jersey when it made the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. As a head coach, his Capitals teams were among the worst at even strength. But as a special teams coach, his power plays have been among the best in the NHL statistically.
As for Stevens? From Gulitti: “Stevens was an assistant coach under Pete DeBoer for two seasons before leaving the team this summer over a difference in philosophy with DeBoer.”
Well, obviously Stevens won that debate ...
As unorthodox as this move is, this is a stabilizing move for Lamoriello. He clearly saw the team getting away from DeBoer, and feels that Oates and Stevens can, at the very least, stop the bleeding; best-case scenario, he finds his next head coach in Stevens or Oates.
"There's no promises, no committments. Right now it's collective group working for players," he said.
Of course, the bigger question is whether the bleeding should stop. The Devils are 12-17-7 and nine points out of a playoff spot. Barring a turnaround like they had under Lemaire in 2010, this isn’t a playoff team; and if the Devils did make the cut, this is not a championship contender.
But it does own a first-round pick …
Say this for Lamoriello: He’s got too much pride for that. So he’ll salvage the seemingly unsalvageable, turn lemons into Lou’s Kool-Aid, and, as he always does, dip into the franchise’s history for solutions to today’s problems. Need offense? Bring back Scott Gomez. Need coaches? Hire a former assistant and a team captain.
Like we said, Lamoriello’s been nothing if not inventive since taking over this franchise in 1987. Sometimes that’s resulted in people like Lemaire joining the organization; sometimes that’s resulted in replacing David Clarkson with Ryane Clowe, or trying to cushion the blow of losing Scott Niedermayer with Vladimir Malakhov and Dan McGillis in 2005.
Time will tell how this latest bit of hasty repair will take.