Brent Sutter finally made a decision as to what he will do next season: he has resigned as head coach of the New Jersey Devils. Thanks to Tibbs for posting all that up while I was at work when this was happening. Both Gulitti and Chere reported on the press conference, where Brent went through his decision at length. Gulitti has the pertinent quote:
"My decision is that I've officially resigned as head coach of the New Jersey Devils effective today," he said.
Sutter, who had one season remaining on his three-year contract with the Devils, said he had no regrets and insisted he wasn't worried about those who view him as a quitter.
"Personally, I could care less what other people think," Sutter said in a conference call from Alberta. "People out here aren't going to say that. People there may say it.
"I don't look at it at all as I'm quitting on anything. When it involves family and personal things that you throw everything into, you have to make certain decisions."
OK, Brent. You're a "resign-er." Read on for further thoughts of mine about Sutter's decision and how it impacts the Devils.
Honestly, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't unhappy or miffed by this development. I certainly understand and sympathize that his family, his ranch, and the junior team he owns, the Red Deer Rebels, are literally and figuratively far away from Sutter when coaching in New Jersey. Yet, how come this is an issue now? Why not last summer? Why not before he signed a three year deal with the Devils? I can't help but feel irritated by all this, especially when also said this, as reported by Chere:
Could he handle his duties with the Red Deer Rebels (WHL), his family obligations and still coach an NHL team?
"Absolutely, under the right circumstances you can make it work," Sutter said. "Red Deer is just one piece of the puzzle."
Since you can't see me doing so, I'm rolling my eyes at this statement.
If this is a hint as to whether he's thinking of coaching elsewhere in the NHL next season, I would certainly hope Lou would exercise his right to refuse permission for teams to speak with Sutter. As Gulitti highlighted, the Devils aren't entitled to compensation but they don't have to let anyone negotiate with Sutter either. It's commendable that Lou was sympathetic and accomodating to Sutter's special desire - and Sutter effusively praised Lou, Jeff Vanderbeek, and the Devils organization:
"The New Jersey Devils, I have nothing but a tremendous amount of respect for the entire organization right from the top to bottom. (GM) Mr. (Lou) Lamoriello, I respect him so, so much and the ownership and the players were great. The whole organization right through, the coaching staff, trainers, doctors, everybody there. It has nothing to do with any of that.
"Lou was very respectful and he was very supportive through the whole process and the reason why is no one knows what I have back here. Only he he does," Sutter said. "He's been here. He's seen it. He understands. And that's why there was such a great understanding going into this when I took the position here because he saw what was here. He sees everything that's involved that involved my life around here. At this point, it's the right thing to do what I'm doing and Lou has been very supportive through it. That's another reason why I have such a tremendous amount of respect for him."
Still, I think that since the Devils can't have him behind the bench in 2009-10, then no one in the NHL should. And it may not even matter as apparently Sutter feels that Red Deer needs him.
Most of all, I'm unhappy about this because Sutter seemed to be the head coach this team really could have for years and years. Sutter was a no-nonsense coach who didn't soften the truth and implemented a very effective offensive system of puck possession. Despite losing Martin Brodeur for half of the 2008-09 season, he bossed the Devils to a franchise record of 51 wins, a record of 51-27-4, and another Atlantic Division title - an effort worthy of a Jack Adams Trophy that he somehow wasn't even nominated for. He understood who the players had chemistry with and cultivated it instead of constantly mixing it up as he did in 2007-08. Sutter got away from his system in the playoffs and in retrospect that was a mistake, but you can't say he did a bad job by any stretch. I fear that the Devils, especially on offense, that are already used to Sutter's systems and tactics will be worse off without him in the short term. Of course, he will be remembered for his playoff failures in New Jersey more than anything else first in addition to the fact he left during his contract. Either way, this is not a performance that's easy to follow up on.
To this end, I thank Brent Sutter for what he accomplished with the Devils and, at the same time, hope he does not return to the NHL given how he is leaving and will miss how he worked with the team. Still, I wish he would have at least finished out his contract rather than resigning.
Annoyance, anger, irritation, and wishes aside, however I feel really doesn't matter as the Devils need to look for a new head coach. Lou knows and understands this, as reported by Gulitti, and now can act on whatever Plan B he has thought about I'm assuming Lou considered the possibility of Sutter not returning, given how he didn't talk Sutter out of resigning - a fair assumption, I think. With free agency coming up, Lou and the Devils will have to work quickly to find a viable head coach who could not only work with the current roster, but have the tendencies and tactical know-how to get the most out of their talent. I can't imagine any potential signings want to sign with a team who doesn't have any leadership behind the bench; and how the coach operates will certainly come into a UFA's decision making process. This isn't a position where you just name an interim in the offseason; you need to make an educated and viable decision. Lou understands this, having plenty of practice this decade.
There's plenty of candidates available, fortunately. Lou will not have to dig from the proverbial bottom of the barrel. Sutter praised John MacLean in particular, and he's definitely a possible candidate as he has been an assistant head coach for several seasons now. Maybe he would represent continuity, but he's been passed over twice for the head coaching position and with the candidates available, I can see him remaining as an assistant again. Available head coaches include Guy Carbonneau, Peter Laviolette, Jacques Lemaire, and Dave Lewis.
I'll need to think about the possibilities in the next few days. In the meantime, have your say in the comments about Sutter's resignation, his tenure with the Devils, and who you would or would not want to see coach the Devils.