Last week we began a comparison and discussion on the first year results of all New Jersey Devils head coaches, covering the first eight in team history. At that time I posed the question, how do Peter DeBoer's first year results stack up against his fifteen predecessors? Today we will answer that question as we look back at coaches 9 through 16, also known as Larry Robinson through Peter DeBoer. The seasons in question today represent some glory days for the New Jersey Devils franchise. We are fortunate enough to cover two of the three Stanley Cup Championships in team history, as they both happened under the leadership of a first year head coach. Once again, there will be two charts of statistics (with a brief explanation of the metrics used), followed by a written analysis and summary of each season in question. Please continue on after the jump as we conclude this look into Devils history.
The first thing I want to point out once again as we continue this analysis is the population sizes are all, at most , 80 - 84 games, or one full season. In some cases, the populations are smaller, which is dictated by the nature of a coaching change. Since this is a look at the first season results of a head coach (and not the first 80, 82, or 84 games), I decided to use only the number of games coached in that particular season. Every first year coach is compared to his immediate predecessor. My reason for doing this was to try to take the closest variation of that same team and try to see if they improved or regressed with new leadership. Obviously, this does not account for player turnover, so it is certainly not a perfect science. I also provided some numbers relative to the previous season for additional comparison. This is more useful in some cases than others.
In both charts, an asterisk next to the year indicates the Devils made the playoffs under the leadership of the coach in question for that particular season.
The first chart consists of Won - Loss records, point totals, and winning percentages. The breakdown of these should be pretty self-explanatory. The last two columns are for comparison of the mid-season coaching changes. They show the percentage of games coached in relation to the percentage of points acquired for that year in total.
The second chart is all about scoring. It consists of goals for and against totals for every coach, followed by his predecessor, which is denoted by a "-p" in the heading. These goal totals are used to calculate a goal differential by coach, which is then compared to the goal differential under the previous coach, giving us a relative difference. I have also provided a differential relative to the previous total season for another frame of reference.
The Numbers :
All statistics are from http://www.hockey-reference.com/teams/NJD.
Once again, please click on each chart for a better view of the data.
Larry Robinson (1999-2000)
Larry Robinson's first season as head coach was a very successful one for the NJ Devils. It was his first season as any type of coach with the Devils, but it began as an assistant to Robbie Ftorek. Ftorek started the season as head coach and actually coached all but 8 games that season. The Devils had been a dominant force from the jump, but recently skidded to 5-10 -1 in their final 16 games under Ftorek. Even with the recent slide, the Devils still remained in first place overall in the Eastern Conference. Lou Lamoriello, however, did not see the light at the end of the tunnel, and decided it was time for a change before the Devils suffered another early exit from the playoffs. Lamoriello saw Larry Robinson as the right man for the job at hand- to get the wayward team back on track just in time for a deep playoff run.
Robinson only coached 8 games during the regular season but went on to coach 23 during the playoffs. The post-season began with a 4-0 sweep of the Florida Panthers. In Round 2, the Devils split the first four games with the Toronto Maple Leafs before winning game 5 on the road. Back in the swamp for game 6, New Jersey advanced by shutting out the hapless Leafs 3-0, allowing only 6 shots on goal during the entire game. The Eastern Conference Finals were to follow, and our Second Rate Rivals waited in the wings. This Flyers team had snuck past the Devils right at the end of regular season to claim the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
After winning game 1, the Devils lost 3 straight games. After the home loss in game 4, the soft-spoken Robinson ripped into his underperforming team in the locker room, famously kicking a trash can across the room in the process. The Devils responded, peeling off two wins and evening the series at 3 games apiece. In an epic game 7, the Captain patrolled the blue line and Patrik Elias scored twice, including a late 3rd period tally. Elias' second goal lifted the Devils to a remarkable victory and a second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they would face the Dallas Stars.
The Finals started out well for the Devils as they jumped out to a three games to one lead. Game 5 was a heartbreaking 1-0 triple overtime loss at home. Fortunately, Game 6 was a triumphant 2-1 double overtime victory in Dallas. Jason Arnott was the hero, as he banged home a feed from Patrik Elias, lifting the Devils to their second Stanley Cup Championship in team history.
Robinson's first season as Devils head coach can only be viewed as an overwhelming success. Its hard to analyze an 8 game tenure in any way in terms of statistics. His numbers in goal differential happened to be almost identical to Ftorek, while he posted a 4-4 record. Outside of any significant numbers to review, I don't think it is a big leap to claim Robinson did a great job. Basically, he was thrown into a very difficult position. He was given orders to get a highly talented team back on track, and given a very short window to accomplish the goal. As the story is told, the team rallied around Robinson en route to the championship. What can we say except, mission accomplished, and a great job by Larry.
Aside: in his first full season in 2000-2001 Robinson led the Devils to a 48-19-12-3 record and an Eastern Conference title, but fell one game short of the Cup, losing in 7 games to Colorado.
Kevin Constantine (2001-2002)
With the team underperforming once again, Larry Robinson was dismissed from his head coaching position with 31 games remaining in the 2001-2002 season. His replacement was a man named Kevin Constantine. Constantine had previously coached in Pittsburgh and San Jose. In his first season with New Jersey, Constantine posted a 20-8-2-1 record in his 31 game tenure, which is a winning percentage of .694. Despite ending the season on a hot streak (14-3-0-1), the Devils could not get past the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs, bowing out 4 games to 2.
When we look at the numbers for this season, pretty much everything improved after Constantine took charge. He coached 38% of the games that season and delivered 45% of the points. Also, the goal differential was much improved with Constantine. Previously, NJ was roughly a .500 team and their goal differential per game was virtually zero (-0.02). Under Constantine, the goal differential was .63 per game. This was accomplished largely by giving up around .5 goals a game less than under Robinson. Additionally, this Devils team was in serious danger of missing the playoffs when they Constantine took over. They easily qualified as a 6 seed.
The only relative comparison that doesn't look good for Constantine's short tenure is a comparison to the previous season, one in which the Devils completely owned. The previous year, the Devils had an amazing 1.22 goal differential per game. Regardless, Constantine got the team through to the post-season, and as a result his first (and only) season as Devils' coach has to be considered a success of sorts, despite the first round loss.
I will temper my enthusiasm for Constantine's 31 game run by adding the Devils did not think enough of his performance to bring him back for a full season the following year. Lamoriello explained that despite the successful run and improvement in the team's results, he still did not think Constantine was getting enough out of this talented Devils roster.
No doubt another factor played into this decision - the man tabbed as Constantine's replacement, Pat Burns, was a really, really, really good coach.
Pat Burns (2002-2003)
Pat Burns was out of coaching for several years when he accepted the head coaching position in New Jersey. Universally respected as a leader and disciplinarian, Lamoriello saw him as the perfect fit for a Devils team that had struggled to consistently live up to their potential. It turns out Lou was right once again.
In his first season in New Jersey, Burns delivered a 46-20-10-6 record and 108 points, good enough for first in the Atlantic Division and 2nd in the Eastern Conference. In the first round of the playoffs the Devils steamrolled Burns' old team, the Boston Bruins, four games to one. The second round did not provide much more of a challenge, as the Devils also advanced easily over the Tampa Bay Lightning, again four games to one. The Eastern Conference Finals would be a different story. The Devils opponent was the top team in the NHL that season, the Ottawa Senators. New Jersey marched out to a 3-1 series lead over the first four games. But after two straight defeats, including an overtime loss at home in game 6, the Devils found themselves heading to Ottawa for a decisive game 7.
Game 7 was certainly a nail biter. After falling behind 1-0 in the first period, the Devils rallied to take a 2-1 lead early in the second period, powered by two goals off the stick of current playoff hero and future disgruntled captain Jamie Langenbrunner. Unfortunately, A Jeff Friesen turn over early in the third period led to Ottawa tying the game at 2-2. As the third period drew to a close, the game was still tied. As barely two minutes remained in the game, Friesen then went out and totally redeemed himself, netting a triumphant game winner. The Devils had advanced to the Finals once again in most dramatic fashion.
Back In the Cup Finals once again for the third time in four years, this time the Devils would face the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. A hard fought series, every game was won by the home team. Fortunately, game 7 was in New Jersey. In Game 7, Martin Brodeur shut out Anaheim for the third time this series, leading the Devils to their 3rd Stanley Cup Championship in team history, and second in three years.
What an inaugural season for Pat Burns behind the NJ bench - a first place finish in the division (second in the conference) and a Stanley Cup Championship. The team posted a goal differential of .61 per game, identical to the level of Constantine the season before. The winning percentage was slightly lower than Constantine's, however .649 is more than acceptable. Besides, Burns' .649 was accomplished over a full 82 games. This Devils squad was also more consistent throughout the year, never losing more than three games in a row. A full season behind the bench, a first place finish, a Stanley Cup Championship; I have nothing but the highest marks for the first edition of Pat Burns' NJ Devils.
Lou Lamoriello (2005 - 2006)
The next man we will look at as a first year coach is also the architect of the Devils turn around and success as a franchise - Lou Lamoriello. A series of events led to Lou stepping behind the bench for the first time. Tragically, Pat Burns was diagnosed with colon cancer, and forced to step down as Devils head coach following the 2003-2004 season. Then, there was a lockout cancelling the entire 2004-2005 season. Larry Robinson was slated to take over for Burns had there been a season. When NHL hockey returned the following fall, Lou did call on Robinson to take over. Burns would be unable to return at all as a result of his ailing health. Robinson experienced some minor health issues of his own, enough to cause him to step away from the struggling club after just 32 games.
Lou Lamoriello stepped behind and remained behind the bench as head man for the rest of the season. His results were quite good. Lamoriello coached 61% of the games and acquired 67% of the team's points for the season. The Devils posted a .680 winning percentage under Lamoriello, a big improvement over Robinson's start, which saw the Devils languishing in 4th place in the division and 10th place in the conference. In fact, the Devils rebounded under Lamoriello to win the Atlantic Division. Lou's goal differential this season was .48 per game. In and of itself this is a good number. It is more impressive when I mention that Robinson posted a goal differential of -.38 for his 3 games coached. By all indications, Lou did a very good job behind the bench.
Unfortunately, he did not fare much better in the playoffs than many of the prior interim coaches. The first round did feature a promising and very enjoyable 4- 0 sweep of our Hated Rivals. In the second round the Devils came crashing back to earth, suffering a 4-1 series defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes. Following the season, Lou would replace himself with Claude Julien.
Claude Julien (2006-2007)
Once again, a former Montreal Canadiens coach would stand behind the Devils bench. Claude Julien began the 2006-2007 season as the Head Coach in New Jersey. He was fired as Canadiens coach during the previous season. Julien had a fairly successful run in his first year with New Jersey. Of course, by this point in Devils history, success was the norm and the standards were quite high. A winning percentage of .646 is considered very good, but it was slightly off the pace of .680 set by Lamoriello the previous season. I will mention that Lamoriello only coached 50 games the previous season, while Julien coached 79. One area in which the Devils regressed under Julien was goal differential. This metric shrunk from .48 per game the previous season to .16 per game. The team was giving up the same amount of goals, but scoring roughly .3 goals per game less. Perhaps the team's struggles putting the puck in the net led to Julien's dismissal. He was let go with just 3 games remaining in the season, replaced by none other than Lamoriello himself.
Julien dealt with injuries and some roster problems at times this season, but things over all seemed to be going fairly well. If I am remembering correctly, this was one of the more surprising of Lou's late season coaching changes. The Devils had just gotten some key players back from injury and had rattled off 4 out of 5 wins before the coaching change. Things seemed to be somewhat on the upswing.
Perhaps Lou, having been the prior coach of the team himself, just thought he could do a better job. Regardless, Claude Julien's tenure in New Jersey was short lived. It's hard to call him unsuccessful - the team was in first place at the time of his dismissal. Granted, finishing high in the standings had become the norm by this point in Devils history. It would also be hard to claim great success on his behalf, since he was not deemed worthy of guiding the team into the post-season. One statistic that does stand out when compared to other recent first year coaches - the prior 4 coaches all had goal differentials between .48 and .63 per game in their first year. Julien's was .16, which is not bad, but somewhat significantly below the standard established of late.
Brent Sutter (2007-2008)
After another second round playoff defeat, the Devils wanted to find a long term solution to their coaching carousel. The organization felt Brent Sutter was the right man for the job. Despite having no prior NHL head coaching experience, Sutter brought a wealth of overall experience to the table as both a player, major juniors coach, and Canadian national team coach. Sutter, known as a disciplinarian and tough to please coach, had a bit of a rocky start to his NJ career. During training camp, he took the captaincy away from Patrik Elias. In a questionable display of tact( or lack thereof), Sutter informed the media of the decision before speaking with Elias. The captaincy remained vacant until Sutter awarded Jamie Langenbrunner the title in December.
Sutter's first season in NJ was also the Devils first season at the Prudential Center in Newark. Overall, it was a decent season, but the success level was not quite on par with the previous few seasons. The Devils finished with 99 points this season, falling short of the 100 point mark for the first time since 2001 - 2002 and only the second time since 1996-1997. Additionally, the first round of the playoffs was a very lackluster showing as the Devils were handily defeated 4 games to 1 by the Enemies in Blue.
Sutter brought somewhat of a more aggressive forechecking style to the Devils, but the team still struggled to score goals, finishing 26th out of 30 in goals for with 206. The goal differential of .11 per game was also not superb. His relative goal differential was slightly in the negative (-.05 / game), but this is more or less flat when compared to Julien the season before. When looking at Sutter's first year, the team did not improve in goal differential or wins and losses. He posted a 46-29-7 record, which is in no way a bad result. His winning percentage of .604 represented a pretty sharp decline from both the previous season as well as the previous 4 first year coaches. He also did not make any friends early on with his treatment of Elias. Because of these factors, as well being completely outplayed and somewhat embarrassed by a bitter rival in the playoffs, I would say Sutter's first year in NJ was just ok.
Note: For all of the comparisons in this case, I used Julien's stats for the prior season, since he coached 79 games. It is a better comparison than the 3 games coached by Lamoriello, who technically was Sutter's immediate predecessor.
John MacLean (2010)
Oh boy. I am going to try and make this one brief, just like MacLean's tenure as coach. For someone so revered as a player in Devils history, he certainly did nothing to improve his overall legacy during his 33 games as head coach. The Devils were very bad. In fact, the team reached lows in record and goal differential that were on par with the results of the early 80's. The Devils roster was largely the same as a team that finished atop the Atlantic division in 2009 - 2010. The Devils under MacLean suffered from a lack of leadership and a lack of identity. The team rarely looked like a team. They much more resembled five individuals skating aimlessly with no attachment to one another, outside of being dressed the same. The Devils struggled painfully to score goals and excelled painfully at giving up goals. I used the phrase "brief but unmitigated disaster" in part 1 to describe Billy MacMillan's last 20 games, and that same phrase is totally applicable here.
Let's quickly review the numbers. 9 wins, 22 losses, 2 overtime losses totals out to a .303 winning percentage , the worst since Billy MacMillan. In fact, if not for the extra point now awarded for overtime losses, MacLean's winning percentage would have been worse than MacMillan's in 1982-1983.
The goal differential was equally abysmal. The Devils were giving up 1.33 goals per game more than they were scoring. Not only is this the worst result since 1982-1983, it is just so out of line with the talent level and level of success the team had established. In my mind, this makes the MacLean era worse than the result from 28 years prior. The 2010-2011 Devils team was so much more talented than any Devils team of the early 1980's.
Mercifully, Jacques Lemaire returned to coach the Devils the remainder of the season, and his results were vastly different despite coaching the same group of players. Lemaire put up a 29-17-3 record, good for a .622 winning percentage. This included a remarkable run during January and February that actually got the Devils into the playoff hunt briefly. Although they fell short in the end, missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996, the order had been restored in New Jersey. Lemaire's Devils had a goal differential of .18 per game this season. This was a whopping 1.51 relative difference per game from MacLean's brief tenure. I don't think many of you will disagree with my assessment that John MacLean's first year was the worst of any first year Devils coach in team history.
Peter DeBoer (2011-2012)
A common question among casual Devils fans roughly 1 year ago was "Who is Pete DeBoer?" Lou Lamoriello decided to pass up more well-known and experienced coaches such as Ken Hitchcock, Michael Therrian, and Mike Keenan to bring the recently dismissed ex- Florida Panthers coach into New Jersey as the 16th head coach in franchise history. Coming off one of the most tumultuous seasons in team history, the Devils desperately needed to reclaim an identity and some stability behind the bench. Fortunately the composed and mild mannered DeBoer turned out to be the right man for the job. DeBoer instilled an aggressive forechecking system, a system somewhat similar to that of Brent Sutter a few years earlier. By all accounts, DeBoer's style of hockey was a lot of fun for the players. As a fan, I can tell you I certainly enjoyed the stylistic changes as well.
There were definitely growing pains early on in the season as the Devils adapted to the new system and shuffled lineups in an attempt to get all of the right pieces in place. After finding their way mid-season, the Devils went on to a finish with a 48-28-6 record, good for 102 points and 6th seed in the Eastern Conference.
The 2012 playoff run certainly featured some memorable and enjoyable moments which I am sure most of you remember quite well. In the first round, the Devils matched up against the Florida Panthers, DeBoer's old team. While many "experts" predicted an easy Devils victory, it was anything but routine. Falling behind 3-2 in the series, the Devils notched a dramatic overtime victory in game 6 when Travis Zajac took a beautiful feed from Ilya Kovalchuk and beat Scott Clemmensen. Just days later in game 7, the Devils found themselves locked in another overtime battle, this time on the road. In double overtime, Adam Henrique fired a shot through the legs of Jose Theodore, advancing the Devils to the second round.
In round two, the Devils dropped game one, but then reeled off four straight victories to dismiss the Philadelphia Flyers in five games. Basically, the Flyers had no answer for the Devils relentless forecheck. Additionally, the team had made a concerted effort to walk away from all the extracurricular nonsense that fuels the Flyers, and it worked. The Flyers found themselves frustrated, often chirping to themselves as the Devils skated away to play more hockey.
The Eastern Conference Finals was a matchup with Our Hated Rivals. Despite the Villains jumping out to a 2 games to 1 lead, the Devils consistently rolled their 4 lines and continued to play their game, keeping confidence they could eventually cycle and grind the enemy into submission. The strategy paid off, as New Jersey won Games 4 and 5 to lead the series 3 games to 2. In Game 6, the third period ended with the two teams locked in a 2-2 tie. Just over a minute into the extra session, Adam Henrique was again the hero. He found the puck amidst a scrum out in front of the net and slammed it into the back of the net, sending the home crowd at the Rock into a feverish uproar. I think there is little question that this was not only a great moment in the history of the organization, but the defining moment so far in the brief history of the Prudential Center.
Unfortunately in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Devils ran into a buzzsaw called the LA Kings. The Kings had just steamrolled their way to the finals losing only two games in the process. New Jersey put up a valiant fight, but as we all know, it was not meant to be. The Devils found themselves on the short end of a four games to two result.
Quite a first year for the Devils and Mr. DeBoer. In terms of the regular season statistics, the team was back over 100 points. They also posted a positive goal differential of .23 per game. The relative goal differential was .05 per game when compared to Lemaire's tenure as interim savior in 2011. The winning percentage was .622, exactly the same percentage as Lemaire's. The Devils were a force to be reckoned with in the second half of 2010- 2011, and the fact that this season is on par is very respectable.
When compared to the entire previous season, DeBoer's numbers look even better by comparison. However, I feel this comparison does not make as much sense. The previous season as a whole includes MacLean's aberration. Lemaire righted the ship and DeBoer continued the progress. This is not to take anything away from DeBoer's accomplishments. It's just that Lemaire's results are more indicative of this team's talent level. A great job by Peter DeBoer, one of the best results in Devils history for a first year coach. By my estimation, I would rank him fourth overall in terms of first year head coaches and their results.
Conclusion / Observations.
Once again, I want to mention it is very hard to conclusively prove one coach had a better first season than another due to small population sizes and roster variance from season to season.
-Four first year head coaches beginning with Ftorek and continuing through Burns all posted goal differentials of between .61 and .63 per game. This is certainly indicative of an overall level of success and culture of winning that the team had established. Both Stanley Cup Championships discussed today fall into that time period.
-This number began to slip in the following years, slightly under Lamoriello and more so under Julien. The team's overall talent level, while still very good, was also slipping at the same time. It is no coincidence that all three player's numbers currently hanging in the Prudential Center rafters were no longer on the ice by the time Lamoriello stepped behind the bench in 2005-2006.
-John MacLean was the worst first year coach in Devils history. In this case the evidence is as clear cut as we will ever get in this sort of analysis. The Jeckyll and Hyde team performance really does not allow for any other conclusion beyond terrible. Also, the nearly mid-season coaching change provides a great look at what someone else accomplished with as close to the same set of players as possible.
-Lou Lamoriello isn't too shabby of a head coach. Hopefully he will not have to demonstrate these talents again though.
-Pat Burns had the best first season of any coach in New Jersey Devils history. He coached a full year, and took the team all the way through to a Championship. No other coach accomplished both things.
-Larry Robinson, despite only coaching 8 regular season games, had the second most successful first year in my opinion. He lead the team to a Stanley Cup Championship. He was also not just a passenger on this ride. Just as the team was about to flame out, Robinson stepped up. Without his direct influence, this team does not win a Stanley Cup.
-Pete DeBoer had the 4th best first year of any Devils head coach. The reason I am putting DeBoer fourth, is I value Jacques Lemaire's inaugural season as 3rd best in team history. Yes, DeBoer's Devils made it one step farther in the playoffs. Yes, DeBoer accomplished something Lemaire could not by defeating Our Hated Rivals in a Conference Championship series. Still, neither man brought home the ultimate prize of a championship. Also, Lemaire's Devils , as discussed last week, were just so dominant in so many ways during that amazing 1993-1994 season. Lemaire's winning percentage was only slightly higher, but his goal differential far exceeded DeBoer's. One could make the argument that DeBoer's first season should land him as number 3, and this would be reasonable. On my list, he is number 4.
-Once again, all of the coaches who joined in mid-season out-performed the men they replaced to varying degrees -- some very minutely so, others more dramatically. None were worse than their immediate predecessor.
In conclusion, I will revisit our highly scientific ranking system.
Great: Burns, Robinson, Lemaire, DeBoer, Schoenfeld
Good: Lamoriello, Ftorek, Constantine, Julien, Cunniff,
Satisfactory: Sutter, Carpenter, McVie
Disappointing: MacLean, MacMillan, Brooks
Now I'd like to know what everyone else thinks. Do you think I have placed DeBoer's first year correctly on my list? How about Robinson's? Is there any coach I am not giving enough credit to? Too much credit? How would you rate these first year Devils coaches? Thanks very much for reading and please leave your comments below