The coaching ranks of the Devils have been in an almost constant state of upheaval over their 30+ season existence in New Jersey. The Lou Lamoriello Era has seen many coaches come and go, and the revolving door has rarely stopped turning, even when the team was dominating. Given the amount of success the Devils have enjoyed for much of that time, the rate of turnover behind the Devils bench has been somewhat remarkable. Only three coaches in franchise history have eclipsed the 200-game mark as Devils head coach (Doug Carpenter, Jacques Lemaire, and Peter DeBoer). In the 28 years Lamoriello has served as Devils GM, only two coaches -- Lemaire and DeBoer -- have served for more than two contiguous full seasons, so despite the brief coaching search reprieve of the past few offseasons, fans have become accustomed to seeing new faces behind the Devils' bench.
So what direction will New Jersey go with their coaching decision this offseason? In his end-of-season interview with the media, Lou Lamoriello, true to form, was in no rush name a coach for next season, nor did he divulge much information on what his thinking might be in the selection process. With another long offseason, Lou has plenty of time to arrive at a choice, so he is going to use it, as he is wont to do.
In House Candidates
A popular move for the Devils over the years has been to promote from within to fill head coaching vacancies. Even with a lot of high-profile candidates on the market this summer, the Devils are always a decent bet to go in a Devil-centric route with a hire or signing. That's not to say the Devils have been unwilling to reach outside of the organization, but since Lamoriello's arrival, many of the Devils' coaching hires have been current or former members of the franchise or one of its affiliates.
Adam Oates (Co-Head Coach) - Since DeBoer's firing, Oates has been a part of the Devils coaching triumvirate that took them through the end of the season. Oates was the co-coach in charge of the team's offense and the results on that front were not particularly encouraging, overall. From when Oates was installed on December 26th to the end of the season, the Devils were second-to-last in the league in 5v5 shot attempts generated (via War-on-Ice), ahead of only the Sabres. They didn't fare much better in goals for, finishing with 2.1 all-situations goals/60 under Oates, 27th in the league (equal to the output under DeBoer). One of the chief complaints under DeBoer was that the team was unable to generate any offense. Under Oates, the team had roughly the same goal output as the previous iteration of the offense and somehow managed to generate even less shots and attempts than before.
One thing you can say in Oates' defense is that the deck wasn't exactly stacked in his favor, given the general offensive prowess (read: lack thereof) of this roster. Some decisions, like sitting down the team's leading shot generator and second-leading 5v5 point-getter in Michael Ryder probably didn't help so much, but it's hard to say who was calling the shots on the lineup decisions, and any improvement Ryder might have brought to the offense was probably incremental at best. This was a bad offensive team and its hard to say if any lineup tweaking or strategy changes would have made them even a mediocre one. Oates has experience as an NHL head coach, too, and while those in Washington weren't exactly heartbroken to see him go, there can be value in big time coaching experience, even if it wasn't a roaring success.
Scott Stevens (Co-Head Coach) - Stevens was the other "co-coach" alongside Lou Lamoriello for the second half of this season and he was mainly in charge of the defense. Like Oates, its hard to say that he improved the portion of the team he was in charge of after DeBoer's firing, at least as far as the numbers are concerned. Via War-on-Ice, the team saw marginal increases in shots, scoring chances, and attempts against with Stevens in charge of the defense. They did, however, see a significant reduction in goals against after December 26th, though. Most of this likely has to do with Cory Schneider playing fantastic hockey after the calendar flipped to 2015, but perhaps Ryan's tracking project will bear out something the team did post-DeBoer that aided their netminder.
Personnel-wise, Stevens was dealing with a less-than-ideal situation for much of the campaign as well. A young defensive core just learning the ropes, in conjunction with injuries and the consistent presence of Peter Harrold and Mark Fraser in the lineup makes for a tough assignment. One thing that many have been able to agree upon is that Adam Larsson seemed to come into his own when he was given some rope by Stevens and began to gain confidence as a defender. He was shifted into a top-pairing role with Andy Greene for much of the second half and acquitted himself well on defense, in addition to showing a serious increase in offensive output. The Larsson situation gives some hope that Stevens may be able to shepherd some of the young defensemen well going forward, but there are still some question marks with the overall performance of the defense and Stevens' lack of head-coaching experience.
Rick Kowalsky (Albany Head Coach) - Kowalsky has been the coach of the AHL Albany Devils ever since that franchise returned to Albany from Lowell in 2010. Kowalsky started with the organization when he took over the ECHL Trenton Devils in 2006. He worked his way up to Albany to replace John MacLean in 2010 when MacLean was hired as the NHL coach. This would obviously not be the first time the Devils promoted an AHL coach to the NHL level, but Kowalsky's record in Albany leaves a little bit to be desired. In his five seasons in Albany, the team has only reached the Calder Cup playoffs one time, getting knocked out in the first round, and the current state of the team is a bit of a mess. That playoff appearance was only the second since 2000 for a Devils AHL affiliate, though, so it's a tough gig, generally speaking. It seems unlikely that the team would go this route, but with the Devils consistently not putting a ton of resources into icing winners in the AHL, it means Kowalsky may not be fully disqualified by his track record.
Tommy Albelin and Mike Foligno (Assistant Coaches) - Tommy Albelin and Mike Foligno remained with the team as assistants after the removal of Peter DeBoer and fellow assistant Dave Barr, so they were at least seen in some way by management as part of the solution in New Jersey. Albelin doesn't have a ton of big time coaching experience, having only been an assistant for the Devils or their AHL affiliate, but he does have the added allure of being a player on two Devils Cup teams (although if that bears any weight, might as well go all the way and hire Stevens). Foligno has a considerable amount more experience as a coach, serving as an assistant in a number of places and also being a former AHL and OHL head coach. In his two stops as a head coach in Hershey (AHL) and Sudbury (OHL), he was able to reach the postseason in 10 of 11 seasons. The additional experience and some success as a head coach at some level probably makes Foligno a bit more likely of a choice, but it would still be a bit surprising to see the Devils promote either assistant to the head position.
Jacques Lemaire (Special Assignment Coach) - You just never know.
My personal preference would be for the New Jersey to inject a little fresh blood into the operation, but the Devils certainly have never been shy about keeping things in house. The coaching hydra of Stoatesoriello is likely done, but even with a lack of success at pretty much all levels of the organization, I wouldn't be surprised to see the team hire from within. If I had to place odds, Adam Oates feels like the most likely hire of the bunch, with his former NHL head coaching experience but that's not a possibility I'm particularly thrilled about. Oates may have potential as an assistant, and he seems to do a decent job of running a power play, but the way things got messy in a hurry in Washington certainly gives me pause.
As far as the in-house candidate I'd most like to see, I guess it would be Stevens, though I'm still not sure I'd be crazy about it. After the way the last Devils great faceplanted as an inexperienced head coach, I'm not sure I want to see a situation like that again. Stevens still makes sense to me as a possible assistant, but I'm just weary of shoving him into a head coaching role too quickly. Mike Foligno also intrigues me a bit as a guy who has had some head coaching success at lower levels. Still, just looking at the pool of candidates within the organization, and what will be available outside, I'm pulling for the Devils to go another route. We'll see if Lou is inclined to do the same.