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Looking at Some Outside Head Coach Candidates for New Jersey Devils

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The New Jersey Devils will need a head coach for next season. With candidates becoming more available, I have some opinions on some head coaches outside of the Devils organization that could potentially join the organization - and some that should not.

This post is about potential head coaching candidates outside of the organization.  But I can't stop using this photo of Adam Oates.
This post is about potential head coaching candidates outside of the organization. But I can't stop using this photo of Adam Oates.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, Mike opened up one of the more important questions of for this offseason: who should be the next head coach for the New Jersey Devils?  Mike focused on candidates within the organization, namely Adam Oates and Scott Stevens.  His preference is that the Devils could use someone from outside the organization. I not only share his preference, I am adamant in my opinion that Oates and Stevens should be nowhere near the 2015-16 Devils.  Re-build or no re-build, there is little evidence suggesting either will make the team better - even if it's in the long run.  Therefore, I want to continue the question Mike opened up by looking at potential head coaches from outside of the Devils organization.

This is not an all-inclusive list of all possibilities.  The headline is accurate: Looking at Some Outside Head Coach Candidates for New Jersey Devils.  You can count the number of head coaches who have lasted behind the bench in New Jersey for more than three seasons on one hand.  With coaches coming and going for one reason or another, Lou Lamoriello has hired coaches from various stages of coaching.  Peter DeBoer was picked up after he served in Florida for a number of seasons. Brent Sutter was plucked right from juniors.  John MacLean was an assistant coach in New Jersey and head coach of Albany before he got his turn.  Claude Julien was hired the season after Montreal dumped him.  So on and so forth.  It's entirely possible that the next head coach of the New Jersey Devils won't be mentioned in this very post.  And with the playoffs still going on, there may be another man available in short order.  However, I do want to give my thoughts on a number of the "larger names" out there and continue the conversation Mike began on Wednesday.

The Highly Unlikely

I don't like using the word impossible, but I wouldn't hold your breath for the following candidates:

Mike Babcock - For starters, he's not even available. He's currently coaching Detroit.  The reason why he's been involved in several rumors is because his contract with the Red Wings ends this summer and he has not re-signed with Detroit.  Babcock is arguably the most successful head coach in the league, he's Detroit's all-time winningest coach, and he's been able to get the most out of his players at all levels.   Who wouldn't want him behind the bench? Nobody, and that's the problem.

Babcock is going to be a glorious negotiation stance.  He could use his impending free agency may be just leverage for him to get a lot of money from Detroit.  Should he want a new challenge elsewhere, expect Buffalo, Toronto, and Philadelphia to also throw a lot of money at him.  Either way, Babcock is going to get paid a ton this summer.  While I think the Devils would absolutely get better under Babcock, but I don't think the Devils will win a bidding war for him - assuming Babcock even leaves Detroit.

Todd McLellan - San Jose's bench boss for seven seasons mutually agreed with management to leave after the team missed the playoffs for the first time under his reign. The knock on him has been that his teams have fallen early in the postseason despite impressive regular season records and a strong array of talent.  I don't know about you, but given my favorite team has missed the playoffs four out of the last five seasons, that doesn't really seem like much of a knock to me.  In any case, San Jose has been one of the better possession teams in the league under him and he has incorporated younger players into their core in recent seasons, so he's able to adjust as necessary.

The reason why he's in this category is because he's likely the most sought after head coach.  He's available. He's done quite well in San Jose.  His teams have been strong both in the box scores and in the underlying numbers.  He's only 47, so he is absolutely a viable long term option should he be successful. Even if Babcock does not re-sign with Detroit, the teams who were willing to throw money at him but do not get him can throw that money at McLellan.  And that's assuming it even goes that far.  Edmonton's already courting McLellan per this article in the Edmonton Sun. While I think he's a very good coach, I don't see the Devils winning a bidding war for his services - especially if he's already in discussions with other teams.  Double that especially if he's still available and Babcock does not choose to re-sign; he's a former assistant under Babcock and Detroit would likely be very interested to bring him back in the fold if it comes to that.

Peter DeBoer - The Devils fired him right after Christmas last year.  I could argue that maybe the team should've let him play out the season given that the team under the co-coaches weren't really much better.  But he wasn't.  They're not going to bring him back this quickly and I don't see why DeBoer would want to go back to an organization that recently fired him.

Guy Boucher - I actually wouldn't mind Guy Boucher at all.  He certainly turned around Tampa Bay after the Rick Tocchet experience, as Andrew Berkshire noted years ago. Given that he instituted a new neutral zone formation tells me that he's willing to try new things. The Devils could absolutely use a coach willing to try new things.  A re-building team is ideal for that sort of experimentation. If it doesn't work out, then try something else.  I put him in this category because Boucher is coaching in Switzerland.  According to this short article by Damien Cristrodero at the Tampa Bay Times, he's signed through 2015-16.  I don't know if he even has an out clause or even if he's interested in returning to the NHL.  Therefore, I think it would be highly unlikely for the Devils or any other team to get him.  If he could get away from Switzerland and he would be interested, then by all means, Lou, sign him up.

The Undesirables

These are coaches who are available that I don't want the Devils to have under any circumstance:

Randy Carlyle - The 2014-15 Devils were a bad possession team, finishing the season with a 47.2 CF%, their lowest since Corsi could be calculated.  Carlyle was head coach of Toronto for two full seasons before he was fired during 2014-15.  His 2013-14 Maple Leaf team set the lowest mark for team CF% since 2005 with 42.8%.  Only Ted Nolan's 2014-15 Sabres were worse.  The 2013 Maple Leafs were at 44.1%, which is still at the bottom ten among teams since 2005.  And the 2014-15 Maple Leafs, albeit under two different coaches, finished up at 46.1%.  The Devils may need multiple seasons to get talent, but they need to get better systems for possession purposes in order to be competitive.  I don't care that he won a Stanley Cup in 2007.  Carlyle has demonstrated that he will not help in this regard; thus, I don't see how he can help the re-building process.  Thankfully, Allan Muir at SI reported recently that San Jose is already talking to him. That would ensure he's not a part of the Devils organization.    (All of those figures are from War on Ice)

Ted Nolan - It's true that the 2013-14 and 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres were built to fail.  Nolan took it to new lows by bossing the first ever team to put up a CF% below 40% since Corsi For percentages could be calculated.  It's not an accident that after the Sabres secured last place, his days in Buffalo were numbered.  The teams were set to fail and for them to succeed, Buffalo will need a new coach.  A new coach who doesn't do things like start John Scott on power play faceoffs and have immediately come off the ice or keep someone like Tyler Ennis at the other end of the bench so he can have the advantage of being closer to the offensive zone - ignoring the reality of needing to start a skating stride.  Unless the Devils want a guy who's willing to help the cause of sending a team down the drain, there is no reason for the Devils to consider Nolan.

John MacLean - I like John MacLean's work on TV.   His work as a head coach, no, never again.

The Possibles

Dan Bylsma - Sure, he benefited from having two superstars on the roster.  However, he managed to win the Jack Adams in 2010-11, the season where both Crosby and Malkin missed significant portions of the season. The Penguins were still very much a contender as they still won 49 games.  He may know what he's doing.  His end came when Jim Rutherford, who hasn't been all that successful, came in as general manager in 2014.  He's been idle since, though he may be under contract.  Should Bylsma want to get back into coaching, a position like New Jersey may be ideal.  Should the Devils really commit to the re-build, Bylsma will have time to get the team going. He may have an idea or two that could help the Devils thrive.  Should the Devils get better, then Bylsma can use that as proof that he knows what he's doing - he can do the job without two generational talents being around for the most part.

The problem lies in possession.  In Bylsma's first season, the Pens didn't crack 50%, then they surpassed 52% for three seasons, and then fell back to 49% and 48% Corsi For respectively in Bylsma's final two seasons.  It's those last two seasons that give me pause whether his systems were effective. It could also be talent-related, but two straight seasons below the breakeven percentage suggests a lack of adjustments.  While I won't expect the postseason from the 2015-16 Devils, I do expect the coach to at least get the team on the right path.  Is Bylsma that coach? I don't know.

It doesn't help that if the Devils do want him, they'll likely have to give Pittsburgh a third rounder too, as Hooks Orpik recently wrote at PensBurgh. A re-building team like New Jersey would be ill-advised to move picks unless they can get someone of value.  I will say that he's not the worst option or necessarily a bad option, though.  If he could work out, then a third rounder isn't too much of a price to pay.

Paul MacLean - Those with more detailed memories than mine may recall that Rich Chere actually reported that MacLean was going to be introduced as the team's head coach after DeBoer got fired.  Really, here is that story.That turned out to be false.  However, MacLean was fired in December 2014 and so he remains available for a position.  So maybe that report - like Mike Cammalleri at the trade deadline in 2014 that never materialized but he would sign in the summer - could turn out to be eventually true?  Like Bylsma, he was fired while under contract so compensation would be in order.  Unlike Bylsma, MacLean has handled a team that wasn't led by two generational stars.  Instead, he was hampered by management hampered by cheapness.  That wouldn't necessarily be the case in New Jersey.

Using possession as a guide, I'm encouraged by Ottawa's numbers under MacLean.  MacLean became the head coach in 2011-12 and was fired 27 games into 2014-15.  In those three full seasons, the Sens' CF% was 52.3%, 53.7%, and 52.4% respectively.  Those numbers are quite good and represent how competitive of a team Ottawa was under MacLean.  2014-15 ended up at 50.7%, but Dave Cameron had most of that season. His 2013 campaign was particularly impressive given that the team was undercut by injuries.  But the call-ups more than just filled spaces. I think some of that has to be attributed to the coaching staff, which includes MacLean.

The one nagging thought was the reaction from Sens fans as he was let go.  The Silver Seven Staff had a variety of opinions, but a larger theme was focused on the team's cheapness.  That whether MacLean was fired or not was pointless, the team will be held back because of a lack of willingness to spend on players. This was echoed in this post by Ross A at SSS. We know now that they got into the playoffs in 2014-15. But that was less due to Cameron and more to do with an awesomely hot run by a goaltender who had a hamburger thrown in his general direction.  I guess that's the sort of thing that has to happen when playing on a budget.  Still, if MacLean was that good of a coach, then where was the outcry?

Maybe I'm being silly to focus on that, but this is largely an opinion piece anyhow.  I would prefer MacLean to Bylsma based on past experiences, should the Devils have to make that choice.  Again, should the coach work out, then the third rounder isn't that much of a cost.

Kevin Dineen - The last head coach to take Florida to the playoffs is now an assistant with Chicago.  He's been around as a coach in various capacities, so experience is certainly not lacking.  That season where he took Florida to the postseason was 2011-12 and while they gave the Devils a scare, they weren't necessarily the most stacked team around.  As he's been in Florida, he's used to teams in some kind of transition anyway, so he'd have an idea on what to do.

The Panthers weren't particularly awful from a possession standpoint under Dineen's tenure, but a 49.5% (2011-12) and a 49.1% (2013) Corsi For isn't encouraging for a coach to help the Devils get on the right path in that regard.  Being with Chicago may give him some insight to do better in that regard, I will admit that possibility.  It's also worth noting that while the Panthers got into the postseason in 2012, Dineen and the Panthers crashed hard in 2013.  The crashing continued until Dineen was dumped sixteen games into 2013-14.  That he could not get a job as a head coach afterwards may speak to some real coaching issues.  Still, as far as current assistants go, he's not at all the worst option.  And if the Devils want to look into NHL assistants as head coaches, they might as well take one from one of the better teams in the league.

The Real Likely Choice

Who Knows - Seriously, as I wrote earlier in this post, the real choice is likely not even here. I didn't consider other out of work NHL coaches (e.g. John Tortorella, who's still getting paid from his time in Vancouver), other assistants in the NHL who may or may not be available, junior coaches, and coaches that may be out of work soon (I'm looking at you, Claude Julien).

Ultimately, I wonder if the question needs to be answered from a different angle.  It's a good question by itself. The Devils need a head coach. We want to know who it will be and whether or not that's a good thing ahead of the next season.  Yet, perhaps a better question to ask to get to that answer is this: What sort of coach should the Devils get?  We know the team will be re-building in some capacity.  Lou presumably has an idea of how that will go.  Who the next head coach is should be somebody who can follow whatever plans will be in place.  I mentioned it in some of my opinions on some of the names that came to my mind, but I think the general idea is to get the 2015-16 Devils on a path better than where they ended in 2014-15.  But let's save that for another post.

In the meantime, I've given you my thoughts on a number of potential head coaching candidates outside of the organization. Some that I don't want coaching the Devils, some I don't think they have a real shot at, and some actual possibilities that may or may not be as bad as I may have originally though.  Who else do you think is a potential head coach candidate outside of the organization?  Would you want the Devils to hire that person; why or why not? What do you make of my take on each one, as well?  Please leave your answers in the comments. Thank you for reading.