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A Decade of Necessary Changes Part 2: The 2010-11 New Jersey Devils

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The 2010s are ending and so will end a decade of New Jersey Devils hockey where past glories ended and difficult necessary changes were to be made. This part summarizes the 2010-11 season: where John MacLean faltered, Jacques Lemaire shined for a third time, and the offseason would set the stage for bigger changes in the future.

Minnesota Wild v New Jersey Devils
Lemaire: “Consider defense.” Devils: “Ohhhh. OK.”
Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2010s will end on January 1, 2020. It was a tumultuous ten years for the New Jersey Devils franchise. Big trades, a player controversy, and massive changes in ownership, management, coaches, and players surround seasons where the Devils fell from past glories. It is not a decade that will be fondly remembered with some exceptions. It is a decade that forced the Devils to make some difficult, messy, and necessary changes. And as this decade closes, we can only hope that the changes that continue to be made will lead the Devils back to making the playoffs regularly, challenging for Stanley Cups, and perhaps being the model franchise for others once again. Before it ends, let us look back one more time at the 2010s with a mostly daily (one day coming up will have two) series of posts summarizing each of the previous ten seasons up to New Year’s Day.

In the second part of this series, this post will summarize the 2010-11 season. It was an infamous one for nearly half of it being coached into a hole by John MacLean and the other half with Jacques Lemaire coming out of retirement to try to coach them out of it. It was not to be and the New Jersey Devils missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996 and achieved a sub-50% point percentage for the first time since the 1990-91 season. It was a bad season and a shocking one to a fanbase that has not seen such failure in quite some time. Let us look back at what happened then.

This is meant to be an overview of that season and the resulting offseason. I hope to capture all of the major events. And if you feel there were things I missed or there was someone or something that you really liked (or disliked) that should have been highlighted, then feel free to share it in the comments.


The 2010-11 Season

The Record: 38-39-5, 81 points, Fourth in the Atlantic Division (Source: Hockey-Reference)

The Head Coach: John MacLean until December 23, 2010; Jacques Lemaire as interim head coach.

The Team Captain: Jamie Langenbrunner until January 7, 2011. Vacant until season’s end.

The Top Scorer: Patrik Elias - 21 goals, 41 assists, 204 shots, 62 points.

The Biggest In-Season Moves: Moves? I’m picking the two obvious ones here. In terms of all personnel, the firing of John MacLean. In terms of players, trading Jamie Langenrunner to Dallas for a conditional third round pick in 2011. (It would stay a third and be used to take Blake Coleman.)

MacLean earned his firing. After a 2009-10 campaign where the Devils won the division and made the playoffs with ease, MacLean’s time behind the bench in New Jersey all but ensured no playoffs for that season. Under MacLean, the team went 9-22-2. While the team was hit with multiple injuries to the defense and eventually Zach Parise, the team was just getting wrecked. Even after one good or OK period, the opposition would adjust and MacLean and his charges would just not. Jacques Lemaire came out of retirement to be the interim head coach which I thought at the time was a great idea. Given that the team went 29-17-3 under him and flirted with a playoff spot at times in 2011, it really was. If only the move was made earlier. Maybe the Devils could have made a late charge to get in. Alas, the hole was too deep.

In terms of players, Langenbrunner was seemingly a problem in the back. It was not exactly a state secret that Langenbrunner and Lemaire did not see eye to eye. As the team faltered under MacLean, Langenbrunner kept pointing to how MacLean wasn’t the issue and the issue was “in the room” and they would need to find it “in the room” and so forth. MacLean was fired, Lemaire returned, and Langenbrunner became the first Devil as far as I know to waive his no-trade clause - a clause that was kept by others and was untouchable. On January 7, he was dealt to Dallas for a conditional pick. I argued that how 2010 went for the former Devils captain ensured the move was made. Sure, Jason Arnott was sent to Nashville and brought more back. And Langenbrunner was an important player in the 2000s for the Devils. Yet, this change was needed by both sides and the Devils moved on. And I do not think it was entirely coincidental that the Devils started to win a whole lot more after that deal.

Playoffs?: No. Despite a hot runs in February (12-1-1!!!!!) and in March, the Devils finished 12 points out from the final playoff spot in the East. They were mathematically eliminated on April 2 against Montreal, which was a lot later than what it seemed like back in the 2010 portion of the season.

The Months in Review: Here is a link to each of the Months in Review for the season - which includes the Devil of the Month (DotM).

  • October 2010 - DotM Honorable Mention - Colin White; ILWT DotM - Dainius Zubrus
  • November 2010 - DotM Honorable Mention - Patrik Elias; ILWT DotM - Johan Hedberg
  • December 2010 - DotM Honorable Mention - Ilya Kovalchulk; ILWT DotM - Patrik Elias
  • January 2011 - DotM Honorable Mention - Brian Rolston; ILWT DotM - Patrik Elias
  • February 2011 - DotM Honorable Mention - Ilya Kovalchuk; ILWT DotM - Johan Hedberg
  • March 2011 - DotM Honorable Mention - Henrik Tallinder; ILWT DotM - Martin Brodeur
  • April 2011 - DotM Honorable Mention - N/A; ILWT DotM - Patrik Elias

The Player Awards by the Blog: We were still ILWT back then - In Lou We Trust - and it was a group effort between myself, Matt Ventolo, Tom Stivali, and Kevin Sellathamby. Here were our choices for player awards, posted before the end of the regular season.

  • MVP: Patrik Elias
  • Best Defenseman: Henrik Tallinder
  • Best Goaltender: Martin Brodeur
  • Best Rookie: Mark Fayne
  • Best Defensive Forward: Patrik Elias
  • The Sergei Brylin Award for Versatility: Patrik Elias

The 2010-11 Season Stats: This is similar to the charts in the By the Numbers sections in the current month in reviews. For this series, I put 5-on-5 stats, expected goals for 5-on-5 and all situations, power play, and penalty kill stats all in one chart. Rankings in green were top ten in the league in 2010-11; red is for stats in the bottom ten. The stats mainly come from Natural Stat Trick with special teams stats being pulled from NHL.com.

2010-11 New Jersey Devils Stats and NHL Ranks
2010-11 New Jersey Devils Stats and NHL Ranks
Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com

2019 Thoughts About the 2010-11 Season: I would be lying if I stated that the MacLean portion did not feel familiar. The injuries were significant as it led the Devils to call up plenty of players not yet ready for primetime. Players such as Brad Mills, Matt Taormina, Tyler Eckford, Alexander Urbom, and Oliver Magnan-Grenier (a player whose defense made you go OMG). Out of the call ups, only Stephen Gionta and Mark Fayne had a real future of sorts and it was not immediate for the second Gionta. The loss of star left winger, Zach Parise, was deeply felt in the offsense. Elias was healthy and performing again and Ilya Kovalchuk did the best he could. But it was not enough. The goaltending by Martin Brodeur was not as good in the past and despite some great spikes by Johan Hedberg, it was not enough make the Devils average in terms of save percentage. Combined with the players just getting lost out there and out-performed, the losses mounted and the Devils were just in too deep in the standings to make a comeback. It’s like a compilation of parts of 2018-19 and the first three months of this season.

I do remember being rather bothered by this. As a blogger, a season ticket holder, and fan, it was jarring to see a once super-difficult team to play against just get bodied night after night. How can MacLean take a team to such depths? He was groomed for the position. I was not a big fan of his promotion but it was hard to say he did not earn a shot. He spent years in the organization as an assistant coach and spent 2009-10 with the AHL affiliate in Lowell as the head coach. The best way someone put it to me was a reader named Barry who taught me the Peter Principle. That is, MacLean was competent at all levels and was promoted up to a level he could not be. This was definitely the case and I think it explains why he has had only stints as an assistant coach in the league since.

Writing about this now, I do question why Lou did not pull the trigger earlier. The team stunk and by waiting until December 23, the Devils needed a near-miracle to get into the postseason. They came close but had it been done a month earlier, maybe the Devils would have had a better chance at making the comeback. However, I do not know if Lemaire was really ready. Or if Lou really wanted to pull the trigger. A part of me thinks that since he spent so much time developing MacLean for this role, to pull him out of it two to three months in would be a hasty decision that would have thrown away all that development time plus ruin a relationship with somene Lou has known for a long time. As much as the record and the performances made it seem easy to dump MacLean, I recognize that maybe it was not so easy for Lou. Especially Lemaire was not ready until the end of December.

Knowing what I know now, this main lesson from this season is that coaching really matters in the NHL. This would be further supported by the eventual big turnaround under Lemaire. I was thrilled to see him back. I was pleased to see this leading to Langenbrunner’s exit as I was really tired of the what is and is not “in the room” after the many losses. The team did get healthier but they were also performing back to the way they did in 2009-10. They became a much stingier team in 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill. The offense was still weak. Outside of Elias and Kovalchuk, only Zajac would exceed 40 points and only Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus would join them as players who cracked the 30-point plateau. Points are not everything but go back up to the previous section and notice all of the red for the for-stat rates. The offense was limited at best and badly, badly, badly missed Parise.

But I recall being really hopeful by the end of the season. The team’s success was still riding on prevailing in low-scoring games but they were still getting it done. It did help a lot that Hedberg was hot in February and Brodeur returned to form in 2011 and was hot in March. Parise had a one-game run out to show that his knee was still working. The young players on the roster seemed like players for the future. I was excited that Fayne looked like a player. I was excited that Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson could contribute. I was excited that Nick Palmieri - no relation to The Pride of Montvale, NJ - did not look entirely out of place with better players. Looking back now, only one of those players really became significant contributors. At the time, I was thinking that the Devils could rebound in 2011-12. They just needed the right head coach and coaching staff, a healthy Parise to re-join Elias and Kovalchuk to lead the offense, and some tweaks here and there. I would turn out to be right for that season. Unfortunately, it would be only for that season.

As a last thought about the season itself, Lemaire announced that he would retire again after the Devils beat Boston 3-2 on April 10. (Lemaire still had a role in the organization as “special assignment coach,” so basically retirement.) I wrote a thank you post that summarized his time with the Devils. That post represents the big difference between the two coaches. When MacLean was fired, the fans were releived. So much so that the fans at the Rock gave a huge cheer in the Islanders game on December 23 when Lemaire was announced as being behind the bench. I personally was glad to see MacLean go. When the season ended, all I wanted to do was say thank you to Lemaire for making 2010-11 way better than what it was from October to December 22, 2010.

As a whole, the season has to be seen as a failure. No matter how much Lemaire tried and did make right, the team missed the playoffs and by quite a few points. That was like having a bucket of ice water dumped on you, if you were an ardent fan from the late 1990s and were only used to playoff appearances. The 2010-11 season was a statement that failure is absolutely an option and there are worse things than being bounced out of the first round. Unfortunately, it would not be the only time in this decade that would happen.

The 2011 Offseason

This section is an Ilya Kovalchuk-free section. There is still quite a lot to go over, so here are the main points:

To sum up: The Devils’ cap situation was not extreme but not perfect, the team’s top left winger was re-signed for just one season, the team’s top center could (and would) be out for most of 2011-12, the team has a new head coach, a long-time Devil from the 2000s - Colin White - was gone, the team signed no new free agents of note outside of some goons, and the owner has financial problems. How well would 2011-12?

It would go well enough. Really well enough.

The 2011 NHL Draft: In 2011, the Devils had six picks featuring the fourth overall pick. I went to the Rock, or more appropriately hung outside of the then-named AmeriHealth Pavilion (a.k.a. the practice rink) on a muggy June evening to see the pick announced live. The pick: Adam Larsson. The reaction: ecstatic cheering. Devils fans were not sure if Larsson would fall to the Devils but he did. At the time, he was projected to be a do-it-all future #1 offensive defenseman. While he did not turn out exactly as one hoped, Larsson would become a mainstay on the New Jersey blueline and be incredibly valuable five years later.

The other picks were, in order, Blake Coleman, Reid Boucher, Blake Pietila, Reece Scarlet, and Patrick Daly. In my initial, premature review of the 2011 draft class, I stated that the Devils picked project players after Larsson. Per HockeyDB, only three of these five got a shot in the NHL. Pietila was a depth bottom-six forward as a call-up. Boucher has been a tweener of a scorer in the AHL and not-much-of-a-scorer in the NHL after an awesome 2011-12 in juniors. Coleman has become a fan favorite and one of the brighter lights on what has been some dim Devils hockey in recent years. It took a while for Coleman but the Pickle Salesman came through.

Site Notes and Etc.

The podcast for All About the Jersey is the Garden State of Hockey, which is hosted and produced by Dan Rozel and usually includes me. It is the first official podcast for the blog, but definitely not the first on here. David Sarch started up Talking Red for the 2010-11 season, which would become a mainstay here as the show frequently featured myself, Mike Stromberg, Tom Stivali, and many other ILWT/AATJ writers. It went away by 2018 with a cameo in 2019. Still, this was the start of a long, successful run for TR by David and I am grateful that he wanted me to be a part of it if only to post it on the site and to babble on about whatever was discussed.

I called for more volunteers in the summer of 2011. Specifically two people to make posts with links to news as it happened and someone to count scoring chances. Yes, earlier in this decade, it was a manual process. Some blogs had them for their teams. I wanted it for New Jersey. C.J. Richey offered to do it for a bit. For the news, I selected Josh Weinstein and Rob Watson. Fun fact: Watson came up with the idea to call the news-link posts Devils in the Details. That is where it came from. While all three did not spend a lot of time at what was then called ILWT, I appreciated what they did contribute and for agreeing to volunteer in the first place. In August, there was a fourth person who stood out and I decided to make him a regular writer along with Tom, Kevin, and Matt: Matt Evans. Matt would remain on the site for several seasons and put in a lot of good work. I especially thank Matt for sticking around through to the middle of the decade.

Additionally, we dabbled again as people with credentials. Kevin was invited to attend the NHL Combine on a media credential. He made two posts about it in June 2011: Day 1 and Day 2.

A Short Preview of Part 3, the 2011-12 Devils: The Best Devils Team of the Decade.


Thank you for reading. Part 3 will be up tomorrow as the series continues.