New Jersey Devils: Top 5 Head Coaches in History
It's been a bit of a joke of sorts in recent years, as the New Jersey Devils recently hired their ninth head coach in what will be the last seven seasons, when Peter DeBoer takes the reigns this October. Included during all those changes are dual-stints by both Lou Lamoriello and Jacques Lemaire. Peter DeBoer goes into his new job knowing the position hasn't had the greatest job security attached to it in recent years. However, that does not mean there is any kind of void in quality coaches the team has had in its 30 years of existence.
After all, it's a group that includes three Stanley Cup winners and an Adams trophy winner. Nine coaches have posted at least 50 regular season wins and a few are or will be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Who are the five best the devils have had? Let's take a look....
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No. 5 Brent Sutter
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Brent Sutter had a very interesting two seasons as the head coach of the New Jersey Devils. His 2008-09 team had a franchise record 51 wins while winning their division with 106 points. Sutter installed a puck possession, high forechecking type of system, all while maintaining the defensive presence the Devils franchise has been known for over the years.
It's a shame the way Sutter's two-year tenure came to an end with the team, as a crushing Game Seven defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes is a game neither the team nor its fans will soon forget. On top of that, Sutter left because he was homesick that offseason, but turned up weeks later as the new head coach of the Calgary Flames, a team run at the time by his brother Darryl.
All in all, the New Jersey Devils and Brent Sutter were a good match for each other for the two years they lasted. Unfortunately, it did not last longer, and the Devils suffered for a few seasons after Sutter's sudden departure. It's interesting to think about what might have happened had he not gotten homesick and had he not left seemingly so quickly.
Coaching stats as a Devil: 164 GP, 87-56-11; Playoffs: 4-8
No. 4 Jim Schoenfeld
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Back in the late 1980s, the New Jersey Devils were a team looking for an identity. Lou Lamoriello had taken over as President and General Manager and had helped upgrade the talent of the team, but to that point, there has been no success in the standings, and the team had yet to earn its first playoff berth in their history.
On January 26, 1988, Lamoriello hired Jim Schoenfeld to take over as head coach for the fired Doug Carpenter. Schoenfeld was just a couple years removed from his playing career and seemed to build a good working relationship with some of the younger players on the roster like Kirk Muller, Pat Verbeek and Ken Daneyko.
It took a wild 11-1-1 finish to the season, but the Devils did end up in a tie for the final playoff berth, and thanks to the tiebreaker system in place (most wins), they won the final berth over the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. Once the Devils got into the postseason, they hung out for awhile, making it to within one game of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals before dropping to the Boston Bruins in a Game Seven.
Coaching stats as a Devil: 124 GP, 50-59-15 Playoff stats: 20 GP, 11-9
No. 3 Larry Robinson
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Larry Robinson has the distinction of being the only head coach to lead the Devils to the Stanley Cup final more than once, doing it in both 2000 and 2001. He also is well known for helping to orchestrate a comeback from 3 games to 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals with his rare locker room outburst, that won't soon be forgotten by the team and its followers.
On March 23, 2000, Robinson was hired as Devils head coach to replace Robbie Ftorek with just eight games left in the regular season because GM Lou Lamoriello did not like the way his team was playing down the stretch and felt a change was needed. Robinson was in the middle of his second stint as assistant coach for the Devils after finishing a head coaching stint in Los Angeles.
Even though Robinson's tenure as a two-time head coach lasted just 173 games, he definitely left his mark on the organization. After consecutive Stanley Cup appearances, he was let go after the team struggled through 51 games in the 2001-02 season.
Robinson would stay in the organization and was an assistant under Pat Burns. After Burns' cancer diagnosis before the lockout, Robinson took over as head coach. However, the stress of being a head coach did not agree with Robinson, who resigned after just 32 games in 2005-06.
To this day, Robinson remains behind the Devils bench as an assistant coach, working under the tenures of Brent Sutter, John MacLean, Jacques Lemaire and will continue again this season under Peter DeBoer. The amount of knowledge and loyalty Robinson has showed to the New Jersey Devils organization is noteworthy in this day and age, where loyalty seems to be a forgotten trait amongst many people.
Coaching stats as a Devil: 173 GP, 87-56-19-11, Playoffs: 48 GP, 31-17, Stanley Cup Champion (1999-2000), Eastern Conference Champion (2000-2001)
No. 2 Pat Burns
The late Pat Burns was a man who was known for being a great hockey coach. He won three Adams Trophies with other organizations (Toronto, Boston and Montreal), but had to "settle" for another trophy in New Jersey, winning the Stanley Cup in 2002-03. Ironically, he won each trophy in the first year of each job.
Burns was a disciplinarian, who earned the respect of his players. It's hard to say how long he would've lasted in New Jersey, had he not been diagnosed with colon cancer just before the 2004 playoffs. Burns was such a "team guy" that he had made sure his players weren't aware of the diagnosis until after they had lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round, because he did not want to become a distraction.
Despite lasting just two seasons, Pat Burns left a big impression on the franchise in his two years as coach and was someone who Lou Lamoriello had a lot of trust and loyalty towards. He remained a special assignment for as long as he could up until his death in November 2010.
In the two seasons at the helm, the Devils won an impressive 89 games and reached the 100-point mark in both seasons as well. Simply put, Pat Burns is a coach who the fans remember fondly and they await his eventual election to the Hall of Fame.
Coaching stats as a Devil: 164 GP, 89-45-22-8, Playoffs: 29 GP, 17-12, Stanley Cup Champion (2002-03)
No. 1 Jacques Lemaire
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There is not much of a doubt with this selection, as Jacques Lemaire has easily been the best coach in the team's history by a wide margin. After joining the franchise before the 1993-94 season, Lemaire helped to transform the franchise from a middle of the road franchise to one with the championship pedigree it has today. His background in the Montreal Canadiens organization gave him the foundation of knowledge Lemaire would call upon over his three stints with the Devils.
From the start of Lemaire's tenure, the team learned valuable lessons on both how to play and more importantly, how to win. No lesson was more painful than the Game 7 double overtime loss to the hated New York Rangers in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, but it showed the team what it would need to be prepared for. The following season the Devils used that valuable information to help them sweep the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals, and brought the state of New Jersey its first major pro sports championship.
Not only does Jacques Lemaire's record speak for itself, it doesn't even come that close to showing the kind of impact he had on individual players. Players like Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, Martin Brodeur and Brian Rafalski all took their games to the next level under Lemaire's watch and his tutelage.
Its no accident that Lemaire came in last season for his third term as head coach with the Devils and literally resuscitated the franchise after it hit rock bottom. After the disastrous first half of the season, Lemaire was asked by GM Lou Lamoriello to initiate a full turn around. Lemaire came in and basically started the team over with Hockey 101. When the players worked there way through their doldrums, things started turning around quickly.
Amazingly, the team made a somewhat serious threat to enter the playoff race. Guys like Nick Palmieri, Jacob Josefson and Mark Fayne learned under Lemaire in their rookie year and the dividends should pay off in the future assuming they can stay the course. Lemaire showed one final time what made him the amazing coach he was.
Coaching stats as a Devil: 509 GP, 276-166-57-10, Playoffs: 61 GP, 35-26, Jack Adams Award (1993-94), Stanley Cup Champion (1994-95)