Possible Devils head coaching candidates

Updated: April 4, 2015
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When Lou Lamoriello fired Peter DeBoer back on December 26, 2014, he named himself the head of a coaching committee, along with Scott Stevens and Adam Oates, to run the defense and offense respectively to replace DeBoer.

Lamoriello felt it was unfair to the team and himself to hire a full-time replacement at the time and in recent weeks, said he will address the coaching situation after the season is over. There is no timetable for him to hire one and he will have a boatload of time this off-season to do so.

Three of the last four Devils’ coaches hired in the summer were named to the position in mid-July, in Brent Sutter, Jacques Lemaire and DeBoer. Many teams usually prefer to have a coach in place before the draft in late-June or the start of free agency on July 1, but in DeBoer’s case that, was not an issue as the team went to the Finals in 2012.

However, each year is different. Even though Oates and Stevens are expected to generate heavy interest from Lou for the full-time gig, there are more qualified candidates who might fit Lamoriello’s win-now philosophy. Lou also wants a coach who can fit within his defensive structure. Here are some candidates the Devils need to pursue.

Dave Tippett 

  • Though still employed with the Arizona Coyotes, there are a lot of uncertainties with the franchise as new majority owner Andrew Barroway has signaled a rebuild out in the desert. One uncertainty is Tippett’s future and it’s unknown whether he wants to be a part of a rebuilding situation. The Devils had heavy interest in Tippett when he was released from his contract as head coach of the Dallas Stars in the summer of 2009, but ended up hiring Lemaire instead. Tippett should be the No. 1 choice if Arizona chooses not to retain him, and if he doesn’t want to be part of the plan. Lamoriello is known as a win-now general manager and Tippett would fit his criteria of playing within the defensive philosophy and the ability of getting more from less. He is great with young defensemen and has turned some of them, like Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, into elite players in the NHL. New Jersey’s slew of young blue-liner’s would make Tippett very beneficial to them and he is also known as someone who likes to be very aggressive on the fore-check and in the offensive zone.

Guy Boucher

  • Currently he is coaching SC Bern in Switzerland, but he does have an out clause this off-season to return to the NHL. He previously coached the Tampa Bay Lightning and led them to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011 before losing to the eventual Cup champion Boston Bruins. Boucher grew up being friends with the Lemaire family in the Montreal area and essentially adopted his neutral zone trap philosophy, or the 1-3-1 formation, where the team would have three players clogging up the middle of the ice. He is known as one who adapts to every player’s personality and he should be the second choice after Tippett.

Dan Bylsma

  • Probably a long-shot, but he is not expected to be unemployed for very long after his stint in Pittsburgh for six seasons. Bylsma was a finalist for the Vancouver Canucks‘ job last summer before it went to Willie Desjardins, and he is going to receive heavy interest this summer. The Philadelphia Flyers are rumored as his likely destination to replace Craig Berube, who is not expected to be retained. The Anaheim Ducks could also have interest in Bylsma if Bruce Boudreau does not get them over the hump this playoff season. Plus, he played in Anaheim along with Oates during their magical run to the Finals in 2003 — where they lost to the Devils. He could also fit Lamoriello’s mold of a win-now mode and his experience in Pittsburgh could be beneficial to New Jersey.

Randy Carlyle

  • Carlyle coached the Ducks to a Stanley Cup Championship in 2007, but has struggled in the playoffs since and has failed miserably with a non-structured roster with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He did coach a former Devils’ defenseman in Anaheim named Scott Niedermayer and his defensive system and aggressive fore-checking could be beneficial in New Jersey. Still, he is likely also a long-shot. But, the Devils could be his last chance to prove he is a good NHL coach.

Ron Wilson

  • Wilson played for Lamoriello in college at Providence. But, he is known as an offensive minded coach, something the Devils could use. If he can adapt to more of a structured defensive philosophy, he could be a wild card for the Devils. He also failed in Toronto and with the San Jose Sharks, but he did coach the Washington Capitals to a Finals trip in 1998. The Florida Panthers had him as a finalist for their head coaching job last summer before hiring Gerard Gallant.

Mike Babcock

  • He should be the No. 1 choice, because his contract is up with the Detroit Red Wings after this season is over. Babcock is probably the best coach in the NHL, but his preference would likely be the hockey hotbed in Canada in the Maple Leafs, but he is expected to sign a new deal to stay in Detroit.

Todd McLellan

  • Much like Tippett in Arizona, McLellan’s status is uncertain in San Jose. The Sharks are expected to try and continue their rebuild after several seasons of trying and failing to win the Cup. They are the only California team not to win one yet. Anaheim has one and L.A. has two (both in the last three years). McLellan was Babcock’s assistant in Detroit when they won the Cup in 2008 and if fired in San Jose, he could be heavily pursued by Lamoriello with his pedigree. However, McLellan’s system could be similar to that of DeBoer.

Paul MacLean 

  • Yes, another MacLean for the Devils, but this one is better than John. There were rumors that he was DeBoer’s replacement back on the night of Dec. 26, but he told reporters the next day he was not the guy. He also comes from the Babcock tree and had short-term success with the Ottawa Senators. My guess is that he is somewhere on the top of Lamoriello’s list.

John Stevens

  • Currently the associate coach of the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, he was rewarded with a contract extension last summer and was a finalist for the Canucks’ job in 2013, which went to Tortorella. He is familiar with the Metro division, having coached the Flyers before, and deserves another shot. But the knock on him is that he seems to get less from more, which cost him his job in 2009.

Doug Houda

  • He is a rising star assistant in the NHL with the Bruins and was part of their staff on the 2011 Cup team and the 2013 Conference Championship team. His time will come to be a head coach and maybe Lamoriello could find that diamond-in-the-rough head coach in him.

John Tortorella

  • He deserves to get back into the game after a year off from hockey. However, his past reputations might hurt his chances. He is not someone who has had the respect of his players in his stints with the New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks. He did win the Cup in Tampa in 2004, which could be the driving force on his resume. And, he does love to block shots on defense. The problem is, he has been known to get too confrontational with the Devils in recent years and would he really like to work for Lamoriello? And would the players show up for him? Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson might not be too fond of him since he could bench them for making mistakes, something DeBoer did.

Marc Crawford

  • He was a finalist for the Montreal Canadiens  job in the summer of 2012. His coaching career took a huge hit when he was with the Canucks and saw Todd Bertuzzi viciously knock-out Steve Moore. His biggest triumph was coaching the Colorado Avalanche to their first Cup in 1996 and since Vancouver, he had stints in L.A. and the Stars. Crawford also worked with TSN in Canada and coached in Switzerland and I think he has done enough to warrant another job in the NHL. I think he could be a good fit in New Jersey and play uptempo within the defensive structure Lou wants.

Ulf Samuelsson

  • Would he want to cross the Hudson from the rival Rangers to the Devils? Well in less than two seasons in NY, Samuelsson has turned the Ranger’s defensive corps into one of the best in the NHL. Team captain Ryan McDonagh was a Norris Trophy finalist in 2014. He was passed over for the Carolina Hurricanes and the Penguins job last summer. Plus, he was an assistant with Tippett with the Coyotes. The Devils did let the Rangers interview some of their assistants in the past, so it would be wise for Lamoriello to interview Samuelsson, who is from Sweden and could be good for Larsson’s development.



Photo Cred (FOX Sports)

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