Leave it to Devils president Lou Lamoriello to leave the NHL guessing again . . . and guessing wrong on his coaching choice.
Many familiar names were nominated for this assignment. Ken Hitchcock is a defensive-minded taskmaster still looking for work. Former Blues forwards Guy Carbonneau and Craig MacTavish seemed like logical possibilities as well.
Michel Therrien caused some folks to wince but, he, too, fell by the wayside as Lamoriello picked former Panthers coach Pete DeBoer.
Hockey Guy actually likes the pick. DeBoer kept the Panthers competitive when he actually had a critical mass of talent there. Injuries hurt his teams, then new GM Dale Tallon opted to clean house and go in a whole different direction.
DeBoer got an education through the process and handled the bumps like pro.
“While I'm not proud of the actual record, I think we played the right way,” he told reporters at his introductory news conference. “We were a hard team to play against. You hope someone notices the job you did, despite the standings.”
DeBoer’s challenge in New Jersey is to keep the Devils playing strong defensive hockey – the franchise trademark – while getting Ilya Kovalchuk and Co. out on the attack.
Getting money's worth from Kovalchuk will be key, given the enormity of his contract value.
John MacLean failed horrible to meet that objective. Then Jacques Lemaire came aboard, woke up Ilya and transformed the team with a 23-3-3 run.
Alas, he opted to re-retire despite Lamoriello’s efforts to keep him behind the bench.
How does DeBoer see the challenge?
“I want to keep the defensive structure that has made this organization so successful,” he said. “That's the foundation of this team. At the same time, try to create some more offense, more goals, more shots. I like to forecheck. I like to pursue the puck. I like to dictate the pace of play.”
If he fails, Lamoriello won’t hesitate to fire him. He changes coaches more frequently than some players change shin guards.
“Stability brings winning,” Lamoriello told reporters. “When you're not winning, what good does it do? I don't apologize for that.”