Monday, December 29, 2014

Weekend wrap: Is it time for Lou to go?

A look back at the biggest games and emerging story lines of the NHL weekend.

Theme of the Week: Giving the Devils Their Lou

The New Jersey Devils are a mess. That in itself feels like news, since this has been one of the league’s model franchises going back almost a quarter century. Over the last two decades, the Devils have won three Stanley Cups, made five appearances in the final, finished with 100-plus points in 13 seasons while missing the playoffs in just four, and finished with a points percentage under .500 just once (by a single point, in 2011).

So it would be strange enough to say that they’re a standard-issue mess. At 12-18-7, they’re tied with Buffalo for the second-worst record in the East, and have already been all but eliminated from playoff contention before the season’s second half even arrives. But even that doesn’t go far enough, because as of this weekend, the Devils have now become a mess in ways we’ve never quite seen before.

On Friday, the team announced the firing of coach Peter DeBoer, who becomes the third NHL coach this year to lose his job. DeBoer is a good coach who’ll work again somewhere, but he’s certainly not blameless here. While he guided the Devils to the Cup final in 2012, he left plenty of points on the table last year by insisting on starting Martin Brodeur in half the team’s games, and then seemingly overcompensated this season by using Cory Schneider to the point of exhaustion.

DeBoer’s firing led to the usual speculation as to who would replace him, with early reports suggesting Paul MacLean would get the job. Instead, the team announced a highly unusual co-coaching scenario, with Hall of Fame players Adam Oates and Scott Stevens splitting the job. Oates will coach the forwards, Stevens will take the defensemen, and neither will get an official head coach title or, we’re told, be allowed to speak to the media. And overseeing it all, at least temporarily, will be good ol’ Lou Lamoriello, the longtime GM who steps behind the Devils’ bench on an interim basis for the third time.

The whole thing is bizarre, and it’s led to what would have once been unthinkable: calls for Lamoriello to follow DeBoer into unemployment. Lamoriello has been the Devils’ GM since 1987, almost a full decade longer than any other current GM in the league. He took over a Mickey Mouse organization and turned them into champions, and no front-office face is as tightly linked to his franchise as Lamoriello’s.

And yet some pundits, both locally and beyond, are now asking whether the time has come for Lou to move on, too. This current Devils team bears little resemblance to the one that went to the final just a few years ago, and is largely made up of a mishmash of players and features just a marginal talent level. And they’re old — almost ridiculously old, featuring 16 players over the age of 30 (six of whom are 35-plus).

With the season all but lost, at this point the organization’s best bet is probably to just bottom out and hope for Connor McDavid. If so, maybe this odd three-headed coaching monster is all part of the plan. That may be the only way that it makes much sense — both for the franchise, and for the man who’s calling the shots, at least for now.

Cup Watch: The League’s Five Best

The five teams that seem most likely to earn the league’s top prize: the Stanley Cup.

5. St. Louis Blues (21-11-3, plus-13 goals differential). After dropping a 4-3 decision to the Stars, they’ve now lost four straight and given up 18 goals in doing so.

4. Nashville Predators (23-9-2, plus-28). They’re two back of Chicago for first in the Central. They also face the Blackhawks tonight.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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