When I saw "Devils" in the top stories on the front page of ESPN.com, I knew something was afoot. It could have been one of two things -- that I had missed the word "Blue" and it was another reference to Duke, or something was going on with my beloved hockey team. It was the latter.
The Devils fired their head coach Claude Julien yesterday. In his first year, Julien really had the Devils in the dumps -- 102 points, 47 wins, first in the division and second in the conference. Wait, what? Yes. Three games before the playoffs, the Devils fired their coach. Taking his place, as he did behind the bench when Larry Robinson quit last year, will be GM/omnipotent being Lou Lamoriello.
It may seem odd that the Devils are making this move so close to the playoffs, or that they're making it at all. But there's one thing about how Lamoriello runs the team that most find puzzling, because they don't have good leadership -- the regular season means nothing. All the work during the year is just a preparation for the real season -- the 16 wins required to hoist the Stanley Cup. If you've watched the Devils this year you know, solid record or not, this was not a team ready to go far in the playoffs. The team often looked lethargic, out of place, and gave up an inordinate amount of shorthanded goals. For an offensively deficient team, the Devils had even more trouble scoring this year -- if they didn't score the first goal in a given game, you could practically write them off -- but it's got nothing to do with personnel.
The team brought back every significant free agent they had, and have gotten solid contributions from a number of rookies (here's to David Clarkson being on the playoff roster, kudos also go to Travis Zajac and Johnny Oduya). So obviously it was the chemistry with the new coach that played a part in Patrick Elias having his worst season as a pro, and Scott Gomez taking a dramatic dip in a contract year.
Most GMs wouldn't have the balls to fire their coach so close to the playoffs, but Lamoriello isn't most GMs. He fired Robbie Ftorek in 2000 with eight games before the playoffs, and his replacement, Larry Robinson, led the team to the Cup. This team has the talent, they just need the right spark behind the bench. Last season, they played phenomenally when Lamoriello took over as coach. This year? Who knows. But I do know one thing -- Devils fans don't live by the motto "In Lou We Trust" for nothing.