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Devils name Oates, Stevens to replace DeBoer

by Shawn Roarke

NEWARK, N.J. -- Scott Stevens and Adam Oates will combine to replace Peter DeBoer as coach of the New Jersey Devils, president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said Saturday morning.

With that unique announcement, the Devils entered uncharted territory as they try to navigate back into the hunt for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is the first time in franchise history, and perhaps the first time in the history of the NHL, that a team has employed co-coaches.

In fact, for a short period, the Devils will have three coaches. Lamoriello said he is putting himself behind the bench for a limited period to supervise and get a better read on his players and the makeup of the team. He will step away from the bench as soon as he is comfortable with how the new process is working.

"I tried to come up with what, in my opinion, was the best way to get our team to do certain things and get the most out of the personnel we have," said Lamoriello, who fired DeBoer on Friday, the final day of the League's three-day Christmas break.

The three-headed coaching entity will make its debut Saturday when the Devils play the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Lamoriello said it would be unfair to bring in a full-time coach at this point of the season because of where the Devils are in the standings (seventh place in the Metropolitan Division and nine points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference) and because of the makeup of the team, particularly a young and untested group of defensemen.

"I'm the only one that has the knowledge that I have about what is going on," Lamoriello said Saturday morning at the Devils training facility. "It's certainly not something you want to do, but when the decision has to be made, then you come up with the best alternative. If there was a best alternative to have a certain person become the coach that probably would have been the priority. But right now, in my opinion, this is the best approach at this time.

"These were the first two people that I had in mind when I thought it was impossible and unfair at this time to ask any coach to go into that position at this time of year. Both of these individuals know our players, both have been with our players, both know what [the players] are capable of doing, both know the philosophy, both have been around me."

Oates, an assistant with the Devils from 2010-12, will work with the forwards. Stevens, a former captain of the Devils, a member of the Devils' three Stanley Cup inning teams, and a Hall of Fame defenseman, will be in charge of the defense. He was an assistant for the Devils for the past two seasons and resigned before the start of this season. He has worked extensively with the majority of New Jersey's young defensemen as an assistant coach and an at-large instructor after his retirement as a player.

"I think it is going to be an easy transition for us," said Oates, who coached the Washington Capitals from 2012 to 2014. He was an assistant with the Devils when they reached the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, losing in six games to the Los Angeles Kings.

Lamoriello said he expects to have one coach for the start of next season. He said it could be Stevens or Oates, or another candidate.

"There are no promises here on who the next head coach is," Lamoriello said. "There's no understanding. This is a joint team effort right now. A unique situation."

But it's no mistake that for now each of the co-coaches has substantial ties to successful periods in Devils history. They are tasked with immediately returning the luster to a franchise that is trending toward missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight season, a run of mediocrity that has not been endured since 1985 to 1987.

"Basically, the Devil identity, the way we play, is something that I would like to get back to," Lamoriello said.

Stevens said, "We're going to work closely together and try to get this ship righted. We're going to expect hard work and we want to get that Devil identity back to the way it was and be a tough team to play against. That's what we are looking for."

Stevens and Oates each believe the Devils need to return to the defensive roots that formed the foundation of their identity and success during their heyday from 1995 to 2003, when they reached the Stanley Cup Final four times and won three championships.

"The League is a pretty-fast paced League, so you have to be able to play good [defense] and you have to be able to play 200 feet," Oates said, adding he would like to see the Devils score more goals (they rank No. 28 in goals-for this season), but not at the expense of a solid defensive posture.

The players have no idea how this new system will work because few, if any, have played for co-coaches. But they know their performance through the first 36 games necessitated this change and believe the set-up has a chance of working.

For the players, it is less about the author and more about the effectiveness.

"I don't think it matters who the message comes from as long as it is the same message," starting goalie Corey Schneider said.

Forward Jaromir Jagr said it is less about the unusual nature of the coaching staff and more about understanding the part the players had in entering this uncharted territory.

"The change here has already been made, but if [we], as players, don't wake up, it might not help much," Jagr said. "Most of the things that happened here are our fault. I think if you are honest with yourself, no one in this room can say, 'I played good.'"

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