NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The New Jersey Devils have been on a slide since going to the Stanley Cup final in 2012, and coach Pete DeBoer paid the price.
DeBoer, who took the Devils to the championship round in his first season, was fired Friday, with his aging and short-handed team in danger of missing the playoffs for a third straight season.
Lou Lamoriello, the Devils’ president and general manager, won’t say who will be the next coach until he speaks Saturday with the players, who are on a three-day Christmas break. The Devils will have a pregame skate at the Prudential Center on Saturday morning before playing the Rangers in New York that night.
There are a number of potential candidates, including Adam Oates, a former Devils assistant; Dallas Eakins, who was fired earlier this month by Edmonton; and former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.
Lamoriello has hired a couple of former Montreal Canadiens coaches to lead New Jersey, and Jacques Martin has been in the press box to watch the Devils in their last three home games. He was an assistant under Bylsma last season and was promoted to senior adviser of hockey operations.
New Jersey has been hit with injuries in a 12-17-7 season. It has not won consecutive games since early last month, going 3-8-5 in its last 16. The Devils were missing six regulars to either injury or illness Tuesday night when they lost 2-1 in a shootout to the Carolina Hurricanes, the NHL’s second-worst team.
“I know that no one wants to hear excuses, and I am not going to make any, but I am definitely not going to throw our guys under the bus,” DeBoer said Tuesday. “Guys are trying.”
The problem is the guys are not as talented as they used to be, and it shows in the standings. The Devils are 14th in the Eastern Conference, nine points out of a playoff berth and fading.
New Jersey has 15 players over the age of 30 on the roster, including 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who is tied for the team lead in scoring. Not only are they old, but the Devils have not gotten much help from their minor leagues in recent years. Defenseman Adam Larsson, the fourth pick overall in 2011, has been a disappointment, and Stephane Matteau, the first-round pick the following season, has one goal with the Devils’ top affiliate this season.
DeBoer is the third NHL coach to be fired this season, following Paul MacLean in Ottawa and Eakins.
DeBoer was 114-93-41 in his three-plus seasons with the Devils. Before coming to New Jersey, he coached the Florida Panthers for three years, never making the playoffs.
The 46-year-old DeBoer was hired in 2011-12 and immediately took the Devils to the Stanley Cup final, where they lost to the Los Angeles Kings.
The Devils, however, lost Zach Parise to free agency after the season. They took an unexpected blow after the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season when goal-scorer Ilya Kovalchuk left to play in Russia. Those were the team’s two best players, and their losses were keenly felt, especially in shootouts.
The Devils were 0-13 in shootouts last season and 2-6 this season, their first since not re-signing goaltender Martin Brodeur, the longtime face of the three-time Stanley Cup champions.
DeBoer had provided some stability to the Devils’ coaching position. Since winning their last Cup in 2003 under Pat Burns, the Devils have changed coaches nine times, with only Brent Sutter lasting two full seasons until DeBoer came along. During that span, Lamoriello has twice filled in on an interim basis and Jacques Lemaire has twice come out of retirement to coach the team.
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