The question is, why? “I did not feel that we were going in the right direction, both mentally and hockey(-wise), going into the playoffs, for a variety of reasons,” the New Jersey Devils GM told The Canadian Press.
Lamoriello will coach the final three regular-season games, starting Tuesday night against Ottawa, and the playoffs. It marks the second straight season he has taken over behind the bench. Last year, he replaced Larry Robinson in December.
“It was never my intention to ever possibly go back (behind the bench) again,” Lamoriello said. “It’s just the timing to put somebody else in at this time with the number of games left wouldn’t have been fair.”
Lamoriello understands why people around hockey Monday were surprised, or even stunned, by the decision given New Jersey’s No. 2 ranking in the Eastern Conference.
“Without question,” Lamoriello said. “. . . It’s surprising to people but they only have the surface and not the knowledge. This was an easy decision not to make. It’s certainly a decision that’s more difficult to make.”
One GM, who requested anonymity Monday, told CP: “I thought April Fool’s Day had moved a day.”
Earlier Monday, Lamoriello repeated to reporters outside the Devils’ deserted locker-room at Continental Airlines Arena that he didn’t feel his team was mentally ready for the playoffs.
“I am not saying that is going to change. But I think there has to be better focus going forward,” Lamoriello said.
The firing comes after the Devils won four of their last five games. The team is in first place in the Atlantic Division although it went 6-6-2 in March.
“You can look at 102 points any way you want but it’s my responsibility is to give us the best possible chance of winning,” Lamoriello said.
Julien, who was informed of his dismissal on Monday morning by Lamoriello, was not immediately available for comment.
“I sat down with him this morning and in my mind he certainly understood,” said Lamoriello.
A practice scheduled for Monday was called off after Lamoriello discussed the move with the team.
“Our job is to listen to what has been said and why the decision was made,” Devils captain Patrik Elias said. “Management said it gives us the best chance to accomplish what we want to accomplish and that is to win the (Stanley) Cup.”
The firing came less than 24 hours after New Jersey beat Boston 3-1 to take a one-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins and improved its record to 47-24-8.
“You don’t always judge by wins and losses as far as where you are at,” said Lamoriello, who has guided New Jersey to three Stanley Cups since 1995, the last in 2003. “The way we put ourselves in this organization, you have to look at the big picture. To say that 102 points today isn’t an excellent accomplishment, it’s extremely positive.
“But I have to look at a lot of factors.”
Lamoriello would not say what factors went into his decision. The Devils, who have struggled scoring all season, have slumped recently with forwards Brian Gionta, John Madden and Elias sidelined by groin injuries. However, the three are back in the lineup.
Julien also was handicapped by a roster problems because the Devils have battled the NHL salary cap all season. Injuries have forced him to play several minor league players.
“I think everybody takes responsibility, including me,” Lamoriello said.
Monday’s firing isn’t the only time Lamoriello made a late-season coaching move. He fired Robbie Ftorek with eight games left in the 1999-2000 season and Robinson led the team to its second Stanley Cup title.
Lamoriello didn’t consider the change in 2000 in deciding to replace Julien.
“You don’t think of those things,” Lamoriello said. “Nothing makes it any easier, believe me. The day anything like this becomes easy, or when it’s trading a player or when you have make these decisions and it becomes easy, that’s the day you look for a different position.”
Julien previously coached the Montreal Canadiens from January 2003 until January 2006.