While searching through some Devils news today, I came across a very interesting article from Rich Chere, who covers the Devils for the Star-Ledger. In the article, Chere spoke to Jamie Langenbrunner, who still seems angry at ex-coach Jacques Lemaire for the way he ran the team this season. As many fans, writers and bloggers (including myself) questioned Langenbrunner’s leadership this season, the article attempts to fill in the gray area on what the team felt during the season. It’s a great read, and I suggest you take a look at it. But there are some parts of the article I’d like to dissect here to try and see how exactly the locker room morale played out last season.
We all saw the strain between Lemaire and Langenbrunner, particularly near the end of the season. With Lemaire wanting to rest players, he decided to sit Langenbrunner for a game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Langenbrunner wasn’t happy about the situation, refusing to speak to the media for four days after the incident. But some players believe there was more to the story.
Langenbrunner was unhappy about being a healthy scratch for the April 3 game in Raleigh, N.C., and remained silent on the matter for the next four days. He still will not discuss the incident in detail, but two other members of the organization suggested Lemaire disrespected Langenbrunner by trying to give the “C” to defenseman Colin White for that one game.
Clearly, the team didn’t respond well to this incident. Colin White said he would not accept the “C”, even in the one game. It may have seemed underhanded, and White even believed he would be challenging the leadership of the team. This incident seemed to be the tipping point with Langenbrunner. He hadn’t meshed well with Lemaire, and now the coach was attempting to take the “C” away after sitting him. To many players, it seems as if Lemaire lost the respect of several players. While I think this is minor, it clearly played a large role in the mind of the team.
But it didn’t end there. Throughout the season, players chafed under some of Lemaire’s policies. Chere goes on to cite several complaints the team had against their former coach. According to the article:
Lemaire’s need to constantly juggle line combinations was questioned by some players and Ilya Kovalchuk’s freewheeling individual freedom and quarterbacking on the power play did not sit well with others.
Many of the fans expressed these same feelings. Lemaire decided to break up a highly successful line to redistribute the talent. It didn’t work too well, and players like Ilya Kovalchuk and other players could never find their comfort zone with teammates. Even when a line started to produce, Lemaire would break them apart. These lines changes were maddening, and I don’t blame the players for reacting negatively to the constant juggling Lemaire did.
What surprises me is the backlash towards Kovalchuk. Instead of enjoying playing with the left-winger, it seems his style of play upset some of his teammates. I especially am amazed about their feelings of him on the powerplay. Maybe they considered him a puck hog, or maybe he just didn’t fit the system. Whatever the case, I figured the team would be excited to play with him. Instead, it seems like the players never saw him fit the team’s style. I wonder if their feelings will translate into whether or not Kovalchuk returns to the team this off-season.
Continue reading after the jump for more reaction from the article!