Why Lane Lambert won't be the next New Jersey Devils head coach

Some fans thought of Lane Lambert as a way too early replacement for Lindy Ruff. Even if he had some success with the New York Islanders, this is an incredibly different New Jersey Devils team for his coaching style.
Dec 27, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert coaches against
Dec 27, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert coaches against / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New Jersey Devils were the second Metropolitan Division team to make an in-season coaching change when they fired head coach Lindy Ruff on Monday. The New York Islanders had replaced Lane Lambert with Patrick Roy back on January 20th.

Roy was a completely new hire, while the Devils handed the “interim” tag to one of their assistant coaches, former Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green.

Fans had been anticipating Ruff’s departure for a while. One of the names that came up as a possible replacement among fan chatter was Lambert trading one NYC area team for another. For a variety of reasons, Lambert should not, and won’t, be the Devils' next head coach.

Lambert had decent success in his one full season behind the bench, leading the Islanders to the playoffs. There are stunning differences in how the Devils and Islanders are constructed, and none is more glaring than age.

The New Jersey Devils are not going to hire Lane Lambert as head coach

The Devils have returned to competitiveness with a youth movement led by the likes of Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer, etc.

Meanwhile, the Islanders roster opened this season as the third oldest team in the NHL, as measured by the average age of their opening night roster. New Jersey was the sixth youngest.

New Jersey is going to want a coach that connects with their young players. For lack of a better way of explaining it, any new coach will have to be Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier “approved”.

Hughes spoke glowingly of Ruff, who had very little success in his first two seasons with the club, which might have extended his stay in New Jersey to the point the Devils finally broke through last season.

If age wasn’t even a difference, their styles of play were at opposite ends of the spectrum. Lambert followed the coaching plan Barry Trotz had success with while with the Islanders by focusing on defense first, low-event hockey.

The Devils thrive on their speed and their offense. A few seasons ago I spoke with former Devils captain turned broadcaster Bryce Salvador about Lindy Ruff’s coaching system.

While Ruff’s system gave forwards more defensive responsibilities (which might be the only similarity), it also utilized a four-man attack to create speed and to get the Devils to break out of their zone.

You can’t blame Lambert for his coaching style. He was merely coaching to the Islander strengths, and he fit the mold of other successful head coaches who worked under general manager Lou Lamoriello.

Jacques Lemaire might be the perfect comparison. The Islanders' greatest strength was in their goalie Ilya Sorokin. Meanwhile, the weakest part of the Devils roster currently is their goaltending.

Travis Green is getting an extended audition for the position. Even if he has a lot to prove, he seemingly checks more boxes than Lambert.

Lambert was the perfect coach for Lou Lamoriello, but Lamoriello isn’t the one running the Devils anymore. That change in philosophy is apparent in everything from head coach hires, and roster construction, to results on the ice.